Thursday 2 February 2012

Professor Simon Schaffer - History & Philosophy Of Science (Cambridge)

I was reluctant to listen to Melvyn Bragg's latest 'In Our Time' discussion on The Scientific Method. I assumed it would be historically inaccurate and preaching the gospel of science. This is the one where science thinks it's a meta-theory and has metastasized into a Latter Day Saints Church of Scientific Materialism. 

This is considerably more dangerous than any other religion. We've always killed each other over the business of God but by and large have left the planet intact to start over again. Our current materialist science trajectory is a wasteland of pollution, planetary asset stripping, ecocide and nukes. The last point is the most pressing as Depleted Uranium (DU) weapon used in the Middle East by the Christian West has left a radioactive footprint greater than Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

The disposable society creates disposable humans.

Materialist science's greatest failure is its ability to grow more food than ever so that half the planet are obese and the other half are starving. With a population estimated at seven billion there have never been more hungry or sick people on the planet today. 

I don't like losing opportunities because my biases got in the way. I decided to give the Scientific Method by In Our Time a try but my suspicions were confirmed when Melvyn Bragg subjects senior UCL lecturer in Philosophy of Science, Michela Massimi on air with an inexplicable monologue of infantile scientific jingoism. This is a term I invented to describe a consumer society deluded that materialist science will shepherd humanity through another 1859 coronal mass ejection. The telegraph system was knocked out that time. It was the closest to iPhone technology we had and as we're cyclically due for another it's worth spending half a day researching who has an underground base ticket the State has been building for VIP bankers since the 40's paid for by ordinary tax paying workers.

Fortunately Simon Schaffer dissipates the early negativity by sharing Isaac Newtons principle obsession with super woo eschatology when he wasn't knocking out better Keppler algebra. The show picks up after this and becomes one of my favourites but despite Melvyn not because of him. I felt upbeat after listening and that was so very welcome as I expected to feel irritated. If the scientific narrative gatekeepers are astute enough to elegantly outline that our science is intellectually incoherent then there's a chance we can rescue science and get a better role and redefinition of it's method, its purpose and it's coexistence with the unmeasurable and the unrepeatable.

Look, I don't have a problem with science that takes care of hungry bellies at home instead of landing on the moon. I'm all for a science that levels inequalities globally instead of building more blow up science projects like the CERN large hadron collider. That kind of sick science has only one immediate beneficiary and that will be the military industrial complex's craven need for new enemies in space to plunder the galaxy when our planet is spent.

Our materialist science has to go. When it fails (as it will when the cost burden imposed on Universe is greater than Universe accepts) we need to have a conversation about the kind of science that provides what we need instead of what we want. I felt very grateful last night that the likes of Simon Scaffer are equipped to make the right kind of suggestions with examples that ordinary people can understand.

Very very rarely I have an urge to get back to the UK of CCTV. The History of Philosophy and science at UCL or Cambridge just overtook doing a Masters at SOAS in Asian Studies.

You should listen to the show. I never have anything good to say about the science establishment and so here is my type of scientific anomaly.