Shadowing Boxing in the Defense of Science?

“Science today is a hiding place for every kind of discontent, disbelief, gnawing worm, despectio sui, bad conscience—it is the unrest of the lack of ideals, the suffering from the lack of any great love, the discontent in the face of involuntary contentment.

Oh, what science does not conceal today! how much, at any rate, is it meant to conceal!

The proficiency of our finest scholars, their heedless industry, their heads smoking day and night, their very craftsmanship—how often the real meaning of all this lies in the desire to keep something hidden from oneself!

Science as a means of self-narcosis: do you have experience of that?”Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

 “The weak points in the abstract materialism of natural science, a materialism that excludes history and its process, are at once evident from the abstract and ideological conceptions of its spokesmen, whenever they venture beyond the bounds of their own speciality.”- Karl Marx, Capital

“I wish people would stop defending science for a second, and actually start learning it.”-Me


Benjamin Bratton’s critique of TED has spoken to me as being in line with critiques of internet memes generators like “I Fucking Love Science” or the incredible persistent of a certain glipness in regards to harder problems of thought and values as seen in Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  Take Bratton’s example from his Guardin critique of TED:

Let me tell you a story. I was at a presentation that a friend, an astrophysicist, gave to a potential donor. I thought the presentation was lucid and compelling (and I’m a professor of visual arts here at UC San Diego so at the end of the day, I know really nothing about astrophysics). After the talk the sponsor said to him, “you know what, I’m gonna pass because I just don’t feel inspired …you should be more like Malcolm Gladwell.”

At this point I kind of lost it. Can you imagine?

Think about it: an actual scientist who produces actual knowledge should be more like a journalist who recycles fake insights! This is beyond popularisation. This is taking something with value and substance and coring it out so that it can be swallowed without chewing. This is not the solution to our most frightening problems – rather this is one of our most frightening problems.

So I ask the question: does TED epitomize a situation where if a scientist’s work (or an artist’s or philosopher’s or activist’s or whoever) is told that their work is not worthy of support, because the public doesn’t feel good listening to them?

Similarly the memes and pretty pictures of IFLS. This is not merely scientism.  It is a hollowing out of even that category.  Conversely, science denialism seems easier too, as the demarcation line of what science even could be is eroded by the various responses here.  Sciencia Salon has been doing a debate on scientism, and you will notice that this IFLS and Tedism are sub-scientism, as in so lowly they are not even of its various varieties.  But is this shallowing out a form of scientism?

In this way, the defense of science substitutes for an understanding of science: the old axiom of keep it simple, stupid becomes keep it simple {and} stupid. What is missed here is that this damage to the demarcation line of science actually makes the “enemies of science” more and more pernicious and the historical relationship and development of science more and more obscure.

Again, what Bratton says about TED can be true of this trend at large


In this case the placebo is worse than ineffective, it’s harmful. It’s diverts your interest, enthusiasm and outrage until it’s absorbed into this black hole of affectation.


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