Thinking Science, Figuring Anthropology



Not Thinking Science

A recent conversation between Stephen Colbert and Neil deGrasse Tyson has had me thinking about the many ways we make sense of science through the ways that we make sense of how we belong, or don’t belong, in relation to this system of knowledge, method, and practice.

Stephen Colbert + Neil deGrasse Tyson June 28, 2009

Stephen Colbert + Neil deGrasse Tyson June 28, 2009

The following exchange was of particular interest to me:

Stephen Colbert: So what is Nova Science Now? Why do we need science now? Why not science later?
Neil deGrasse Tyson: If not now, then when?
Stephen Colbert: How about Nova Science Then where we explain science like Alchemy and leaches?
Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yeah, that wouldn’t be science. That’s somethin’ else.
Stephen Colbert: It was back then.
Neil deGrasse Tyson: And that would be a whole other kind of society in which we live.
Stephen Colbert: Well, the society I live in doesn’t think about science that much.
Neil deGrasse Tyson: Except that science drives all the cameras and technology of the studio …allowing the Colbert Nation to exist at all.
Stephen Colbert: Yeah, but we don’t have to think about it.
Neil deGrasse Tyson: Laughs
Stephen Colbert: Right? We got guys like you who like thinking about it.

Daily conversations that I hear, unending corporate-induced mediations, and practical rationality all communicate very similar messages: Science, with a big “S,” belongs here and we must have some kind of relation to it, but we don’t really belong within it because it is not recognizable as human. Thus, Science becomes suspiciously (a)kin to magic and trickery, promise and failure, hope and revenge. It is a total system—a collective organizational force of procedures and regulations that manage activity of us-and-it.  But while the ways we might feel managed or regulated through materialized Science are tangible, whether It is managed is open to question. Here, Science becomes both total system and Other—it knows us, but we don’t know it. And it’s too big to think about so we align ourselves with this force while dissociating particular human relations by not thinking Science.

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