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Re: Further thoughts on science as culture ...
by Elson Boles
07 August 2003 14:51 UTC
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Boles: responses embedded
Elson E. Boles
Assistant Professor
Saginaw Valley State University
>>> Luke Rondinaro 08/07/03 12:38AM >>>
You may be interested in the following response via my list to your "science-as-culture" argument on WSN.


Now, I'm sure you disagree with this and with my own remarks that were posted on the World System Network; still I believe it important to get beyond these points of contention and focus on the roots of our positions. And, I truly do wish to understand your own position better.

Tell me: if science can't provide "truth", then what can it provide? Can science truly provide us with "knowledge" of any sort?
Boles: Truth, no. Knowledge, of course. 
Also, if it is a just a system of meaning, then doesn't this rule really extend then as well to the data we collect in science, the information we organize, and even our overall perceptions/ readings/and observations in scientific investigations? Isn't this material also and equally shaped/skewed by our systems of meaning?
Boles: "Just" doesn't make sense to me. Meaning-systems are significant for the participants. Yes, all the data, etc. is part of, in this case, the scientific meaning system.
You're argument while stripping away at the solidity of "science" seems to be crystallizing the notion of "culture."
Boles: Not stripping away the solidity. Science, by virtue of it's methods, is probably the most relatively objective means of obtaining knowledge.  Of course, science provides knowledge of a particular kind, e.g. knowledge of what is observable/measurable.  It doesn't create ethnic knowledge (e.g. language, customs, mores, artistic, or religious knowledge).  But science can provide knowledge - the study of - these other meaning systems and their methods of knowledge (and of itself, e.g. scientific studies of scientific methods).   Universities employ the scientific method to study a variety of other meaning systems.
Isn't culture as intangible as science if not moreso than "science?"
Boles: I don't see what "tangibility" has to do with it.  From a scientific perspective (meaning system), science can be understood as a culture (meaning system).  That is, I'm using the scientific method to argue that science is a meaning system, and thus the argument is self-referential and, by the same methods, it may be said that this finding may not be apparent to people who aren't using the scientific meaning system to make sense of and give meaning to their world (which is what any meaning system does).
If there are no "cultures" and all there is must be a WORLD SYSTEM with its linkages (per Gunder Frank's thesis), then where does this leave science, knowledge, and human societies? ...
Boles:  Huh?  I don't think Frank suggests that there are no cultures; and I suspect that for him society is the world-system (e.g. society doesn't equal ethnic groups).
Such reasoning it seems would leave us in a nihilistic and chaotic world of intellectual/perceptual phantasms and nothing more. Is there not anything in nature or our human world with solidity to it, because if there's not, then what exactly are we left with?
Boles: I personally don't' need "solidity" as you see it.  I'm fine with accepting the reality as it seems to me using certain scientific culture (methods/ethics). 
At some point, it seems to me, there must be a foundation of solidity ("truth") in both human life and the natural world, otherwise we are left we an unknowable limbo of what actually "is/is not" about us in the world. Without some semblance of "truth" in existence, neither science nor society would be possible for us as human beings - and as we've seen in history, both have [to an extent] been. How? ...
Boles: First place, your argument seems illogical to me on scientific grounds.  A Sherman pointed out, there are many debates among scientists, and "facts" change all the time as new evidence is found and confirmed.  Change and the very lack of "solidity" or ultimate "truth" is elemental to science.  As for "existence," I'm fine with certain scientific views that accept the cosmos as we measure and know it as "real."  However, I also recognize that the method by which I recognize the cosmos as real, is not value-neutral, but is a historical-cultural product laden with values and ethics about why we use this method and what we use it for.  Humans have lived for some 100,000-200,00 years without science, living by other meaning systems to create the knowledge they needed/wanted.  They didn't "need" science to exist, or to inform them that they "exist."
I would like to get your opinion on these issues, even if you absolutely don't agree either with my points here or my characterizations. What and where is the solid foundation vis a vis human civilization and understanding? Or would you argue there is no solid foundation to science and society?

Looking forward to your reply. All the best!

Luke Rondinaro
Group Facilitator
The Consilience Projects

p.s., if you think you'd like to subscribe to Cns-P and email your reply-comments there to this argument of mine, I would be happy to take them. Just sign-on through the front page at the above link, and once you're a member, address your message to consiliencep@topica.com . Thanks.

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