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My email to the UCSC Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor, Alison Galloway

April 2, 2014

For those who need to know the background, check out the open Facebook page


As an international and Fulbright-sponsored graduate student who is coming to an end of her graduate studies, I find the recent events at UCSC where student strikers were arrested despite holding a peaceful protest, to be very disturbing. I am from Malaysia and the intimidating acts from figures of power are not new to me. Many university students from my home country have fallen victims to draconian and arbitrary misappropriation of law in service of the corrupt authorities of my country. But for me to find this happening in the US, at a rate that is increasingly alarming (not to mention the very high rates of incarceration of minorities and marginalized communities) during my six years here shows me that the system of democratic practice and due process is fast crumbling.

As an exchange scholar, I am supposed to educate my community back home of the democratic cultural and political practices in the US, but instead, all I am finding are acts of violations and increasing intolerance. I hope that this will be resolved very quickly, and the students, who are merely drawing attention to a situation of economic exploitation, be released.

Sexism in philosophy and the ‘rigorous sciences’: What Happens When you think you are too smart for the rules to apply to you

February 8, 2014

The list owner of the list I was on posted some of these links circa the Colorado case, and more generally, the PR image of philosophy in-house and beyond. I did not read through everything in there since I have some real philosophy to wrestle with now, but there were inferences made there by some of the commentators in the links that there are those who made ‘hostile’ remarks about philosophy that are ignorant about philosophy and how it functions. Also in the laughingphilosophers’ blog, there is a woman philosopher who did point to the real problem with philosophy and the people in it, but I think subsequent comments below did not quite register what she was saying, being more incline to ‘talk philosophy’ that does not bring to bear on the real issue at hand. I am not reposting here, the comments that the list-owner had received and re-posted (with the poster’s name removed) that both supported and rebuked Rebecca Schuman‘s article, and all the other articles relating to the larger issue of sexism in philosophy (and sexual harassment more particularly). As you all know, when public accusations are made on sexual harassment by one person to another, other parties not in the direct line of fire tend to be reticent about stepping in because they fear, rightly or wrongly, that there will be public shaming based on he said, she said.

Sometimes, professional philosophers remind me of my physics professors: the former consider their form of thinking the most rigorous of everyone in the humanities. As someone who has to actually study analytic philosophy (like really study) because of the nature of my work (even though I am officially in a department that mostly do work in critical theory and continental philosophy, which I also work with), I have a taste of the thinking process involved. My physics professors had (have?) the same attitude towards anyone who is not doing physics (or mathematics), whereby all the other fields that are not in the hard physical sciences (biology, medical sciences, etc) are considered as  ‘soft sciences,’ insufficiently rigorous, and the people in it as not that smart (and of course, there are more women in them). That attitude could be the reason why some of them behave the way they do, thinking that they are too brilliant for social niceties and awareness. Coming from such a background, I actually used to think that my physics professors were right, but by the time I started studying philosophy, I knew neither of the abovementioned principals are right. I let you be the judge.

The APA report on Colorado is here:

A report on this in the Denver Post: (see also

The Slate essay is here:

A robust response to the Slate essay:

Brian Leiter’s brief blog on the subject:

A report from an APA ad-hoc committee on sexual harassment:

An open letter in response to the APA report, from members of the Colorado Dept: : “The strict rules of confidentiality that govern these matters make it impossible for us to know how many people have been accused of sexual harassment and how many, if any, have been sanctioned after a full inquiry. But from everything that we have been told by our administration, it is a relatively small number of individuals and this certainly coheres with our own experiences and understanding of the matter. We believe that the vast majority of our faculty are decent and highly professional people who care deeply about each other and the welfare of their students, and have not engaged in objectionable behavior of the sort that the report describes. We very much hope that the reputations of innocent people—especially faculty and graduate students in our department—will not be unfairly tarnished by the public release of the report. At the same time, we want to emphasize that the primary victims here are the people who have found themselves on the receiving end of unacceptable behavior and that our primary focus will remain—as it has been for the last several years—to do our best to improve the situation in our Department for them and for all of us. While we firmly believe that it is a relatively small number of individuals who have generated the problem, we are adamant in our belief that any number greater than zero is too many.”

An earlier essay relevant to the larger issue by Jennifer Saul (Sheffield):

To all those who think I lead a jetsetting lifestyle, this is what I have been doing, really

January 28, 2014

If you want a more thorough understanding of what my dissertation project is about:

If you prefer a public friendly version (but you won’t get the full drift), try

So you see, I never got to be that lady who lunches.

More to come after March 21.

A physicist’s cognitive mojo: a work in progress

January 10, 2014

I wrote this up as an article initially as an outcome of a class I took on qualitative research. I see this project as connected to the larger goals of connecting science with the humanities, though it might not be so evident yet in this article. But I hope to produce a more extensive work, further down the road, for publication. Comments and thoughts welcomed.


One stormy night, an English teenager was holed up in country villa together with her boyfriend and their friend. To rouse themselves from ennui, they exchanged gossips, and when that lost its entertainment value, began to read ghost stories to each other. Then, the guys started boasting over how they could each, probably, write better supernatural tales than the ones they had just read. The girl, had had enough and decided to call it a night. Unfortunately, her rest was waylaid by a vivid nightmare she could not shake off. That night, a tale of horror and scientific hubris was born; as was a nineteenth century German doctor she christened Frankenstein. The girl was Mary Godwin, her boyfriend Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their friend, the infamous Lord Byron.[1]

Frankenstein went down in fictional history because it was the first time that science was galvanized to bring to life a creature assembled from human corpses; at least one story well-known to the reading and movie-watching public. The imagined possibility of such an act coincided with the philosophy of vitalism popular at the time, which sat at the intersection of the physical and the biological, and thus, of the biophysical. However, the point of the fictional example is to foreground the kind of scientific preparations and multiple technical skill-sets required to bring to fruition any physics experiment regardless of the consequence: an experimentalist who designs the test and determines the parameters for the experiment, an instrumentalist who develops the right combination of apparatuses needed for the experiment, and a theorist who conjures the theories for the experimentalist and instrumentalist to work with.

Since Frankenstein, the image of a scientist has undergone multiple rebranding and the scientist of today has risen to a degree of sophisticated portrayal unprecedented in popular culture. Physicists of various pedigrees have popped up in shows as diverse as the geek-fest Star Trek, the corny Back to the Future, and conspiratorial Angels and Demons. The latest incarnation takes the form of popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory, where four male and two female characters from different physical and life sciences backgrounds are representative embodiments of the experimentalists, theorists, and instrumentalists.

Even as the sitcom strikes a chord with its clever scripting featuring ingenuous, slick, and intelligent exchanges – with care paid to the ‘accurate’ description of physics theories emerging at any point during the conversations – the show does not sufficiently map the less than homogenous and complex cognitive world of a physicist at work, or of how a physicist tries to connect his/her work to the rest of the world.  In the rare occasion that happens, the script tends to fall back into romantic stereotypes.

It was the desire to understand better how physicists think about concepts such as precision and ambiguity, the certain and uncertain, potentiality and constraints, theory and experiment; as well as the language used to articulate these dichotomous continuum; that brings about investigations into the sociology, history, and philosophy of physics to pierce the shroud of physics knowledge-construction. The fields of physics that generate the most interest have historically been in the big sciences, from space science and nuclear physics of the yesteryear to the particle physics of today. Big science, with the complexity of its socio-politics as well as potential for high-drama, is rich material for reality-TV science.

Recently, I conducted a survey with a small posse of physicists to assess their relationship to the Standard Model of particle physics through questions on the unification of forces, possibilities beyond the Standard Model, and the influence of external push-factors on their work with physics. Unfortunately, the Nobel Prize was not yet announced at the time of the survey so I could get their responses. Nevertheless, below are some items of interest from the bucket list of responses.

Foremost, language is very important to a physicist as it marks the main difference between new age spiel and scientific rigor. Physicists are particularly insistent that the choice of descriptors used to portray their thinking and work should present a physics that is delimited by the scientific method: a euphemism for the taming of unruly and capricious Nature. Just as we need rules and routines to give sufficient calm and order to an otherwise frenetic life, the physicists need to have the right language to organize the data they collect, and to work out the expanse of uncertainty in relation to what is known. They want precision in the terms used to deal with the malleability and ever-changeability of knowledge at the frontier. Moreover, they do not like to be perceived as ideologues, and are thus ambivalent over the use words such as “belief.”  For at least one of the respondents, “belief” has a connotation of “faith” rather than “fact.”

Facts are produced of theoretical models proved to be the best predictor (and sometimes, description) of the latest knowledge based on the available methods for testing and falsifying these models. The Standard Model itself has proven rather resilient despite being put through multiple experimental wringers, and the confidence level for the existence of the Higgs Boson that would provide the final confirmation were found to be sufficiently high across the different direct and indirect searches for the boson.  While ‘belief’ is applied philosophically to represent the degree of certainty validating the scientific value of a knowledge set, physicists would prefer using words that have strict mathematical and logical denotations, such as the statistical terms deployed for describing a particular physical property or state. However, when it comes to choices of verbal lexicon, physicists would fret over every word-choice, as they are aware of how open non-mathematical language is to possible misreading. This is evident by the close attention the respondents provided to the phrasing of my questions, particularly when the questions are aimed at elucidating their relationship to, and perception of, their science.

When queried about the range of speculative contingencies, for most of the physicists, the points where knowledge is speculative merely assert the need for more direct evidence to justify the available theories, including corrections that are to be added to the original theories for closer approximation to ‘real’ data.  The accounts of the speculative, and the multiple experimental triggers that are the outcome of significant choices, are all wrapped around the symbolic signification, and delimitations, produced by telling the story of the particles of the Standard Model through abstract algebra and algebraic geometry (group theory included): what mathematical terms get extended and what get dropped whenever physicists consider what it is to move ‘beyond’ the Standard Model. Even the new physics they envision is shaped by the status of the mathematics deployed for representational purposes, including the resurrection of particular mathematical subfields for resolving long-standing paradoxes or unresolved cul-de-sacs. If the foundational cornerstones of mathematics were unimportant, there would not be so many hand-wrangling over the correspondence between physical realism and mathematical narratives, nor the multiple papers and books written on that subject.

Additionally, physicists are not always the most united when it comes to believing what is possible among the not-yet-existing, even if they might possess the same basic knowledge of their fields. This lack of unity can be explained by a difference between applying models, rules, and laws to solve a problem (and we know solutions to the same problem are far from uniform), and thinking philosophically about that problem. For example, when asked about the meaning of subjectivity, one gets answers ranging from interpretational preferences, expectation biases, forms of contextualization, to decision-making that are governed by external factors rather than the science. Seldom do physicists consider the data they work with as inherently subjective (even if the constitution of the data itself is not) despite the preference for the logic of one model over that of another due to myriad circumstances that are not always clear.

But, in the case of objectivity, most of the answers appear standard on the surface until one digs deeper; they range from the application of clear and inclusive criteria to the acceptance or rejection of data before applying it to the testing of a hypothesis, the repeatability (or as some philosophers would say, the cycle of falsification and justification) and duplication of that experiment, as well as the exclusion of bias in the decision-making process. The attainment of objectivity is a recursive move for the first two instances, even if their starting points can have a range of subjective possibilities. As for the third instance, one finds that there is no clear way for measuring bias other than, perhaps, by tracing the entire process from hypothesis to the final interpretation of analysis. However one might reason, bias does not cease to exist even after an experimental fit with theory, nor after an experimental setup is found to be replicable. The issue of how bias functions is illustrated in Trevor Pinch and Harry Collins’s The Golem: What You Should Know About Science, through their series of case studies spanning different subfields of science.

Finally, there are the different backgrounds and trainings of the physicists, especially when it boils down to whether they are experimentalists, theoreticians, or phenomenologists (the ones who attempt to bridge the divide). While both are grounded on finding empirical evidence to support whatever predictive theories there are, they do not necessarily have the same level of investment when dealing with more speculative forms of physical theories. While a theoretician is more willing to wait until the boundaries of knowledge open while continuing to work on theories without experimental counterparts, experimentalists tend to be more skeptical, even if not necessarily dismissive, because of the need for attention to expediency and practicability in order to succeed in everyday science. However, both sides agree that experimentalists and theoreticians are able to find middle ground from which to work.

[1]If you are a fan or merely interested, here is an archive of the notebook drafts to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein <;.

Twitter and History of Science

December 31, 2013

During the most recent History of Science Society 2013 meeting, a roundtable on social media, “The Pleasures and Dangers of Social Media,” was organized as a part of a continuing conversation that has been ongoing about the role that social media plays in providing leads for research, in constructing course syllabi, and even for opening conversations about the role of archives in historical research and how that could look like, going forward. Of course, the particular social media of interest is Twitter due to the flexibility of its built for public outreach and academic networking.

However, personally, what I find most interesting about the question of the archive has to do with Twitter’s capability for the reproduction of archival material, in a manner not unlike the Wunderkammer; Twitter can function as placeholders of time capsules where less well-known historical narratives can be foregrounded into other users’ immediate consciousness. Unlike Facebook, Twitter is relatively less demanding in terms of its rules and regulations pertaining to who or what is entitled to a personal profile. As one does not have to follow an unlocked public profile to track what they tweet about, celebrities and public figures have taken advantage of this feature to engage in a form of ‘selfie,’ whereby memento-mori like events are captured through their twitter updates.

Taking advantage of such capability, certain enterprising individuals have decided to make use of the narrative immediacy of twitter to set up profiles of famous intellectuals and tweet 140-word aphorisms from the latter’s corpus of writings. This is particularly the case for historical figures, and the number of them ‘joining’ Twitterverse can only increase with time.  Twitter encourages narrative continuity, regardless of the gap between the posts, and is suitable for philosophical musings, existential soliloquies, newsbytes, and flash fiction.   In fact, the juxtaposition of multiple timelines that interlace and interpenetrate between the layers of your personal tweets are able to conjure an atmosphere that heightens the punch of a tweet even if it were to be drawn from observations that are centuries old.

One such example is Samuel Pepys, or more precisely, his diary. Whoever that is behind the profile has been dropping choiced selections from Pepys’s diary on the latter’s twitter updates. Ever an artful gossiper, Pepys had a taste for scandal and was not above documenting some of his personal improprieties, bringing archaic, but highly identifiable, humor into the flow of more contemporary tales of scandals and bizarre behaviors. If one is interested enough, one can do a search for history of science personalities with tongue-in-cheek handles (Sir Isaac Newton is known as @MasterofPhysick). However, for others such as Charles Darwin (@cdarwin) and Humphry Davvy (@sir_humphry davvy), the choices of handles are unsurprising.

Some of these profiles are given a more personable aspect in that the individual(s) managing the handles would engage in contemporary rapport with other ‘normal’ twitter users in contemporary dialect, or, in the period-based language of the historical personality.  Some of the historical handles are merely conduits for publicizing the works of the figure. Some of these figures perform twitter parodies of ‘autobiographical’ updates on personal achievements and milestones, though unfortunately, their handler could not change the automatic manner in which dates are listed on Twitter (Twitter’s interface builders either wanted to avoid, or had not considered, historical manipulations).

While one of the more positive use of Twitter had been the highlighting of the lesser known contributions of women in the history of science, through the use of hashtags such as #womeninscience, the focus tends to be more on contemporary women in the STEM fields. In fact, a search reveals that there are not as many historical female figures on Twitter, and this in effect mirrors the standard narratives in the history of science. Of course, there are a number of twitter handles that take their inspiration from historical female icons, and these handles are usually part of a project or program set up to respond to urgent issues on gender and science. However, it is not as usual to find a dedicated handle that is about the life and work of a particular female icon in the history of science. An investigation into this lack becomes more critical given the discussion of the under-representation of women as public intellectuals. Moreover, historically, women’s contributions are often submerged under that of their male counterparts because of the former’s lack of institutional affiliation and access to formal scientific publication. However, women are not only the under-represented demographics, whether in present time or historically, as the history of science is presented as a largely masculine affair.

This brings us to the question of why the dominant narratives of history are still the ones to dominate social media: why are we allowing social media to merely amplify social and intellectual preoccupations rather than bring about new ways of thinking? However, this need not be the case, as social media, and Twitter in particular, has the affordances to generate attention towards the often ignored archives: archives that inscribe the voices of the subalterns in the margins (women and people of color).

Social media can be part of the digital humanities project for performing voices that had been silenced for so long: where meta-histories to content with para-histories (such as histories that were never formally recorded or buried under the deluge of dominant narratives).  Even as creative writers imagine the multiple ways whence one can put historical figures in conversations with each other, Twitter allows such historical conversations to have urgent immediacy, thereby emphasizing how histories are often re-iterated merely with changes of circumstances and actors.

Finally, we should ask ourselves as to what sort of archives of knowledge do we want to build with social media: do we desire to redraw the lines of history of science or merely echo the products of better-known archives? How can social media be used as a supplementary tool for showcasing research of figures and historical narratives at the margins (after all, we can now attach videos, photos and instagrammed visuals to our Twtter updates), and as a form of outreach on history of science at the margins?

Holiday post: Making a list, and checking it twice

December 20, 2013

However, it is not Santa Claus who is making the list(s), since the celebration of year end is not only a time of list-making introspection of what has happened and forecasts of what are to come, but a desire to maintain the appearance of productiveness in that year. If the public existence of these lists used to be constraint by what we see on media (web or paper), they are transmitted like memes via social media and personal/institutional email-based newsletters.

We have had university rankings, top hits in the music charts or radio, lists of people who qualified based on certain achievements accomplished by a certain age, lists of prize-winning or ‘great’ books that we should read this year if we have not done so, and lists of memorable (maybe historical) events that publications and media outlets want their specific audience to commemorate. Some of these lists are created out of empirical data that determined their rankings (statistics of particular categories, sales figures, level of demand, direct public votes) and some are by the adjudication of select individuals/committee.  If you are a reader of anthologies such as yours truly, you will always find, in the editorial remarks, why certain pieces (or personages) are included in the list of not-completely-definitive these lists may have meaning while others would pass you by without further remark.

There is a real history out there about list-making which, I am sure, coincide with the rise of the leisured class and development of the publishing/public relations/advertising industry. But that is not what this post is exploring. Instead, all I aspire to do is to understand the cultural significance of list-making in how we define our value system through what accomplishments are valued within different subcultures that are, at some levels, beholden to the superstructure of mainstream acknowledgement unavoidable in this global age.

But even as one sees the embracing of greater diversity at some levels, such as Nature’s list of 10 people who mattered, see a level of diversity in terms of who they include (and the acknowledgement of the diverse accomplishments of these people that is not oblivious to the impact of external factors to the production of science), or even the award of top science writings that do not pretend to be universal representative of all good science writing but are meant to highlight considered opinions of what good science writing is (a good thing in itself), the lists sometimes become the shortcut for us to categorize our priorities when we are short of time and overloaded beyond our ability to manage. As a scholar and graduate student, I often scan lists in journals or media of the subject I am researching as a way into getting more on the subject. The lists formed are not unlike bibliographies, with the more serious among them containing annotations describing the rationale for inclusion. If I am new to the field, such lists, with all the implications of being the best representation in that area, appear promising in guiding the clueless on how to get started. But as all lists go, the caveats are always present. Among them, the lists could potentially reinforce the status-quo of values without consideration of the problematics behind them, they reinforce particular privilege and dominant voices, and exclude from consideration what is considered too eclectic, eccentric or undefinable. More perniciously, these lists can reinforce the ghetto-image of particular accomplishments without addressing the imbalance that led to the need for creating a separate list from the mainstream.

In mulling over these lists, and all the other lists I have visited over the year, and years before, I began to question the intentionality behind the list-making, and our consciousness as consumers of these lists. Moreover, the dominance and status of the list-maker are critical to imbuing certain categories of lists with more prestige than others, at multiple levels. Even if these lists appear in the media outlets or publications that are located in specific countries, their universal reach (or appeal) already provided them with unequivocal authority. The lists attribute capital to a particular achievement of accomplishment: the production of time capsules created through choices (arbitrary or otherwise), as a representative member of a particular segment of society, of what are deemed worthy of attention. While there is greater consciousness these days when it comes to including the accomplishment of those who might not be operating from advantage, they tend to be lone tokens on the list, if only because it takes time for them to be seen, if they ever are. Often, the token inclusion are serendipitious rather than intentional, and could be attributed to sufficient level of media hype.

In the US for instance, the usual lack of diversity in the voices of those included in the lists have led to particular communities making their own lists of worthy achievements, with the African American community being the particular leader here. Some countries and regions, to counteract the invisibility of their particular achievements in the universal media of western countries (and this happens even in intra-regions of the metaphorical ‘West’), have made their own lists and produced their own awards. The study of the particular lists within particular political and sociological contexts could provide evidence for deconstructing the capital and political preoccupations of any society under focus in terms of how they see themselves through the word’s eyes, while highlighting their points of confidence and diffidence.

At the end of the day, when we look at list, we should bear in mind that they are but a manifestation of our own personal evaluation of our own worth, and how we measure that worth.  After all, the lists are non-subjective versions of the subject-oriented act of creating a CV. Short-cuts to an otherwise convoluted narrative, but a narrative that must not be occluded by the short-cuts.

No one path to history of science, or how to use the history of energy to talk about the problems of intellectual genealogy

December 9, 2013

Note: this post was written for the purpose of making sense of some questions, so it might not always flow linearly. But I hope to get some responses from others on some of these questions that I am asking. This is part 1 of some disjointed thoughts, and I hope to produce a more coherent piece as part 2 after I have finalized chapter 2 of my dissertation, asking some of the same questions but through different objects, concepts, and ideas.


After spending a good part of last week away, arriving home only late last night after expanding what I thought would be a one day sojourn for a conference to DC into 4 days in 3 different cities, new thoughts emerge about the work that I do and intend to do. The best conversations and ideas that I get came not from the people I knew, but from the new people I met and the strangers I met. Of course, these were sparked, originally, from a conversation I had with my advisor in the afternoon before departing for DC on Wed evening.

I spent last Thursday immersed in the archives of the Niels Bohr Library, revisiting some of the materials I once studied closely while re-encountering newer ones.  I asked myself the questions, probably questions I might not have asked as a scientist (though not to say that other scientists would not ask these questions): how and why scientists choose a specific epistemic route that they do, and what are the biases that shape how they think about that particular knowledge field? How would they have known, or not, whether that is necessarily the right direction to follow beyond the fact that the models produced look elegant, and logically probable? As I was revisiting lecture notes given in the mid-twentieth century on quantum mechanics, and examined the details included (or not) into those lectures (which therefore, inform the pedagogical idea behind the training of physics students at that time), I found that the matrix method of Heisenberg has been rendered equivalent to the Schrödinger’s wave function so that not too much of the unruly history related to these features came up in the lectures beyond straightforward and rudimentary definitions of different vector forms, eigenfunctions, and the algebra employed. However, there were definite contestations between the Schwinger camp and the Feynman camp, with physicists such as Murray Gell-Mann working on correlating between the two as highly plausible methods for developing the language for describing the interactions of elementary particles.  But, these models of thinking about nature are a result of decades, and perhaps centuries, of a particular form of thinking. Are other cultures really uninterested in thinking about these same ideas, in their own way, or are their ways of thinking these articulated through other means? In other words, I am interested in understanding how folk knowledge that hints of ‘scientific’ understanding connects to institutionally acquired knowledge of science? Probably the history of invention and technology can bring us the answers we seek. Or, even why mathematics went from articulation that made direct perceptual sense into something layers of mediation, and I look to Lakoff and Nunez to provide the preliminary answers.

I tested this out, albeit in a less ambitious manner, by basing my talk on the foundational values for thinking about energy; not quite escaping the same knowledge categories from which we derive current day modern science (and physics particularly), but framing my question of energy and the epistemic beliefs that shape policy issues by by comparing parallel intuitive mechanical development with less intuitive development in the mathematical language that would later be the foundational equations from which all current and future energy technologies are derived. As my own work seeks to demonstrate, I also insist that ideas of energy have layers of speculation, even when we think we have them ‘scientifically’ and logically anchored. To borrow loosely from the term physicists use whenever they want to find ways for reconciling mathematical improprieties with the physical real, the act of ‘renormalization’ is at work here so that all the entities involved are in their ‘correct’ places, and the description of a physical (pr phenomenological feature in the science), do not have too many loose ends.

Though I did not have time to do so in my presentation, I was interested in asking this question: what is the other history of energy out there, beyond the sort that Jennifer Coopersmith speaks of in her book Energy: The Subtle Concept?  Moreover, as that Friday evening saw me checking out a lecture given by a philosophical society in DC (which is interested in all matters scientific) where the keynote is given by a behavioral economists (or an economist with interest in behavioral economic), the question that had been with me since I took the masterclass on game theory (I was a slow study so only caught on to most of it after the class): we know for the most part that decision making looks random to us, at the level in which we are able to observe. While we might think that there are other rules not available to use at this point that can give the most rationale explanation of how elementary particles of the universe interact with each other, and why we have not been able to see everything we think should exist at this time, how do we intend to do the same for human interactions at human-size scales? Well, we know that there are the Bayes theorem, game theory, and then, there is now the chaos theory (which had its origins in the microscopic interactions between atoms and molecules within enclosed space), that could maybe help us develop sophisticated models of human behavior. Then, there is psychology, which is not an exact science. But the, are we really striving for exactness and precision in description, or do we just want things to be normalized so that we can deal with them?.

The questions, in their accumulated form, did not fail to dog me me through the weekend, despite thinking I could take a short holiday. A chance conversation with a random person at a pub during dinner brought me to visit a museum that I was glad I had visited, but the nagging questions that were at rest after Friday came back in full form, and added to that mix, some of the questions I have been connecting over the years: how much science theory do you need to know to create an object with scientific applicability? As I was looking through all the objects of technology developed in Euro-American societies over the last few hundred years, it brought to mind how many of these objects were developed by individuals (or groups) that did not have the pre-requisite training in science (or maybe even engineering, at least not in the sense that we know of today).  We complain how standard tests have indicated how the US (and some other parts of the world) have seen a decline in science and mathematical aptitude (or knowledge). However, science education was not at its best, and was out of the reach of most even in the days when great technological inventions were coming out. Even women were engaging as citizen scientists (and sometimes, as semi-professional scientists, despite their lack of access), though not in as high a number as today. But, as someone pointed this out on Twitter,  amateur science (and citizen science), had existed long before the sort of institutionalized training that existed from the late nineteenth century onwards became de rigeur, even though that itself is a limited claim (given how scientific education developed differentially in even different countries of the ‘West’ and also the East, such as in Japan, China, and India). This is possibly what ‘ethnoscientists’ wanted to have us know, even if we might find their methods of engagement politically problematic: that the lack of literacy in ‘modern’ science did not prevent members of communities for assimilating particular modes of thinking in producing basic and aesthetically interesting products for quotidian use and application. Is scientific thinking common sense? Not necessarily, since we have Aristotle and Newton to show us that ‘intuitive’ thinking does not give us correct answers. Educators spent quite a bit of time, finding ways to break the students away from their ‘folkish’ way of thinking about science  (See What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain).

But a question to all science educators out there: what do you mean when you say that performance in science and mathematics are bad because ‘evidence’ through testings (and these tests are made-to-order for statistical processing that form a large part of the analysis)? Are you talking about the ability to think about science in an ethical and philosophical sense? Are you talking about mainly solving textbook problems, and variants of the problems? Are you talking about the ability to answer trivia questions on science? What if I possess the ability to still understand the ‘scientific’ issue but chose to frame them in a way that would make me fail all the standardized test that is? Again, while at the philosophical talk at DC, I once again spoke to someone at random, who then later informed me of a group of ‘members of the public’ who are interested in the question of terraforming, space travel, and ‘alternative’ ways for approaching science. Moreover, she informed me that someone without a college education has laid out the blueprint for the possible building of a Time Machine and has his own theories of time-travel (and maybe disprove Einstein?)

This brings me back to the questions that originated this post that require us to consider this: that the foundation of knowledge, and even the material embodiment of knowledge, is highly precarious. Certain sessions that I managed to attend at the same policy studies conference where I gave my talk got me realizing how academics are not necessarily capable of doing a meta-critical dissection of their intellectual investments, and this is the same even for people who are supposedly working in politically infused studies such as ethnic studies and women studies. A conversation I had with a friend, where the latter pooh-poohed all literary interventions as being insufficiently ‘rigorous’ methodologically while insisting that the way she approaches her work is scientific,  while not telling me more than the fact that her work takes on an ‘evidence-based’ approach, made me realize how everyone can fall prey to their own ‘methodology’ without asking if the method itself already makes the evidence they work with contentious. One of course, can point the same finger to a literary or ‘humanistic’ person who engages in tautological and theoretically problematic reasoning without asking the same questions of their choice of critical interpretations. The story of energy, and how everyone tries to frame its intellectual genealogy through their own epistemic investments, is rich for meta-disciplinary ethnographical excavation that can maybe answer some of the questions I am asking here.


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