Pscience Unchained

rotundaschool_fmtCalvin Candie: I’m curious, what makes you such a mandingo expert?
Django: I’m curious what makes you so curious.
–Quintin Tarentino (2012)

A friend’s Facebook post inspired this rejoinder. It’s no sectarian dig, mind you, no sucker punch.

I mean only to dial up a call I made here previously for the kind of people’s science that in Owenite England, unchained from the socioeconomic dictates of the aristocratic church it fought, prefigured Victorian naturalists by decades,

The term ‘hall of science’ was first mooted in the Co-operative Magazine of October 1829, which reported a lecture by Frances Wright: ‘Turn your churches into halls of science, and devote your leisure day to the study of your own bodies, the analysis of your own minds, and the examination of the fair material world which extends around you.’

In Alfred Russel Wallace, a scion of the halls of science, like that of the South London Rational School depicted in our graphic, the largely independent lineage matched the reluctant Mr. Darwin to a theory of natural selection. No mean feat for a people’s science or pscience (for which, to riff off a recent flick, the “p” is silent).

So what bothered me? As if brandishing their materialist credentials, some on today’s left–here and here on Darwin (and otherwise quite good)–give bourgeois science the kind of cake-and-eat-it-too that few scientists bother baking for themselves.

However disloyal this loyal opposition, it’s a non sequitur to characterize science’s falsifiable ratchet, its self-correction, as cover enough for the approach’s laggard and shallow descriptions of the dialectical synergies that make up much of the world.

There are profound structural reasons why this kind of science is often late to the party. And these are deeply embedded in core methodologies, from first principles.

The bourgeois retreat of the 17th century, perhaps best exemplified by the trial of Galileo Galilei, shaped basic Cartesian concepts. “Reflecting on the condemnation of Galileo,” writes Antonio Negri,

leads Descartes to deepen his concern with the historical precariousness of truth. Contingency descends from the metaphysical horizon to the human world… The world is represented as a malin, as inverted truth, as a fable of a power that does not want truth to live in the world… In Descartes’s eyes, then, the problem is not whether Galileo is wrong or right. The problem is how truth can live in the world.

In almost all the work to follow, the structural constraints by which capital seeks to legitimize itself were imposed upon fundamental scientific concepts. And vice versa. Capital used and uses science’s imprimatur to rationalize its institutions.

There is much to learn from professional science, indeed the world, but it is no Platonic standard (and never was). The struggle for human understanding–yes, with representative sampling and statistical inference–can take place on other terms entirely.

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