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Science Fiction, Science and Technology Studies, and the History of Science: The sociological connection

August 18, 2013

Over the week, in the process of revising a dissertation chapter, proposing a chapter on STS and South East Asia, publishing a commentary on scientific literacy in Malaysia, and doing further research and mapping in preparation for revising a journal article that is also a form of creative writing, I have been reading, alternately, science fiction criticisms, revisited critical theory, re-read some papers on the multifarious interpretations of quantum mechanics and the still challenged assumptions surrounding the Copenhagen Interpretation. I also started to read some older seminar papers I had written on science fiction and the way it is used to embody certain events that are logical yet deemed materially implausible (or even physically implausible based on our understanding of the classically illustrated universe), which got me to think about how one can foreground the more materially political aspects of the abstracted and mathematical embodiment in some scientific theories.

While most science fiction writers are not scientists, there are scientists, and practitioners in other fields interested in prediction, measurement, and forecasting who have turned to science fiction as the most concrete way of articulating their theories and thought experiments. Even more covertly, important works by writers such as Ursula K Leguin and Octavia Butler, attempt to question our assumptions and insistence on the hegemonic qualities of terrestrial life forms to as the normalizing method for discussing all possible lifeforms. But the question is, for all the insistence on objectivity and even, the common misconception of members of the public who claim to be fans of science is that, to be scientifically literate equals appropriating a scientistic and positivistic attitude to science.

Science fiction itself is a space that challenges the assumption of a scientistic notion of a sterile laboratory as fieldwork, one that is unconnected to the more social world of funding (a process by which you have to convince a bunch of people on panels and review boards of the authenticity and important scientific contribution of your work); an ignorance of the political quality of the knowledge which one contributes to, as well as of a knowledge that is not detached from the assumptions governing the bodies that produce this knowledge, one where one’s bodies (and bodily identities) resides. It may not matter whether you are studying spatial vectors or a botanical lifeform because the knowledge shaping these derived simultaneously and correlatively from the same knowledge that normalizes our thinking (and defines our taxanomical efforts), and even shapes our relationship to a an idea of the ideal and our perception.

That embedded correlation (in this, I part ways with the speculative realists), the inseparability of that tangle between material and the human, that agential realism that tells you that there is a difference even in the proclamation of agreement and likeness, are all part of the narration of the history of science, science and technology studies, and science fiction. How do some discuss the reality of the physical in philosophy of physics, for instance, while neglecting to mention the role that exclusionary and inclusive practices play in shaping our perception of the real, often at a level that appear oblivious to a complex information system that is not divorced from bodies (and therefore, the identities of race, sexuality, gender, class). Why do most fear to destabilize facts and to standardize the multiplication of one fact into a spectrum of facts, even facts that have been cut off and disengaged from our ready acceptance. After all, the real science is an exercise in exposing the blitheness and  masking of questionable practices in the name of the scientific.

How far can science fiction go in making science accountable, or even in acting the parallel role of philosophical, historical, futurological, and utopic/dystopic experimentations out the legitimate contours of scientific experimentation, or scientific practices, remain to be seen, and to be tested.  There is the insistence in some quarters that science fiction should not take on a fantastical flight that have no anchor in some form of detectable and logical reality, but are our dreams,  that unconscious act that is so important to studies in psychology and psychoanalysis (the latter considered unscientific by those of the Anglo-American scientific persuasion), anchored, even its most improbable turn of events, in the real?

There is still much to be thought of in this matter, but it has got me thinking about how the sociological connection that tends to get dismissed in the discussion of objective knowledge forms may be that methodology for recuperating massacred knowledge classes, especially when we are working with histories of science that lack the archival sufficiency. Science fiction can be the model for the development of this methodology, given its investment at some level of sociality. The question would be, how to transform science fiction from its origin in Western sensibilities on scientific knowledge, to one that is unafraid to interrogate the genesis and origins of myths from which most knowledge are produced in oral cultures. This may then be a way into reconstructing and recuperating histories that were extinguished but not necessarily non-existing.

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