Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Saturday, March 5, 2011

nulla scientia probat suum subjectum esse

As some commenters on posts below have pointed out, science is more a set of methods than it is an ontological view. Precisely. No science can prove the existence of its object of study. Every science by definition must begin from some basic assumption about what the world is—organic molecules, packets of matter, neuron firings—then build methods that will study these assumed phenomena. New assumption? New science. Energy seen as waves gives rise to weird results above certain temperatures–Try another model–Energy comes in packets: Quantum theory.

(Quantum theory might be the ultimate example at present, since the Standard Model positively prohibits ontological interpretations—you are only allowed to get very accurate results based on very accurate measurements.)

This is precisely why philosophy must get its head out of the epistemological sand and begin to probe again in the ontological realm. Modernity seems to have both science and humanities in check. The one is hamstrung by default ontologies that are never questioned, resulting in shrinking grants for younger scientists whose discoveries might not have some obvious payoff to their corporate masters.

Meanwhile the humanities are asked to explain it, to make sense of it, to midwife it into cultural existence. Never to question it, to set agendas or to work with scientists. Study them, sure, maybe, only just—remember how much trouble Latour got into for doing only that—but in heaven's name don't think about telling them what to do or how to think! Despite the fact that the physicists and ecological scientists who have talked with me quite recently are happy that I'm thinking some things through.

No, humanities must confine itself to an island ever shrinking as the lapping water of mechanist materialism, modernity's default ontology, comes nearer and nearer, “eliminating” everything in its wake but the tiny things and macro things to which it strives to reduce medium sized things.

Theodor Adorno would call the position of sciences and humanities “two halves of a torn whole to which however they do not add up.”

Levi Bryant's recent post on Massumi reminded me why it was so hard until recently to do anything but clean up the epistemological corners of the shrinking island. You can sense the pressure in Donna Haraway's “Cyborg Manifesto”—ideas are “about” this, physical phenomena are “about” that. About, about, about—humanities scholars are supposed to study what things are “about.”

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