Uncertainty, Hypothesis, Interface


In: _AH Journal, Issue 00 'Scientific Romance', ed. Beatriz Ortega Botas, 2017. _AH Journal Online

Enmeshed in a world of complex entanglement, our navigation of it or the ways in which we co-inhabit its biosphere, seems at a political impasse. As the world becomes increasingly driven by techno-scientific systems at the scale of the planetary, and we, complicit with it, any Romantic persistence on experiential primacy, the promise of an ‘aesthetic compass’ to guide life and reasoning, can no longer deliver on its once emancipatory potency. There is little use for the ‘free-play of the senses’ when confronted with ‘average-objects’—objects like the climate whose residues, such as weather, can be felt, but whose existence is one of an abstract mean, being pluri-local, multi-systemic and (at least anthropocentrically) generational in temporality. And yet—in refuting this highly subjective model, the temptation to lean on the ‘stability’ of science as an objective, steering force also runs into an incentivizing deadlock on two accounts: firstly, the dissemination of pure information does not lead directly to behavioural changes in activity (the non-self-evident correlation between knowing and doing); and second, treating the hard sciences as if they yield stable facts at all (in uniform, enduring consensus), when the only fact is that the very design of the scientific enterprise is based on revisionism. As Wendy Chun points out, the ongoing debates about climate change, for example, persist not because of scientific disagreement, but because of the false popular notion that scientific issues can attain a state of absolute certainty—and that to properly evaluate an issue, requires this certainty. 1 Chun further notes the strategic instrumentalization of uncertainty by the right to fuel public doubt and inaction on the issue (in a perverse deployment of critical reasoning), as if there will ever be a total and final resolution. The argument Chun puts forth is precisely the need to tackle the stagnating correlation between uncertainty and inaction, asserting the urgency in learning how to transform uncertainty and risk into drivers for activity. 2 Central to her argument is the role of belief—not in a theological ‘leap of faith sense’, but in the inferentialist sense since such ‘risky’ average-objects prohibit the connection between knowledge and experience, as in ‘learning from experience’ (or as she calls them, learning from sense-impressions). Ultimately what this politicization of risk entails is a new formulation of the relationship between abstract theory and material practice, inference and action; wherein abstract modeling and hypothetical reasoning need to gain social and libidinal force as steering techniques towards a futural horizon that can serve the many.

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Patricia Reed, "Uncertainty, Hypothesis, Interface" in: _AH Journal, Issue 00 'Scientific Romance', ed. Beatriz Ortega Botas, 2017. Read Article Online.