FW: [iDC] reading list // religious mediated spaces

Stallabrass, Julian Julian.Stallabrass at courtauld.ac.uk
Mon Sep 11 09:20:38 EDT 2006

I know that this is how we are meant to think in humanities-world, and that it makes us feel warm and comfortable inside, but I wonder...
Objectivity died with quantum physics, and any statement is dependent on its language. Yes to both, up to a point; but quantum physics is not contradictory in its mathematical formulation (Feynman is good on this), only when that is translated into words, so maybe one statement cuts against the other.
Kuhn underestimates the extent to which scientific ideas build on each other; his classic case--of relativity--really works against his argument, since Newtonian physics was retained (and is still of course used) in many situations. And, of course, scientists (like anyone else) are often conservative and like to defend ideas they have put a lot of work into. So what? At least they have more of an idea than many in the humanities about what counts as a counter-example, and theories do get discredited.
In a way this argument reflects those in theory of photography, in which it was rightly said that photographs are never entirely objective; they reflect the subjectivities of their makers and users; they are ideological, and so on. But does this mean that there is no objective element present at all, as some theorists of the 1970s onwards would have us believe? That we wouldn't rather have a UFO sighting recorded by a group of amateur photographers than amateur watercolourists?
Likewise with science, if you really believe there is no objectivity there (as Gellner put it) you have the problem of explaining how we moved from being five thousand years ago a few scattered roving bands of scavengers to corresponding globally like this now.


From: idc-bounces at bbs.thing.net on behalf of John Saccà
Sent: Sun 10/09/2006 00:20
To: Simon Biggs
Cc: idc at bbs.thing.net
Subject: Re: [iDC] reading list // religious mediated spaces

2006/9/9, Simon Biggs <simon at littlepig.org.uk>:
> To me it seems
> a given that science depends on an eternally sceptical view of data of any
> kind. In such a context belief must be absent.

This view of science was refuted long ago by Thomas Kuhn and Paul
Feyerabend, among others.  As Feyerabend pointed out (in his
_Philosophical Papers_), the terms in which any scientific observation
is expressed inevitably depend on a metaphysical ontology.  For
example, in order to count things, you have to believe that the
universe is constituted in such a way that there are discrete entites
that can be counted.

Science cannot be exempt from Wittgenstein's observation that the use
of language depends, at some point, on an unjustifiable belief that
the words we use have coherent meanings.

In very practical terms, as Kuhn showed in _The Structure of
Scientific Revolutions_, the pursuit of what he called "normal
science" depends on belief in a paradigm that justifies the costs and
risks involved in undertaking certain kinds of research rather than
others.  Far from being an unfettered pursuit of scepticism, "normal
science" (i.e. almost all science) seeks mainly to extend the
application of an existing paradigm, whose validity is taken for
granted.  "Revolutionary science" occurs when one paradigm is
abandoned in favour of another.  But the strength of belief in the old
paradigm, so necessary for the social cohesion of scientific
disciplines, often makes scientists resist revolutions with all their


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