It’s Tuesday afternoon, which means that it’s time for me to choose which of my various rambling essays to copy from my notes and paste on this page. For this post, I wanted to expand on an idea more fundamental than what most of what Dr. Aronova discussed, but is nonetheless integral thereto. I’ve been trying for a week to put this into words, but I keep coming up short, so please bear with me as I try and make sense of my own ideas.
It’s been a longstanding belief of mine that science is, at its core, a social construction. I don’t mean to trivialize the term “social construct” nor do I want to use it in the same way that one might describe, say, the gender binary, but the fact of the matter is–the way I see it–that what we hail as subsets of science are only relevant to us because we have decided to make them relevant. The Scientific Method, for example: It only is useful in terms of the ascertainment of truth insofar as we as a society place trust and belief in our conceptions of truth as some kind of semiological signification. To clarify, things are only true if we believe them. Things that we don’t believe may exist, but that doesn’t make them true. Truth is a social construct. This may be the hill that I have to die on, but I am inflexible on this point. If you look at it sociologically, the only things that meaningfully impact societies are things that are accepted as true. Paradoxically, this also includes falsehoods: You accept the truth of the rejection of another message.
My point is that science as we know it today would cease to exist if our conceptions of truth and the results of controlled experiments were different, and if we were for some reason unwilling to realign those same conceptions of truth. Science works, generally, because humans are good at realigning what they believe in to be more in line with what is true (even if it takes a couple of generations), but if we weren’t, then it would all fail to exist. We’d have, basically, a scientific method that churned out irrelevant data points that imply irrelevant conclusions.
This is a conundrum that has seen a good deal of critical response, and it’s a hot topic in a lot of philosophy journals these days. But what I find interesting–and this is where I tie the post into last Tuesday’s lecture–is that, historically, this has only a been problem in the West, not in the Soviet Union. In describing the contrast between these two states, Dr. Aronova touched on what I’m driving at: She mentioned that citizens in the Soviet Union were more likely to participate (I think she cited a case study about seismological research, though I could be mistaken) in scientific research, were more likely to accept the conclusions of government research, et cetera, et cetera. It seemed to me like Dr. Aronova was painting the Soviets as a people who had faith and resolve as it pertained to scientific findings, implicitly implying that Americans tended to be more skeptical.
If you’re still reading this, congratulations. Had I not been the author of this post, I wouldn’t have made it this far. But I hope that my contextualization of the subjectivity of science and subsequent use of this idea to explain a point that Dr. Aronova, in some small way, can shine a light on some of the fundamental differences between science in the West and in the Soviet Union.