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Call for Papers: “Charting trans and posthumanist imaginaries in future-making”
(see Panel 53: http://sipsheff17.group.shef.ac.uk/index.php?option=24)

Science in Public Conference, University of Sheffield 10th-12th July, 2017
Emilie Whitaker, University of Salford, e.m.whitaker@salford.ac.uk

The call for papers closes April 18, 2017.

Posthumanism and transhumanism are two emerging cultural movements that use recent developments in science and technology to challenge, in rather different ways, conventional conceptions of the human condition. Originally seen as more aligned with science fiction than science fact, they now straddle the divide, helped along with increasing media attention and capital investment. Whilst posthumanism continues to be theoretically explored within the social sciences and humanities, transhumanism remains an outlier to the academy. This is despite developments in science and technology which decouple traditional understandings of human/non- human action, agency, labour and capital. In this respect, both trans and posthumanism come very well adapted to our ‘post-truth’ times. We welcome submissions on this general theme, including the following topics:

  • Post- vs trans- humanist projections of the future of humanity, both utopic and dystopic
  • The appeal to post- and trans- humanist ideas and images in the general culture
  • Scientific bases – or not – for post- and trans- humanist knowledge claims
  •  The influence – or not – of post- and trans- humanist views on public policy
  • The place of capitalism in post- and trans- humanist imaginaries
  • The place of post- and trans- humanism in the academy: Do they bridge the ‘˜two cultures’?
  • How trans and post humanism conceive of the place of democracy in guiding the future
  • Exploration of how science communication invokes, borrows or rejects trans and posthumanist tropes.

We welcome ‘alternative’ contributions – for example, short pieces of prose or extracts of speculative near-future fiction – as well as empirically-based findings papers. We are also particularly keen to support early career researchers.

Author Information: Lyudmila A. Markova, Russian Academy of Science, markova.lyudmila2013@yandex.ru

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3vE

Please refer to:

It is difficult to find a place for the concept of truth in social epistemology. Current philosophers disagree on the status “truth” and “objectivity” as the basis of thinking about science. Meanwhile, the very name ‘social epistemology’ speaks to a serious inevitable turn in our attitude toward scientific knowledge.  Once epistemology becomes social, scientific knowledge is oriented not to nature, but to human beings. Epistemology, then, addresses not the laws of nature, but the process of their production by a scientist. In classical epistemology we have, as a result of scientific research, laws regarding the material reality of the world created by us. Experimental results, obtained in classical science, must be objective and true, or they become useless.

In social epistemology, scientific results represent social communication among scientists (and not just among scientists), their ability to produce new knowledge, and their professionalism. In this case, knowledge helps us to create not a material artificial world, but a virtual world which is able to think. For such knowledge, notions like “truth” and “objectivity” do not play a serious role. Other concepts such as “dialog”, “communication”, “interaction”, “difference” and “diversity” come to the fore. In these concepts, we can see a turn in the development of epistemological thinking.

However, social epistemology does not destroy its predecessor. Let us remember this definition of social epistemology which Steve Fuller gives in 1988:

How should the pursuit of knowledge be organized, given that under normal circumstances knowledge is pursued by many human beings, each working on a more or less well-defined body of knowledge and each equipped with roughly the same imperfect cognitive capacities, albeit with varying degree of access to one another’s activities?

It is not difficult to see that Fuller does not consider the aim of social epistemology as obtaining objective knowledge about the external world. He remains concerned about the diversity of social conditions in which scientists work. Changes in these conditions and features of an individual scientist such as professional competence, among others, should be taken into consideration.  Exactly these characteristics of thinking that come to the fore allow us to speak about a turn in the development of thinking. Now, the problems that exist in science and society require, for their solution, a new type of thinking. Still, we can find empirical reality the foundation both for classical (modern) and non-classical (based on social epistemology) logic.

Let us take an example. You bathe every day in the river Volga. You bathe today and you come to bathe tomorrow in the same river Volga. You cannot object that the river is still the Volga. Yet, at the same time, you see numerous changes from one day to the next—ripples appearing in, and new leaves appearing on, the water’s surface, the water temperature turning slightly colder and so on. It is possible to conclude that the river, after all, is not as it was yesterday. As Heraclitus famously observed: “You cannot enter the same river twice.”

Both conclusions are right. However, notions such as truth and objectivity did not lose their logical and historical significance; rather, they became marginal. Proponents of social epistemology should establish communication with classical logic and not try to destroy it.

Author Information: Frank Scalambrino franklscalambrino@gmail.com

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3nI

Editor’s Note: As we near the end of an eventful 2016, the SERRC will publish reflections considering broadly the immediate future of social epistemology as an intellectual and political endeavor.

Please refer to:

group_account

Image credit: Walt Jabsco, via flickr

Presently my interest in social epistemology is primarily related to policy development. Though I continue to be interested in the ways technology influences the formation of social identities, I also want to examine corporate agency. On the one hand, this relates to the notion of persona ficta and the idea that, beyond the persons comprising a group, a group itself may be considered a “person.” Take, for example, search committees for tenure-track professor positions. There is a sense in which the committee is supposed to represent the interests of the persona ficta of some group, be it the department, the university, etc. Otherwise, it would simply be the case that the committees were representing their own desires, or merely applying a merit-based template, and though the former characterization may often be true, the latter is clearly not the case. Moreover, because the decision-making is supposed to be in the name of, and based on the authority of, the persona ficta, the members of the search committee are supposedly not personally responsible for the decisions made. The questions raised by such a situation in which a persona ficta may be seen as a kind of mask covering the true social relations within the group determining the group’s decisions, I contextualize in terms of social epistemology.

On the other hand, I am interested in thinking about corporate agency and its efficacy in social environments. This is not unrelated to the question of the relation between the interests, knowledge, and actions of the corporate members which in some sense condition and sustain different types of (persona ficta) corporate agents. In other words, it is as if the collective interests, knowledge, and actions of members of a group constitute a kind of collective agent back to which changes in the world may be traced. I am interested in what I consider to be the ethical questions, which to some degree should factor into the various organizations of knowledge and power which sustain such corporate agents. To put it more narrowly and concretely would be to say, social epistemology may help us locate the points at which constitutive group members may be accountable for their contributions otherwise masked by some persona ficta. Subsequently, such accountability may be worked into policy development.

Author Information: Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, S.W.Fuller@warwick.ac.uk

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3nx

Editor’s Note: As we near the end of an eventful 2016, the SERRC will publish reflections considering broadly the immediate future of social epistemology as an intellectual and political endeavor.

Please refer to:

fox_in_snow

Image credit: Der Robert, via flickr

The Oxford Dictionary made ‘post-truth’ word of the year for 2016. Here is the definition, including examples of usage:

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief:

‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’

‘some commentators have observed that we are living in a post-truth age’

In STS terms, this definition is clearly ‘asymmetrical’ because it is pejorative, not neutral. It is a post-truth definition of ‘post-truth’. It is how those dominant in the epistemic power game want their opponents to be seen. In my recent symmetrical exposition of ‘post-truth’ for the Guardian, I suggested that the Oxford Dictionary’s definition speaks the lion’s truth, which tries to create as much moral and epistemic distance as possible from whatever facsimile of the truth the fox might be peddling. Thus, the fox—but not the lion—is portrayed as distorting the facts and appealing to emotion. Yet, the lion’s truth appears to the fox as simplistically straightforward and heavy-handed, often delivered in a fit of righteous indignation. Indeed, this classic portrayal of the lion/fox divide may better apply to the history of science than the history of politics.

For better or worse, STS recoiled from the post-truth worldview in 2004, when Bruno Latour famously waved the white flag in the Science Wars, which had been raging for nearly fifteen years—starting with the post-Cold War reassessment of public funding for science. Latour’s terms of surrender were telling. After all, he was the one who extended the symmetry principle from the Edinburgh School’s treatment of all human factors—regardless of whether we now deem them to have been ‘good’ and ‘bad’—to include all non-human factors as well. However, Latour hadn’t anticipated that symmetry applied not only to the range of objects studied but also the range of agents studying them.

Somewhat naively, Latour seemed to think that a universalization of the symmetry principle would make STS the central node in a universal network of those studying ‘technoscience’. Instead, everyone started to apply the symmetry principle for themselves, which led to rather cross-cutting networks and unexpected effects, especially once the principle started to be wielded by creationists, climate sceptics and other candidates for an epistemic ‘basket of deplorables’. And by turning symmetry to their advantages, the deplorables got results, at least insofar as the balance of power has gradually tilted more in their favour—again, for better or worse.

My own view has always been that a post-truth world is the inevitable outcome of greater epistemic democracy. In other words, once the instruments of knowledge production are made generally available—and they have been shown to work—they will end up working for anyone with access to them. This in turn will remove the relatively esoteric and hierarchical basis on which knowledge has traditionally acted as a force for stability and often domination. The locus classicus is the Republic, in which Plato promotes what in the Middle Ages was called a ‘double truth’ doctrine – one for the elites (which allows them to rule) and one for the masses (which allows them to be ruled).

Of course, the cost of making the post-truth character of knowledge so visible is that it also exposes a power dynamics that may become more intense and ultimately destructive of the social order. This was certainly Plato’s take on democracy’s endgame. In the early modern period, this first became apparent with the Wars of Religion that almost immediately broke out in Europe once the Bible was made readily available. (Francis Bacon and others saw in the scientific method a means to contain any such future conflict by establishing a new epistemic mode of domination.) While it is possible to defer democracy by trying to deflect attention from the naked power dynamics, as Latour does, with fancy metaphysical diversions and occasional outbursts in high dudgeon, those are leonine tactics that only serve to repress STS’s foxy roots. In 2017, we should finally embrace our responsibility for the post-truth world and call forth our vulpine spirit to do something unexpectedly creative with it.

The hidden truth of Aude sapere (Kant’s ‘Dare to know’) is Audet adipiscitur (Thucydides’ ‘Whoever dares, wins’).

Author Information: Robert Frodeman, University of North Texas, Robert.Frodeman@unt.edu

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3nN

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dickins_christmas

Image credit: valkrye131, via flickr

As we do every holiday season, last night we watched the 1951 version of Dicken’s Christmas Carol. It was deeply comforting, and deeply troubling. It’s great because the director (Desmond-Hurst) treats the subject matter with the gravity and modesty it deserves. This is the version that haunted my childhood: how Marley’s face on the door knocker frightened me, as did his banging of chains. Ditto the hand that juts out from the black figure of the ghost of Christmas Future.

But what frightens me now is what the story portends for our future. The movie declares that it’s a story of redemption, or as it says, of (individual) reclamation. But it is about something more fundamental than that. It assumes the existence of a moral and metaphysical order. The accounts always balance: Marley wears the chains he forged in life, and if Scrooge is to avoid the same fate he must come to his senses. Of course, terrible injustices exist in Dicken’s London, but there is a stability to the world that is intensely consoling. Now, however, it’s this stability and consolation that’s been lost.

I feel that the greatest task of the philosopher—I mean the term in a generic sense, which includes STSers and many others—is to try to identify the deepest, most profound, and most significant problem of his or her time and think it through. Of course, people will differ in their evaluation of what this is. But that’s ok. In fact it’s good, for it increases the chances that someone will get lucky and hit upon the right problem. This is what led me to environmental philosophy, and then to interdisciplinarity, and most recently to what might be called policy studies but which is really about thinking through the problem of the mismatch between the supply and the demand for knowledge.

Now, all these issues remain central. But I am increasingly gripped by the sense that it is our loss of a moral and metaphysical order that is the chief problem of our time—an instability that is being driven by science and technology. It’s a point that Ted Kaczynski spotted early, though I reject his methods. When I read about the latest developments in AI and DIYbiology I feel a world spinning out of control—and feel that it is this feeling, mis-interpreted, that has led us to Trump. It’s spawned a wildness that expresses itself in Trump’s statements and behavior, and of some of those who support him, a feeling that things have been spinning out of control (MAGA); but rather than trying to react in a conservative or Burkean manner to reestablish order, the urge has now become nihilistic, expressing itself as authoritarianism and irrationality—Bannon’s ‘let’s blow up the entire system’ and the GOP’s ‘who cares if Putin threw the election, our guy won’.

So it is that here, teaching in Texas, I find myself saying repeatedly to my classes: you guys say you are christian; you picket abortion clinics; but why aren’t you picketing the biology building, which represents a much greater threat to your world order? In this sense I think Fuller is correct, that our political choices are reorienting themselves from left-right to what might be called black-green—that the real debate before us is between those who seek deification via technoscience, versus those hoary old metaphysicians who declaim the folly of that path and call for the observance of some type of larger order and limit.

It’s a battle that I fear I am on the losing side of. Which goes a long way to explain my love of old movies like A Christmas Carol, where I can (for all the Jim Crow or sexism or other stupidities) for an hour or two find a moral and metaphysical order that offers me solace.

Author Information: Matthew R. X. Dentith, ICUB Fellow, University of Bucharest, m.dentith@episto.org

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3nl

Editor’s Note: As we near the end of an eventful 2016, the SERRC will publish reflections considering broadly the immediate future of social epistemology as an intellectual and political endeavor.

Please refer to:

conspiracy_3

Image credit: Fabrizio Angius, via flickr

Call me self-interested, but as the festive season approaches, and (some) duties relax, I find I now have the time to consider those pernicious thoughts which are the dull echoes at the back of my mind. ‘What is it about social epistemology’, they rattle (like a certain Dickensian spectre) ‘that keeps you working right up to Christmas eve?’

My work, thus far, has been the analysis of how epistemic agents like ourselves work out how we judge the warrant of particular conspiracy theories. It is interesting work (at least personally), and occasionally it makes one paranoid (as evidenced by increasingly plausible conspiracy theories concerning the recent US presidential elections). Yet one cannot appraise conspiracy theories alone. Indeed, the vast number of them we seem to encounter on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis can sometimes make one think ‘Stuff this for a lark!’ and retreat into the kind of scepticism of conspiracy theories generally I (and other philosophers) have argued is prima facie unprincipled. As such, the issue which motivates me (and, I argue, is a central concern when it comes to the whole social epistemological project) is how we distribute the epistemic load when it comes to assessing complex claims.

After all, if I asked you to appraise and judge all the conspiracy theories you know, you would never have time for coffee, let alone breakfast. Judging the merits (or lack thereof) of specific conspiracy theories is a hard task, given they are oft complex claims, made up of different types of evidence, and relying on the testimony of persons who may, or may not be experts. Yet traditional treatments of how we judge and appraise conspiracy theories usually rely on individual epistemic agents working out on their own what to believe, with some hand-waving towards claims about ‘and taking into account what the experts say…’

Surely, though, the model of how we appraise any complex claim about the world is one where individual epistemic agents rely not just on their own epistemic abilities, but also that of their epistemic peers? Rather, we distribute the cognitive load throughout our epistemic communities. Now, any conspiracy theorist worth their salt will reply ‘But what about the possibility that the epistemic community is conspired, or filled with disinformation agents?’ Awkward as it seems, we cannot easily dismiss such a reply, given that any historically or politically literate person can provide us with examples of conspiracies where certain groups abused appeals to authority, or subverted public institutions. As such, how we distribute the epistemic burden when it comes to appraising and judging conspiracy theories is a (to my mind) a central (and thus interesting) question in social epistemology, because it allows us to interrogate a far more fundamental set of questions—what duties (if any) do individual epistemic agents have when hearing some conspiracy theory, and what should we require (if anything) of other epistemic agents in our communities? We can get to the answer to those questions via a whole range of different cases, but it turns out (for me at least) talk of belief in conspiracy theories seems the most obvious route.

Author Information: Alcibiades Malapi-Nelson, alci.malapi@outlook.com

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3ni

Editor’s Note: As we near the end of an eventful 2016, the SERRC will publish reflections considering broadly the immediate future of social epistemology as an intellectual and political endeavor.

Please refer to:

precaution

Image credit: Dan Brickley, via flickr

I finished a BA(Hon) in Latin America, an MA in French Canada and recently a PhD in English Canada. All in philosophy. The first part of my formation was entirely Continental, the second mostly Analytical and the third (and longest) was in a field “above” the two previous ones: Philosophy of Science.

My current research revolves around the future of humanity due to innovative and disruptive research occurring within Converging Technologies—Nanotechnology, Information Technology, Biotechnology and Cognitive Science (NBIC). Since NBIC’s research agenda openly aims at the profound alteration of the human condition, I explore the implications of these technologies for our understanding of what it will mean to be “human” at the cognitive and biological levels, along with its ethical ramifications. I pursued the doctoral degree in order to locate, articulate and clarify the origins of this hopeful yet disruptive view: classical cybernetics. This investigation starts in Philosophy of Science and Cognitive Science and develops into Metaphysics and Philosophy of Technology. I am publishing a book in 2017 on this topic for Palgrave Macmillan.

The second aspect of my research agenda focuses on the ethical ramifications of the previous theme. Departing from Ethics of Technology and Science Policy, I want to develop an alternative view to the “precautionary” approach usually found as public policy’s default position towards the possible social repercussions of pervasively disruptive technologies. Precautionary stances tend to emphasize the potential dangers of both pioneering scientific and unprecedented technological avenues of research, calling for the slowing down or even halting of investigation until the side effects are better known. In response to this, many researchers do not feel comfortable with the alleged “red tape” that is in contrast absent in other research environments. I anticipate an alternative position deserving further exploration—one that would foster a risk-friendly approach but nevertheless regulated by the state, so as to prevent: a) Already occurring radically libertarian stances prone to be ultimately subsumed by corporations; b) A gradual but steady brain drain towards more “ethics-free” environments. The feasibility of an alternative “proactionary” approach, which is increasingly gaining traction, will be further articulated, evaluated, and if possible, improved.

A spinoff of the previous two research paths, already briefly hinted at in my book, will be the exploration of the metaphysical and religious surreptitious commitments behind these canonically secular investigations.

Post-Truth Blues? Adam Briggle

SERRC —  December 22, 2016 — 6 Comments

Author Information: Adam Briggle, University of North Texas, Adam.Briggle@unt.edu

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3nc

Editor’s Note: As we near the end of an eventful 2016, the SERRC will publish reflections considering broadly the immediate future of social epistemology as an intellectual and political endeavor.

Please refer to:

the_blues

Image credit: Tim, via flickr

I think that 2017 might find social epistemologists busy reckoning with the fallout from the word of the year in 2016: post-truth. The definition for post-truth is: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The Oxford English Dictionary online gives this example: “in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire.”

Bruno Latour might snidely conclude that “we have always been post-truth,” because there never was such a thing as objectivity and cherry-picking data is a game as old as data. Steve Fuller wrote something similar in a recent column. Daniel Sarewitz might as well just say “No duh! We have long suffered from an ‘excess of objectivity’!”

Finally, the world has bought what we have been selling! Oh…hmmm …

Now, maybe it is just my weak stomach, but I am feeling queasy with sellers’ remorse. If all expertise is just institutionalized power, then forget the fourth branch of government—CIA, DOE, EPA, Economic Council of Advisors, Department of Education—all of it is suspect and subject to revision. It strikes me as eerily similar to the conditions in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany that prompted Robert K. Merton to articulate the normative structure of science. Or maybe it is better thought of as “the problem of extension:” Perhaps someone other than a nuclear physicist can run the DOE, given that it is tangled up in all sorts of non-technical aspects of society, but Rick Perry?

I wonder if some of us might whistle a guilty tune under our breath, turn around and start re-assembling some of the structures we had earlier pulled apart.

Deconstructing such wooly myths like ‘objective facts’ I wonder if the social epistemology crowd might feel a bit of sellers’ remorse on this score.

Author Information: Mark D. West, University of North Carolina, Asheville, west@unca.edu

West, Mark D. “The Holidays and What is Given.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 12 (2016): 17-19.

Editor’s Note: As we near the end of an eventful 2016, the SERRC will publish reflections considering broadly the immediate future of social epistemology as an intellectual and political endeavor.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3mV

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winter_fog

Image credit: geir tønnessen, via flickr

We have reached the holidays, and for some of us, these are happy times. The media, at least, treat these days as if the merriment and cheer are givens; decorations festoon stores and public places, and music about Christmas cheer permeates any space; where two or more are gathered; there “Jingle Bell Rock” is in their midst.

In the Jewish tradition, winter season means a hanukkiah will make its yearly appearance, with the story of how one’s family came to own it. A normal menorah has seven branches, each with a candle holder; a hanukkiah has an eighth helper candle, which is out of line with the others. The hanukkiah is used only on Hanukkah, with its light serving no function other than to recall the miracle of Hanukkah.

Every hanukkiah brings with it a story, and every hanukkiah is itself a gift of memory. Our hanukkiah was carried by my cousin through the streets of Jerusalem, down the crowded streets, and across the United States, finally coming to rest in our home, a gift after many years of travel. Other families tell stories of hanukkiah smuggled from foreign countries under the glare of repressive regimes, carried in suitcases through customs at Ellis Island, bought for pennies in shtetls in lands long fled. The hanukkiah is a given of the holiday, and is, often, itself, a given. Like a menorah, it gives light; but the light is for only one purpose—a ‘given’ purpose.

Gift and Given

Considering that the root of both ‘gift’ and ‘given’ is the Proto-Indo-European root *ghabh-, “to give or receive”, I don’t think it is too far afield, in this season of giving and receiving, to consider not only gifts but givens, which, after all, to be givens must have been given by someone or something. As such, we might ask ourselves as social epistemologists what are the givens of our field, and what does it mean, in Jean-Luc Marion’s pregnant formulation, to exist in the realm of the “étant donné,” the “being given?”

What I mean by that is that we (the rational ‘cogita’ who operate as the members of the SERRC) take ourselves as ‘givens,’ as ‘données.’ From our own existence, we bootstrap the existence of groups (if I can exist, then I must, as a good agent of the Enlightenment, grant such agency to others, who as aggregates, are groups). Once we assume our own existence as a ‘given,’ we can take as our ‘given’ the group; and our ‘gift’ to the world of the philosophical is the notion of group epistemology. Particularly in this age of the Internet, and of electronic publications and forums, the disembodied res cogitans of Descartes is closer to our felt sense of what we are, as a group, than we might wish.

The cogito, and various discussions of it such as Hintikka’s (1962, reprinted in 1967), are familiar to all. But, as Williams (2014) suggests, the Cartesian argument (“cogito, ergo sum”) is posed in a more complex manner than the familiar formulation has it; Descartes imagines first the existence of a deity, then (implicitly) a self thinking of that deity and the qualities of that deity including benevolence; then he imagines that some malicious entity might cause him to perceive the world and its qualities in some way that does not accurately reflect the real. But, reasons Descartes, he himself is thinking, and from that he bootstraps that he exists; hence “cogito, ergo sum” is the endpoint, not the beginning, of a thought process; and that thought process is more akin to an intuition than to a proof, one which Stone (1993) argues is best understood as an enthymeme. Boos (1983) argues that the cogito’s ‘thoughtless thinking’ must be about something; and that the Cartesian formulation ends up as a metalogical formulation something like “If I doubt that I am, I am,” with the “I am” serving as the “point ferme” of Gueroult (1953) and the Archimedian fixed point of the cogito’s Gödelian diagonal lemma.

As Boos suggests, the implication of this is clear; this sounds suspiciously like a variant of the Hintikka’s Positive Introspection Axiom (the KK-thesis), which argues that agents know that they know what they know. The debate concerning this thesis is substantial (see, for example, Williamson 2000; Ginet 1970; Carrier 1974). But our theorizing must begin somewhere; we must accept some sort of metatheoretic notion if we are to devise theories at all. In our case, if we are to speak of groups, there must be individuals, and the first individual of all is “I.” That is our given, if we are to avoid the endless cycle of “no more this than that” of the Pyrrhonian skeptics.

Assumptions and Limitations

This is not to say that a domain of study can not function with a fully negative conceptualization of its object of study. Jean-Luc Marion, in his book God Without Being (1995), considers the limiting case of an apophatic theology; if we can, as Maimonides (Benor 1995) argued, make only negative assertions as to the attributions of a divine entity, are we not at some point forced to suggest that even being is an attribute which the divine entity does not possess?

As Marion (2002) suggests, the givenness of the existence of a divine entity is not the predicate of theology, but the existence of those searching for the divine entity is; as Kaplan (2010) argued, it is possible to have Judaism without a deity, but not without Jews. In a philosophical vein, how does one privilege Husserl’s Gegebenheit (Leask 2003) without merely assuming it as a given? How do we understand Being without taking it as given, and without somehow making that ‘given’ into a ‘Given,’ with a somehow transcendental ‘Giver?’

We, as social epistemologists, are in an interesting position with such questions. We, at some level, are can-kickers par excellence; in our struggle to explain knowledge structures as arising from groups, we are indeed situated in a local struggle, with its own give and take. But sometimes, perhaps, we should look up from our regional debates, and consider the larger issues afield; the “not yet” of Hegel’s “tarrying with the negative” (Foshay 2002) of these limits of the Given, and of the gifts we receive, and give, as a result of this struggle.

References

Benor, Ehud Z. “Meaning and Reference in Maimonides’ Negative Theology.” Harvard Theological Review 88, no. 3 (1995): 339-360.

Boos, William. “A Self-Referential ‘Cogito’.” Philosophical Studies 44, no. 2 (1983): 269-290.

Carrier, L. S. “Skepticism Made Certain.” The Journal of Philosophy 71, no 5 (1974): 140-150.

Foshay, Raphael. “‘Tarrying with the Negative’: Bataille and Derrida’s Reading of Negation in Hegel’s Phenomenology.” The Heythrop Journal 43, no. 3 (2002): 295-310.

Ginet, Carl. “What Must be Added to Knowing to Obtain Knowing That One Knows?” Synthese 21 no. 2 (1970): 163-186.

Gueroult, Martial. Descartes Selon L’ordre des Raisons, 2 vols. (Descartes’ Philosophy Interpreted according to the Order of Reasons). Paris: Aubier, 1953.

Hintikka, Jaakko. “Cogito, Ergo Sum: Inference or Performance?” In Descartes – A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Willis Doney, 108-139. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 1967.

Kaplan, Mordecai M. Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American-Jewish Life. Jewish Publication Society, 2010.

Leask, Ian. “Husserl, Givenness, and the Priority of the Self.” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 11, no. 2 (2003): 141-156.

Marion, Jean-Luc. God Without Being: Hors-Texte. University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Marion, Jean-Luc. Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness. Stanford University Press, 2002.

Stone, Jim. “Cogito Ergo Sum.” The Journal of Philosophy 90, no. 9 (1993): 462-468.

Williams, Bernard. Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry. New York: Routledge, 2014.

Williamson, Timothy. Knowledge and Its Limits. Oxford University Press, 2000.

Author Information: Clarissa Ai Ling Lee, National University of Malaysia, call@ukm.edu.my

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3mK

Editor’s Note: As we near the end of an eventful 2016, the SERRC will publish reflections considering broadly the immediate future of social epistemology as an intellectual and political endeavor. For this post, Clarissa was kind enough share, and write a new abstract for, “ArtScientist/ScienceArtist: Finding a Creative-Intellectual Room of One’s Own” from her rebooted blog Lateral Worlds.

art-science

Image credit: Carlos Andrés Reyes, via flickr

In thinking about a direction for 2017, this blog post concerns some of the practical directions I hope to take with my work as a social epistemologist. That comes in the form of navigating the possibilities and difficulties of creating a potential for consilience between the arts and the sciences, not so much from the idea of a unity as that tends to sub-serve socially and economically more dominant epistemology over the other, but in terms of the method and process of creating new knowledge. Such negotiation can be referred to as “artscience” or “science-art”, one that operates less from and obligation to cross between the arts and the sciences than a necessity of moving away from thinking in terms of binarism or pluralism. What this could mean in practice is something the post explores.

Now that I am going from full-time vacation to half-time in the week leading up to Christmas, the start of the second week of vacation cum transition period is also a good time to do a sort of personal review of a book, David Edwards’s ArtScience: Creativity in the Post-Google Generation, and explain what it means for me as I am now configuring my research programme for the next year, to combine the interests and work started in the past I had not have a chance to pursue further due to various constraints with the work I do now. Most importantly, I have to figure out how to work with what I do have, or that which I can access.

I bought this book on a whim, four years ago, from the enormous Powell’s warehouse in Portland, OR, and only finished reading it yesterday. It is a quarto-size book of about 190++ pages, and quite an accessible read despite being a scholarly book, although this depends on the reader’s inclination and how much time he/she wants to take with it. Edwards actually breaks up the explication of the subject in a rather topically coherent manner, across seven chapters. He breaks up the story that he tells about the artscientists/science-artists across the chapters to highlight relevant aspects of their stories to the theme of each of the chapter they appear in. Edwards uses the term artscientists in the book, though I would like to split that up for reasons I will explain in the next paragraph. The aert scientist is a term to denote those whose work do not quite fit into the box of their disciplines, yet whose explorations outside that box are integral to inventing novel, though not entirely unprecedented from a global intellectual history perspective, ways of not only thinking about their fields, but also about how to make their contributions matter beyond the confines of their fields.

As Edwards is particularly interested in those whose work straddle the artistic and the scientific, he does not spend much time in talking about those whose work are largely confined to singles cultural fields (be they only within the humanities, the social sciences, or the sciences/engineering), probably because they would not fulfill the goal of bridging the “two cultures” first explicitly underlined by C.P. Snow, nor would they be accurately considered as art-scientists or science-artists. Nevertheless, one could consider the book itself as an engagement into transdisciplinary epistemology and practice by nature of its advocacy for the production of ways of knowing that are still emergent. I will not actually talk about the cases Edwards use in the book as this is not that kind of review, but rather, how the arguments of the book work for me intellectually, and for my intellectual projects. But I highly recommend that book to anyone interested in the discussion of transdisciplinary artscience practices as the explication of the topic in this book is quite inspiring, even if not perfect. Moreover, unlike works that would take very particular views, Edwards appears open to considering the multiple ways in which such practices manifest not merely within obvious sites, or sites that are familiar ground to him, but outside of those comfort zones.

The artscientist is someone who does not feel that using merely the tools dictated by the authorities of their discipline help them in answering the questions they pose, or even allow them to bring their own disciplinary professional engagement to a level that is satisfying and fulfilling – the sense that life is lived to the full. While Edwards uses the term artscientist to discuss those who make art a part of their  scientific method inasmuch as they make science a practice of their art, I would like to talk about the science-artist to denote a scientist who uses art as a research method, or even one who sees themselves as natural scientist (or one who has the temperament of a scientist), or even an engineer and technologist, but does not turn to the usual method for approaching the science – instead, they have natural affinity with the process of artistic creation (or artistic approach) to working with the science of their choice – taking on the tools of an artist and not calling themselves scientists even if they might possess some of the same specialty knowledge (or almost equivalent level of knowledge); and in some cases, even advanced training in the sciences, but choose not to identify professionally as a scientist, nor work in another field of humanities and the social scientist that do not challenge the dominant doctrines from their scientific training. Some might even choose to work with their science outside the constraints of the laboratory, a specific fieldwork as usually defined by their science, or the computer and blackboard without complete disconnection from such tools or sites.

The art can come in many forms – it could be textual-visual, tactile, kinetic, audio, and any other form and method of artistic expression. Some of the examples Edwards uses represent those who could potentially be identify as such, though for the most part, his artscientists are still wedded to some form of disciplinarity, even if they assimilate processes and ideas that fall outside of the disciplines they work from. As he admits, almost all of his case studies receive support, at varying levels, from institutions even if that support was not directly for the process of their engagement, but rather, the successful outcome stemming from the process. The way an science-artist works follows the indefinable/lateral processes that Edwards talk about, but their work might not necessarily be accepted by other scientists, or even those who profess themselves as guardians of the scientific method (which could therefore include philosophers of science, historians of science, and sociologists of science). In other words, the work of this group of people might be largely invisible, or perhaps only be known by other identifiers that obfuscate the science-artist nature of the work or process. One thing that Edwards mentioned in the final chapter of the book is revealing of the true nature of the art-scientist/science-artist – their work cannot be replicated or repeated easily by others because they are not using methods that could be readily identified or even transmitted, not even by another artscientist/science-artist. In other words, the method is not methodical, the system is systematic but not reducible to distinguishable parts.

Even as he tells stories of these inspirational men and women who consider the process as important, if not more important, than the end goal of the achievement, and acknowledges the difficulties under which they operate, many of his examples are successful men and women from largely privileged and well-resourced backgrounds – if they were not already privileged from the beginning, they attained the position of privilege by the time they were at the prime of their creative lives. Even if there is no specific and well-defined resource or institution that supports their work, these men and women have enough access to certain resources to allow their work to continue on the side.  It is the same whether one operates from the first world, with many resources, or in the third world, where the resources are  less accessible to those not from a sufficiently elite background. That said, I am interested in exploring how one could make the ideas of artscience practice work for someone without institutional support and how one could go about building the required networks and resources to do the work.

Most importantly, I am interested in knowing how one could integrate many of the foundational inquiries of an artscience/science-art work into larger social-epistemological issues involving problems of disability (one of the gripes I have with the book is the lack of a sufficiently diverse example of an artscientist/science-artist who has to grapple with much more than epistemic/intellectual/creative resistance to their cause), lack of material resource (as a neoliberal economy has made less and less knowledge accessible while expecting ‘originality’ that stems from having access),  social prejudices/bigotry, and many other forms of inqeuity that the knowledge/creative worker operates from.  For artscience not to replicate the same hegemonic and stiffling ideologies of the other academic/industrial/’creative’ institutions, it must not operate from a position of political indifference or ignorance. Edwards addresses how a certain level of socio-political awareness drove decision of his examples to engage in the work they do, and the work itself does not necessarily represent a foundational invention at an epistemic level, but rather, a form of socio-epistemic innovation, i.e. when a medical doctor and specialist uses not only her medical knowledge, but her interest in performing arts, visual art, and public communication, to allow for social medicine to engage directly with the scientific aspect of the medicine (though probably not in the way that a rigid ideologue of a logico-deductive version of scientific method would recognise as engagement). However, I am curious if one can make foundational level engagement matter even to those who are not direct beneficiaries to such innovations, but who can derive less direct benefits. As a practising social-epistemologists, I daresay that there is a lot of room for that level of engagement in artscience or science-arti practices, although it depends as much on the person involved as on the work done.

One of the continuous theme throughout the book is that of idea translation, and the acknowledgement that the idea translation can come in many forms that could be far from straightforward, heuristic in nature, non-linear, and prone to failure (depending on one’s ability to find resonance with one’s target audience). Although most of the chapters of the book are focused on examples of individuals who function largely from the academy or from public institutions, Edwards also provides examples of how those in the industry, such as venture capitalist and consultants, engage across the spectrum of art and science in the services they offer. But as Edwards acknowledges the constraints that probably make the engagement they make. Therefore, however exceptional they may seem to the industry they are in, it is possible that their contributions might still be considered mundane when viewed from a global and broader perspective of potential that could emerge from artscience/science-art practices. It is my intent to see if there is a way for breaking out of this impasse, although it might mean having to start with less ambition and doing what is more coherent even as one moves towards increasingly risky ventures.

Another interesting argument Edwards makes in the book, and which I agree with completely, is the lack of going beyond the ideas-scheme when it comes to academy –  a system that does not reward that academic who tries to operationalise their work beyond the publication of their idea schemes that come from their working in isolation or collaboratively (the difficulties and false promises of collaboration is very well-addressed in the book); or to fulfill the expectation of grants they are expected to obtain to fulfill the expectation of their KPIs). Edwards mostly limit his examples to potential collaboration with industry (commercial) and certain artistic organisations – I would like to see how this could be done in collaboration with other forms of social-entrepreneurship. Many  NGOS start up but fail because they lack the spectrum of human resource that are capable of making maintaining the good idea seed through idealism with strong doses of savvy and pragmatism that only those with experiences that come from engaging with a variety of work/situations outside of strict boundaries could offer.  Many NGOS fail, or fall into stasis, because many lack precisely that ability to synergise and synthesise a diverse, and not even always ideologically homogeneous, workforce, while the problem of collaborative effort and sustainability are under-addressed. If one were to start up an NGO that is in the service of producing ideas and workable recommendations for society from a non-traditional angle, how could that look like?

Finally, given my own interest in conceptualising novelty, there are many examples of novelty in different forms and practices that serve as the roadmap for researchers and scholars such as myself attempting to understand what it would mean to design and implement a research program that is novel from a social-epistemological perspective. This brings me back to the earlier connection that I have made to transdisciplinarity, and how an artscientist/science-artist is truly a practitioner of transdisciplinary social-epistemology, although the outcome of that practice could range from one that is not coherent but still recognisable, to one that is coherently unrecognisable, or even that which is neither coherent nor recognisable stemming not from vagueness, but rather, from one’s inability to pin them to anything familiar to one’s experience.

In reading that book, I am reminded again of an ambition I had from fifteen years ago, fresh off college, of how I could find overlaps in the arts and sciences and find a fulfilling niche for myself, working at that intersection. I moved away from science, which was my original training, not because I got fed-up or bored with it (I found the curriculum boring and not engaging but that was the problem of the course structure, not with the subject matter itself), because I felt an absence I could not properly articulate then.  That search brought me into the humanities, and for a few years, I was happily immersed in the field, though I never forget my first love, which was science. By the time I came to the PhD, I knew I was not a fully converted humanist but rather, one who needs to exist in a composite world. I pushed that thought aside because I felt I needed to conform to get ahead, but the problem keeps cropping up and I realise I have difficulties identifying myself with any particular discipline, which makes applying for a tenure-track job (or even most postdocs), a challenge. While my colleagues and friends largely wrestle with what jobs are available within the interdiscipline of their discipline, or discipline of a seemingly interdisciplinary position, and apply accordingly, worrying only if they will get to the next level of consideration, my anxieties come in a completely different form, because academically speaking, I am equivalent to a homeless waif.

For a long time, I wrestled with the possibility that I might be too fickle to commit to any particular discipline or profession but now I realise that I am committed, but not to something that could be considered as regular at this time. Even before graduate school, I had thought of becoming an entrepreneur (perhaps a hybrid of social-intellectual entrepreneur) in order to preserve an independence I protect so jealously – much of my knowledge of entrepreneurship stems from the various jobs I have held to support my ‘academic habit’; family, friends and acquaintances who are entrepreneurs, and my own research into the different facets of the entrepreneurial position. While pragmatism and profitability are both important,  they are not the only main determinants to a successful business of any sort. Moreover, if I were to sell something, it has to be something that I would be interested in, as a consumer of that product, and that would be something crucial to the shaping of my professional agenda in 2017. The book reminds me that there are people out there wrestling with this difficulty at varying levels, and the point is as much in the journey as in the endgame.