Friday, October 17, 2014

Re: [Yasmin_discussions] The Plight of the Supernatural ...

hello again yasminers

I sorry if I was unclear. I never meant to imply that scientists aren't comfortable with uncertainty inside their own domain. The problem from an outsider's perspective appears to be an intolerance towards any unknowables outside scientific domains of expertise; frequently equating unknowable/unprovable with False if the terminology is scientifically distasteful. I brought up the unknowns in science as particular example of a universal problem that exists in all fields of human activity - even slightly quirky ones. You are right, Goedel's theorem is great example of the fundamental limits of knowledge in particular because his work intersects points of the artistic and scientific interest.

Your friend, Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond joking comment about pseudo-art illuminated instantly why, even though I don't believe nor am I interested the subjects usually grouped under the heading "pseudo-science" the term is so disturbing. Most of twentieth century was an ongoing (and unfinished) battle over what constituted art and non-art and who serves as the gatekeeper of art's considerable social capital; a symbolically violent battle understood as such among artists even before Bourdieu coined the term. By placing the word "pseudo-science" in a discourse of the arts, his clever inversion clarified the symbolic violence latent in the term.

Jean-Marc's comment was so insightful, I googled him and would encourage other Yasminers to do the same. Everything I found was in French. but he critiques more clearly than myself the blind spots in science education and its misunderstanding of the evolutionary history of ideas. I'll try to translate an excerpt from this article La science souffre d'un manque de culture I left the word decultured untranslated. I think that even if it is not an english word, decultured says something important about the larger misunderstanding between science and the arts that decontextualized does not. Roger please let me know about any errors in the translation.

Leur formation disciplinaire est souvent très poussée, mais déculturée. La plupart des scientifiques aujourd'hui ne connaissent pas les travaux fondateurs de leur domaine, ce qui est quasiment unique dans les formations intellectuelles. Quand vous témoignez à de jeunes philosophes, de jeunes artistes ou de jeunes musiciens qu'un jeune physicien aujourd'hui n'a pas lu une seule page de Newton ou de Galilée, ni même d'Einstein, ils sont absolument sidérés.

L'implantation des lettres ou des arts est suffisamment ancienne pour que nous enseignions les textes anciens de Racine, Shakespeare, Virgile ou Homère. Mais la science a été prise d'un tel vertige de modernité que les scientifiques s'imaginent qu'il suffit de dire "théorème de Pythagore" ou "loi de Galilée", et de payer ainsi leur dû aux grand hommes. Les scientifiques ont tendance à croire qu'une fois une découverte faite, c'est pour toujours, et qu'il n'est pas nécessaire de s'interroger sur les conditions historiques, philosophiques, voire politiques de ces découvertes, ni sur l'évolution (passée et future !) de leur signification.

La faiblesse, voire l'absence de culture des scientifiques s'explique en fait très simplement : cet aspect ne compte ni dans leur formation, ni dans leur évaluation.

Their scientific training is often very advanced, but decultured [decontextualized]. Most scientists today do not know the work of founders in their field, which is almost unique in higher education. When you explain to young philosophers, young artists and young musicians that a young physicist today has not read a single page of Galileo or Newton or even Einstein, they are absolutely stunned.

In the humanities, students read and analyse foundational texts like Racine, Shakespeare, Virgil or Homer. But science has gotten so dazzled by modernity that scientists think that it is enough to say "Pythagorean theorem" or "law of Galileo", and think that is all the respect due to great men. Scientists tend to believe that once a discovery is made, it is forever unchanged. It is not necessary to question its philosophical historical conditions, nor look at the politics of such discoveries, nor to examine the evolution (past and future) of its meaning.

The weakness or absence of a culture [historical context] in science can be explained very simply: this aspect is excluded from both scientific training and evaluation.

As someone who has read more than one page of Newton, Jean-Marc explained why it is so exasperating to listen to scientists talk about SCIENCE in ways that would be impossible if they had even a clue about the messy ingredients in their beloved soup. Try reading ten pages of Newton, you will never make fun of another "new ager" again. I'm not criticizing Newton here, he taught me as much about being creative as Cezanne. Reading Newton teach how messy creative/scientific thinking can be in practice. Jean-Marc really nailed a practical, logical explanation for the religious and dogmatic tone that often, although not always, creeps into the discourse of scientists toward other fields of inquiry and science's own historical development.

Which segues into Margaret Wertheim's thoughts on both the history of science and the discourse between natural and supernatural. I hope she posts her essay. I look forward to reading it along with all the posts that will follow. It is this pleasure that makes the yasmin email conversation so fertile.

work too hard, think too much and have way too much fun,

Aprille Best GLOVER
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