virus: Studying Science

Reed Konsler (
Fri, 12 Feb 1999 20:35:30 -0500

>Date: Thu, 11 Feb 1999 10:03:15 -0800
>From: KMO <>
>Subject: Re: virus: Studying science
>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
&gt;> 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:

I haven't read that one. My two favorites are _Science in Action_ and _We Have Never Been Modern_. I hope if the first doesn't serve you'll try those.

>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.

Poetic licence? ;-) OK, I retract.

>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.

Why, thank you. Actually, the analogy is Latour's, not mine. Bloom also talks about it in _Lucifer Principle_ (he describes the AMA as a collection of which doctors). It's pretty common in the lit.

I'm surprised you think that you can predict what I do or don't see and intend. Weren't you the one who was concerned about seeming condecending? I almost feel like you've set a cognitive trap for me. Spring! Oh, coyote, were are you in my moment of need?

>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.

That was brilliant. I totally agree.

>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.

But don't you feel like you understand what you read better now? I'm not asking if your perceptions are truer...but doesn't the experience make your reading about shamans more rich with meaning for you?

>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?

I don't resent or deride the philosophy of science. I have a very rich and rewarding relationship with the field. I like reading it and I love talking about it.

I do experience a sense of dissonance which I would describe as a "strange loop" [Hofstader: _Godel, Escher, Bach]. There is a level-crossing paradox in being both the observer (reading *about* scientists) and the observed (identifying myself as a scientist). I'm certian, given that paradox, that I DO have a fuzzy indefinate resonating sort of impression of what philosophy of science is for. To be honest, I don't know what *science* is for (I am a scientist, so I can't really ask that question, it's more a philosophy of science question).

Maybe I think that, were I them, I'd want to be more like me. That isn't so unusual, is it?

>> 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 think both are valid ways of going about things. Reading is certianly easier...more distance between observer and subject, more control over variables (cannonical text, etc).

>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.
>- -KMO

Yeah, you're probably right. That's a problem with claiming an identity. Thanks for the analysis...and so well put, to.


  Reed Konsler