Is Science in Trouble ?

A call to scholars of all types to help redesign science itself:

How to make the in-human sciences humanistic.

Roger Malina Aug 11 2019:
https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3399-3865

When I arrived at UT Dallas, Dennis Kratz infected me with the idea of ‘hard humanities’; how do we take all the knowledge from the arts, humanities and design, and apply this to improve our societies functioning, but also to improve science and engineering themselves.

This is a call to action to critics, and more importantly generative critiquers and noticers of all types. Hybrids and Amphibians between the disciplines welcome.

The proposition is this: Science is in trouble, we must redesign it; and Artists, Designers and Humanists must be co designers of this redesign with STEM professionals.

  1. Redesign the social embeddings of science.

The current social organization of science is an accident of WW II and the success of physicist and engineers helping win the war. We must re embed science in society through open science, networked science. As sociologist Helga Nowotny said: we need a socially robust science that prioritizes science to enable improved societies. Historian Robert Ilbert called for rehumanising the “inhuman sciences” ( in reference to the French term “sciences humaines” for the humanities.

2.) Redesign the scientific methods:  The methods have always evolved, improved, changed. In contrast to Kuhn’s concept of paradigm shifts, we call rather for transition design as advocated by Terry Irwin. Newton would not recognize what we consider scientific validation in many cases today. Computer simulations now have the status of hypotheses and are difficult to falsify, with the use of ‘consensus’ between different simulations as proof. And similarly we have very different ideas of causality today; it is not conceptually possible to write an equation of climate change; there is no A causes B, but A can cause B if C didn’t happen before and if D happens several times……Phenomena “emerge” from complexity.

  • Free ourselves from the implicit bias created by having only human “beings” create scientific theories and applications.

Astronomers now know that most of the universe does not emit light of any kind (the infamous dark energy and dark matter of unknown nature). For the first time in human history we now have other ‘messengers’ from the cosmos, such as gravitational waves from orbiting black holes. We have been studying the decoration on the universe, not its underlying structures that determine its evolution. Our science is deeply implicitly biased by the use of the human senses and brains.  Curiosity used to be a Christian sin, now it is an atheist’s virtue. AI Beings are now developing hypotheses of their own through deep learning techniques. Cognition is embodied; different beings have different embodiment. Will the science developed by AI Beings overlap with that developed by  HumansH

Please contact roger.malina@utdallas.edu if you would like to contribute to the Transition Design of Science itself.

FRIENDLY CRITIQUE no 1:

On aug 11 we discussed some of the ideas expressed above during a dinner party at No 17 Rue Emile Dunois. Those present were Wolf Rainer, Annick Bureaud, Dorothea Marciak, Jeff Berner, Jouette Travis and in interaction by phone with Bronac Ferran and Liliane Lijn. I was made uncomfortable by their critiques which included:

1.a: the provocation expresses the implicit bias that it is the scientific method that needs improving to save our kind of life on earth. Annick pointed out that in spite of the stated reliance on combining transdisciplinary ways of knowing, somehow it was still posited that improved science was the ‘best method’. There is no logical demonstration of this point of view.

1 b. Best methods. When Mauricio Mejia and I presented a paper at ISEA in Colombia, our colleague Rejane Spitz responded vehemently that there were no such things as ‘best methods’ in transdisciplinary methods, but many good ones whose efficacy was context dependent. That the use of the term ’best methods’ reflected the scientific bias that scientific ‘truths’ we the same any where in the universe, or indeed in any location in human society. There is no such thing as French scientifique equations and Colombian scientific equations. But what if what needs improving is inter-personal relations ? yes one can be thoughtful and methodical but who has demonstrated that the scientific method is the best our only method to improve the ways we individuals interact with each other ?

  1. C The queen of the sciences. Wolf Rainer remarked that in spite of my interest in rethinking ideas of causality in complex systems, there was still an implication that what was needed was ‘better and improved mathematics’. Scientists tendency to put mathematics on the throne as the queen of the sciences, discarded other methods of modelling, in Paul Fishwick’s use of the term. Paul has advocated the need for ‘aesthetic computing’ methods that draw on the arts, design, social “sciences” and humanities to improve computer science. Maybe mathematics is not the only ‘queen’ that needs improving to enable human survival.

1.d The assertion in the provocation that we need to free science from the bias of the way that humans think, and bring in AI beings and their kind of science was contested. Or at least we need to be clear that we want humans to survive on earth, and that maybe ‘human science’ rather than “AI science’ should be favored because there is an explicit objective of ensuring human survival and not necessarily the survival of AI beings.

1.e Which immediately was attacked by Annick. This way of speaking separates ‘humans’ from the rest of the symbiotic, cybernetic system of organisms and materials ( eg Latour’s emphasis on actor network theory) to understand science making. Humans cannot exist without the microbiome etc etc. Which takes us back to Roy Ascott’s call for ‘moist’ reality. My call to make the sciences more ‘humanistic’ was a contradiction in terms and logical sense.

We welcome further critiques , and maybe suggestions on how to rethink the framework on how to enable the survival of organic life on earth ( while admitting that non organic life forms are also viable). In the mean term I will keep working on improving science itself. Send an email to rmalina@alum.mit.edu

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