Daniel S. Griffin

searching ignorance

5 September 2017 - Berkeley

One week ago I put into writing several questions related to search engines that had been unformulated (by me that is) until then but that I could see within and from the work I’d been doing this summer. Putting it into writing as I did was in part inspired by Firestein’s Ignorance (2012). I had picked up this book, about the role of ignorance within science, on a recommendation from within Lisa Feldman Barrett’s How Emotions Are Made (2017). I was quite moved while reading the book, which I slowly worked through, though it is quite short and an easy read, over the last half of the summer.

Then this weekend I worked through the first week’s readings1 for my Intro to Science and Technology Studies (STS) class and I’ve been reconsidering how to frame my framing of my research. I’ve been questioning my questions. My questions weren’t wrong. I just had not been thinking through, or acknowledging, how I arrived at them.

While the specific readings were new to me, I thought I already knew this stuff. The irony is that my interest in these sorts of questions was rekindled as a consequence of reading, as I started my summer work in 2015, some extra-curricular Bruno Latour, whose writing on the groom or door closer was the source for the last conversation I had with my grandmother. I will call attention to a few lines of this, from his The Pasteurization of France:

We would like science to be free of war and politics. At least, we would like to make decisions other than through compromise, drift, and uncertainty. We would like to feel that somewhere, in addition to the chaotic confusion of power relations, there are rational relations.

It was that summer that I began to realize that despite my exit from active military service, the end of my reserve obligations, and my desire to turn from thoughts of military/defense/war/conflict I couldn’t turn away. There was never another way to turn. I began to re-acknowledge its reality and gravity through the scenario writing process for the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity’s Cybersecurity Futures 2020. There would be the chaotic confusion of power/politics affecting and being affected by my work whether or not I pretended not and tried to close my eyes. We would like science to be free of war and politics but if our fancies are fantasies we will fall.

The questions I ask about search engines are inspired by conflict and aimed to address conflict.

So, given this and my situatedness (or position), I’m considering with what thoroughly conscious ignorance I might approach this class:

N.b. Setting Ignorance alongside the STS readings reminded me of danah boyd’s “Why Social Science Risks Irrelevance” in The Chronicle of Higher Education (2016-07-24) as an amalgam of Firestein’s optimism and the pessimism that I take from Marx, Engels, and Hessen. She writes, “One of the hardest parts of doing social-science research is coming up with a question that matters.”

  1. They deserve a further writing, but the readings were:
    • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology [1845-46]. Part A, B, and C.
    • Boris Hessen, ‘The Social and Economic Roots of Newton’s Principia’ [1931]. Reprinted in The Social and Economic Roots of the Scientific Revolution: Texts by Boris Hessen and Henryk Grossmann. Edited by Gideon Freudenthal and Peter McLaughlin. Dordrecht: Springer, 2009, 41-101.
    • Alexandre Koyré, From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1957, 1-109.