Irony and Science

0. Empiricism lives and studies in the future anterior; thus order and number appear, as though already in their most sublime perfection, and involve themsleves in the experiment as though always fully formed from the outside. They are a key to the symbolic universe and thus a virtual island of hope — but survival demands we must be harder than mere forms. Faith in number, the pure form of being, isn’t even ironic; it’s messianic, a hermits’ opium dream. For truth can be unveiled only on the basis of differences, and among these only those which make a difference; therefore sets already contain a measure of sublime violence. Any enterprise ironically founded upon the abyss cannot overcome its own implicit transcendence and lapses into reaction– if it fails to rise forward towards any kind of ‘bright future’ other than one already fully formed. And in any case, science is never an end, but a means; and insofar as this remains true, it will function transcendentally, and even ironically, as a form of institutional violence.

1. For upon what does reason does stand, if not itself — if not upon it’s own virtuality, it’s unconscious investments? Reason is like freedom because it speaks upon its own authority: it does not dominate, yet effortlessly counters every effort towards domination. Could we not identify it as a species of sublimely misplaced aggression, purged first of violence, and finally — even of the sacred?

2. The experimenter is a creature of an obscure delight, whose most intimate and secret desire– is to become invisible; in the wake of this daring closely follows the ‘moral’ scientist who wants nothing more than to be a “good” and “shameless” observer. In terms of bearing witness to the singular ‘truth’ of a process, our testimony is only as good as we have become equal to the process in question. The experimental subject thereby becomes the secret and esoteric origin of the scientific situation. Not that science is to be relegated to narration; on the contrary, it may be that the path of the shaman and that of the biologist in the future could converge…

3. The scientist dreams of a time when knowledge will spread and conquer fear. Collective reason abhors the abyss, and cannot authentically envision the emptiness of the void as constitutive; yet for all our higher reason, as science approaches the edge, it grounds more and more of itself upon its own shadow. Science must rather illuminate: the void is not the ground but a kind of sickness, and the paranoid certainty of a egoistic-rational framework already demands a recovery– a transvaluation. On this point, our position ought to be that the global and the local are neither distinct nor indiscernible. Thus we can observe (and without paradox) that the universe is evolving in time, that it is both orderly and chaotic, that some parts are hidden and others are revealed, that the whole is both being and becoming, all this at once, and in very many different kinds of ways. Thus we also must understand, and henceforth without mysticism, that existence — visible or invisible — is only ever spoken about in one sense.

4. Of course, there may be unseen dimensions of being– but this is a conceptual boundary. For even these belong upon the same material plane when we indicate ‘being’ in its pure verbal and infinitive sense: to be as an infinite multiplicity.

5. We can now easily understand how reason is a meta-strategy: it is the thinking behind thinking, a sort of combinatorical game. More precisely, meta-strategy is calculating odds on the duration that a certain method (of prediction, explanation, control) will (continue to) succeed in ‘approaching’ being. So even though scientists are attempting to find ‘universal’ answers, transcendence is rarely explicitly invoked in scientific discourse. Yet the subject of science is such that experimenters cannot escape that they are concerned, in a specifically human way, with illuminating a species of ‘timeless’ truths.

6. The ‘science’ of language makes this particular paradox clear: enunciation, is after all, only a bridging of two different ways of measuring time.

7. Let us introduce a new understanding of the term by saying that analysis begins with the mutual understanding that something in a situation is existentially intolerable. This is, as it were, the heart of the vortex — an (or even ‘the’) object which will not ‘let us alone.’ Thus the fundamental operation of analysis is the inscription of a transversal line through the heart of the obscurity, it is a kind of torturing which could possibly heal. It could turn out to be the creation of a new science, but undeniably more often it is simply the scientific creation of a desired objective process (removal of the feared or dangerous object, etc.) In light of the preceding arguments, we can now present the thesis that analysis traces these transversal lines of flight towards new senses of being. The displacement of aggression into a process of healing is a particularly fascinating inversion to which we shall have to return.

8. At the time, it is enough to say: for too long has the scientific position been tainted by irony, been thought refuted even by its ‘refined’ position. Science certainly must play the role of the ‘ignorant,’ but of course it is already an elegant and Socratic ignorance– laced with irony towards public opinion, and for ‘established but unfounded’ explanations. The ambiguity of the position of science does not account for its ironic origin. Latent hostility towards authority can indeed open spaces for dialogue, but is this really the production of the possibility of a experiment? So it will perhaps seem unusual to suggest that the ironic may in fact be the classical basis for all scientific knowledge, though even Descartes’ reformulation of the basis of knowledge in terms of doubt and Lacan’s in terms of paranoia seem to indicate a deep psychological connection between science and the position of irony — of the “not so ignorant”!

This entry was written by Joseph Weissman and published on Sunday, August 19, 2007 at 4:42 am. It’s filed under being, domination, irony, numbers, Science / Mathematics / Technology, truth, violence. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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