Tuesday 7 June 2011

On Post Modernism

A Post-Modernist critique of itself:Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern by Bruno Latour
I myself have spent sometimes in the past trying to show the "lack of scientific certainty" inherent in the construction of facts. I too made it a "primary issue." But I did not exactly aim at fooling the public by obscuring the certainty of a closed argument–or did I? After all, I have been accused of just that sin. Still, I'd like to believe that, on the contrary, I intended to emancipate the public from a prematurely naturalized objectified fact. Was I foolishly mistaken? Have things changed so fast?
In which case the danger would no longer be coming from an excessive confidence in ideological arguments posturing as matters of fact–as we have learned to combat so efficiently in the past–but from an excessive distrust of good matters of fact disguised as bad ideological biases! While we spent years trying to detect the real prejudices hidden behind the appearance of objective statements, do we have now to reveal the real objective and incontrovertible facts hidden behind the illusion of prejudices?
Yes. Yes, we do.
And yet entire Ph.D programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth, that we are always the prisoner of language, that we always speak from one standpoint, and so on, while dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives. Was I wrong to participate in the invention of this field known as science studies? Is it enough to say that we did not really mean what we meant?
Yes you were, and no it's not.

No, there's no such thing as "natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth", but by trying hard enough, we can get arbitrarily close to it. Facts are, whether we like them or not, and just because our vision is imperfect doesn't mean to say that phantoms, illusions and deliberate fabrications are as equally real as imperfectly seen objects. No, the value of an idea does not depend entirely on how well it confirms your ideology, and the value of a fact is inversely proportionate: it's the exceptions, the inconvenient truths, that teach you the most.

1 comment:

wreckage said...

Doesn't he realise this is why we do repeatable experiments and use mathematical analysis? Repeatable means that any person with any set of biases and any perspective can create the same conditions and observe the results, thus assessing, amongst other things, whether the results are "truth" from their perspective as well. When we have a set of outcomes that reliably transpires from a set of conditions, when observed from any internal intellectual space, we have a truth, since there's reasonable evidence that it really DOESN'T change depending on your worldview.

Mathematical analysis serves much the same function, but can also be used to define how confident we are that the results are "true". Stunningly, this value is counter-intuitively labelled "confidence", so it could be he missed it when he studied stats.