Voyou Désœuvré

charles_darwin I was reading Donna Haraway’s Simians, Cyborgs, and Women today; I’ve read her Cyborg Manifesto before, but not the rest of the book, which, it turns out, is absolutely fantastic. The much more detailed engagement with the recent history of science is extremely useful, particularly her discussion of the shift in epistemes in biology from a pre-war approach based on engineering, to a post-war approach based on cybernetics and information theory. I find the idea of cybernetics as the post-war episteme particularly interesting because of the vital but frequently occluded importance of cybernetics to the development of political science as an independent discipline in the 50s and 60s. Read more↴

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, on which people are blogging about “unsung heroines,” the women who have all too frequently been erased from histories and representations of technology. There’s something paradoxical about this erasure, as women have been integral to the history of technology at least since the industrial revolution. As Marx points out, it was women whose conditions of work were first changed by the introduction of machinery into factories. Infinite thought mentions Shulamith Firestone as a women who thought about hwo this relationship to technology could liberate women; in this context, one could also mention Lucy Parsons. Like many anarchists, Parsons was a rationalist who thought that freedom was natural and, because the natural world was rationally knowable, science could be used to bring into reality that natural freedom:

Anarchism is the usher of science-the master of ceremonies to all forms of truth. It would remove all barriers between the human being and natural development. From the natural resources of the earth, all artificial restrictions, that the body might be nurtures, and from universal truth, all bars of prejudice and superstition, that the mind may develop symmetrically (“The Principles of Anarchism”).

Which is not to say that Parsons was only interested in science as a theoretical enterprise. Rather, she emphasized how technology changed the conditions of labor and resistance; including in some unconventional ways:

Each of you hungry tramps who read these lines, avail yourselves of those little methods of warfare which Science has placed in the hands of the poor man, and you will become a power in this or any other land.

Learn the use of explosives! (“To Tramps”).

More on Michael Reiss and creationism. Some of the comments at Crooked Timber are interesting in their unargued assumption that the point of science lessons is to get students to believe certain things. I know it’s annoying when people use the “aah, the scientists are the real religionists” line, but it’s tempting in this case. But obviously one ought to figure out what is similar and what is different between science and religion. Reiss took some heat for calling creationism a “world-view,” but it is, in that it’s connected with a general method of making sense of the world, as science is, and it’s not at all obvious how these different methods could connect with one another. However, while modern science and certain religious positions might both be world-views, there’s still a difference of kind between the two. Read more↴

There’s been an absolutely absurd response to Michael Reiss’s eminently sensible suggestion that science teachers could use discussions of creationism to talk about the difference between science and non-science. Reiss said:

If questions or issues about creationism and intelligent design arise during science lessons they can be used to illustrate a number of aspects of how science works.

In response to which the New Scientist compared him to Sarah Palin, and a couple of Nobel laureates are calling for him to be sacked from his position as education director of the Royal Society. And of course Dawkins got involved.

I initially posted this just because I thought it was amusingly stupid. But now I think there may be something a bit more pernicious going on. A number of people objecting to Reiss have said things like “teach creation in religious studies,” or “keep it in philosophy class” (see e.g. the comments on that New Scientist blog post). What’s wrong about this is the suggestion that philosophy of science, or the question of the nature and bounds of science, is irrelevant to science itself. This is a problem because it implies a belief that a scientific worldview is somehow obvious, rather than a particular way of thinking that took a long time and a lot of trouble to develop.

This story from the Onion is awesome in every respect:

“I’m gonna be a tractor,” Garretson said. “Tractors are fun.”

Although Garretson does not have a six-cylinder diesel engine, independent-link suspension, or a comfort command seat with air-suspension swivel, the 5-year-old said she was excited to be both red and shiny someday. Garretson added that as a tractor she would sleep in the barn with the cows and the chickens, but not with the pigs, because the pigs make too much of a mess.

A little while back, Warren Ellis wrote an appropriately sharp post describing the Technological Singularity as “the last trench of the religious impulse in the technocratic community.” The post is worth reading for its own sake, but it’s also fun to read the hilariously pissy trackbacks from members of the singularitarian community. Belief in the singularity, part of the belief system called extropianism and/or transhumanism, is a strange thing; it’s probably best to understand it as one of America’s quaint 19th century excentricities, like libertarianism or private health care. Read more↴