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Author: cgerrish

Unemployed philosopher

Can I Get a Witness?

Since we don’t directly witness the scientific experiment demonstrated in a laboratory, we take on faith that the witnesses who do are a trustworthy jury of scientific peers. We trust they will make their judgements independent of politics and religion.

This era’s attacks on science pinpoint the witnesses as untrustworthy because they are members of the “elite trustworthy community”—the very thing that is meant to give them purchase. In their place, a conspiracy of witnesses is substituted to testify to whatever “alternative facts” that serve their political agenda.

From Bruno Latour’s “We Have Never Been Modern.”

Boyle’s innovation is striking. Against Hobbes’s judgement he takes possession of the old repertoire of penal law and biblical exegesis, but he does so in order to apply them to the testimony of the things put to the test in the laboratory. As Shapin and Schaffer write:

Sprat and Boyle appealed to ‘the practice of our courts of justice here in England” to sustain the moral certainty of their conclusions and to support the argument that the multiplication of witnesses allows “a concurrence of such probabilities.” Boyle used the provision of Clarendon’s 1661 Treason Act, in which, he said, two witnesses were necessary to convict. So the legal and priestly models of authority through witnessing were fundamental resources for the experimenters. Reliable witnesses were ipso facto the members of a trustworthy community: Papists, atheists, and sectaries found their stories challenged, the social status of a witness sustained his credibility, and the concurring voices of many witnesses put the extremists to fight. Hobbes called the basis of this practice: once again, he displayed the form of life that sustained witnessing as an ineffective and subversive enterprise. (Shapin and Schaffer, 1985, p. 327)

At first glance, Boyle’s repertoire does not contribute much that is new. Scholars, monks, jurists and scribes had been developing all those resources for a millennium and more. What is new, however, is their point of application. Earlier, the witnesses had been written by men or inspired by God—never inspired or written by nonhumans. The law courts had seen countless human and divine trials come and go—never affairs that called into question the behavior of nonhumans in a laboratory transformed into a court of justice.

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And Yet…

The phrase “as of yet…” captured by a machine made to capture the way light reflects from surfaces in a particular instant in the flow of time.

From Amor Towles’s novel “The Lincoln Highway.”

“The funny thing about a picture, thought Wooly, the funny thing about a picture is that while it knows everything that’s happened up until the moment it’s been taken, it knows absotively nothing about what will happen next. And yet, once the picture has been framed and hung on the wall, what you see when you look at it closely are all the things that were about to happen. All the un-things. The things that were unanticipated. And unintended. And unreversible.”

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Cream Puffs and Champagne

Cream puff

Too often, pleasure is programmed out of politics. Strong ideology finds the aesthetic and the pleasurable to be extraneous to the struggle. Optimization optimizes for optimal optics.

Rebecca Solnit on her book “Orwell’s Roses.”

“I also wanted to see if I could write a book that was about climate change and totalitarianism and fascism, and a guy dying of tuberculosis, and make it a deeply pleasurable aesthetic experience. You know, Georgia O’Keeffe said that she painted her flowers big so people would look at them. There’s a way that people think of politics as always eating your spinach, when often it’s eating cream puffs and champagne.”

Helen Rosner talks with Rebecca Solnit

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