virus: Re: virus: Studying science

Re: virus: Studying science

Thu, 11 Feb 1999 10:03:15 -0800

Reed Konsler wrote:

> A good example would be Bruno Latour, who spent a few years
> studing in a biochemisty laboratory as an anthropologist.
> He worked in the lab side by side with his subjects. He studied
> them as a native tribe, and he derived a lot of insight.

After reading your post, I skipped over to to see if there were any Bruno Latour titles on offer. I ordered "Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time (Studies in Literature and Science)" by Michel Serres, Bruno Latour, and Roxanne Lapidus. Check out the one customer review posted on the details page for this title:

> As an analogy, you recently took a trip, right? Why?
> What purpose does going to the foriegn land and sitting at the
> feet of the shaman serve? Do you think someone should preach
> about drugs and shamantic practice that hasn't ever participated
> in the rituals?

You overload the question with your use of the word "preach." I'm not interested in being preached to by ANYONE on this topic regardless of their credentials.

As for my trip, I'd been reading about shamanism and the value of altered states of consciousness and participating in discussions on those topics for years prior to going to Peru. The authors of the books I read were, for the most part, not Shamans themselves, but people whose set of cultural concerns and assumptions and style of analysis and reporting are much closer to my own than are those of indigineous shamans; poeple like Wade Davis, Terrence McKenna, David Abram, Aldus Huxley, and Stanislov Groff. What these non-shaman authors have to say on the use of plant-teachers and the realms to which they grant access was far more meaningful to me than what the Peruvian shamans I encountered had to say. As I mentioned in a previous post, the shamans tend to be a rather egoistic, competative and self-agrandizing bunch.I respect their knowledge of plants and their uses, but they're agenda is quite different from mine.

This is a very good analogy that you've crafted. You seem to be equating Shaman's, who practice the "real thing," with research scientists and those non-shamans who nonetheless take a deep interest in the topic, study it, write on it, and present themselves as "experts" on it, with philosophers of science. I suspect there are parrallels here that you neither saw nor intended.

Like scientists, Shaman's tend to be interested primarily in results, e.g. healing the sick, finding lost objects, making women fall in love with them, defeating their rivals, etc, while the anthropologists, psychologists, enthnopharmacologists, and philosophers who take an interest in shamanism do so, in large part at least, in the hopes of finding something of value in the shamanic tradition which can be incorporated into our own culture and tied to a body of insight and concerns in which the shamans take little interest. So too does the philosophy of science examine the history and practice of science and take from that examination something which can be integrated into the disciplines of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, which are the primary areas of interest for most philosophers and which are for most scientists not central concerns.

Now that I've made the trip, I haven't graduated from arm-chair shamanism to "the real thing." I don't plan to move to Peru and apprentice under a shaman. My aim was to go there, and see if there was something there not available to me here which I could bring back and incorporate into my own technologically-oriented, culture-spinning, program of self-discovery and cultivation.

And, as most ethnopharmacologists don't try to set the shamans "straight" and teach them chemistry, most philosophers of science have no interest in telling scientists how to do their jobs. They observe, study, evaluate, and, hopefully, take something of value back to the nest to enrich the larger enterprise of philosophy. Are you open to the possibility that your resentment and derrission for the philosophy of science may result from a mistaken impression as to the aims and practices of that discipline?

> What is the purpose of the history and philosophy of science?

I'll let TheHermit answer that question with an excerpt from his fine post of a couple of days ago:

TheHermit wrote:

There is nothing fundamentally wrong from postulating that the universe is a
strange, unknown and unknowable environment except in our immediate vicinity. We can then analyse the environment in our immediate vicinity and
develop a rational system to describe our immediate environment. We can then
make the inductive step that all of the universe works the same way as our
localised model. As and when we discover phenomena which confute our hypothesis, we simply modify our model of the localised universe to bring it
into alignment with this new information. As anyone with a smattering of exposure to science will recognise, this is the very basis of the scientific
method. As anyone with a slight exposure to the philosophy of science will
recognise, this is the basis of the philosophy of science.

To which I would add that the philosophy of science is primarily a branch of epistemology which is the examination of the foundations of knowledge.

> It can't be to represent scientists to themselves, becuase scientists
> don't read it and it gets published and perpetuated anyway.

You're exactly right. Philosophers of science write journal articals and books which are primarily read by other philosophers of science and their students. Instructing scientists in the business of scientific research is not the business of the philosophy of science either in practice or intent.

> Is it to provide an "unbiased" representation of scientists and
> science to the greater culture?

No, few members of the Oprah audience are likely to pick up a book by Jaegwon Kim or Jerry Fodor.

> Is it reasonable to expect such a
> representation to be derived from actual exposure to science and
> scientists? That would be the least intermediated and
> characatured representation.

This question pre-supposes that the objective of the philosophy of science is something other than it is, and so I can give no meaningful answer.

> In the end, there is no line between facts and fictions.
> But all rational enterprises are based upon some vague
> attempt to observe before concluding, right?

Does reading what scientists write not count as observation? Do you think someone interested in the philosophy of law should spend more of their time in court watching lawyers than reading precident-setting legal decissions?

> I take your point though, everyone is entitled to form their own
> opinions. The contention is with how you evaluate them.

It still seems to me as though your contention is more a knee-jerk resistence to the mistake impression that someone who does not know how to do your job thinks they have the ability and the mandate to tell you how to do your job. I have no doubt that such people exist in your life, but they are not likely to be philosphers of science.