Thursday, January 19, 2012

Non-Western Science

As you've probably noticed, I listen to a lot of podcasts. So many, in fact, that I get behind in my listening all the time. That's why I'm just now getting around to this episode of Against the Grain. It's an interview with the philosopher of science Sandra Harding discussing non-Western ways of thinking. I know there's a tenancy among some to dismiss this kind of thing out of hand as some kind of Lysenkoism, but I think there is some merit to this viewpoint. Also, I think it's germane to sf given that the Western scientific perspective is the one that informs most of the genre.

While it's a stimulating discussion, I do have to quibble with her use of the word "science" as a sweeping generalization. That term covers such a broad spectrum that it's about as specific as "footwear", which can mean anything from sandals to waders. So while the points she raises may be valid in relation to ecology or medical science, I don't see how they would be applicable to, say, research into superconductors.

And I also find it interesting that although she never actually uses the term her philosophical approach is very close to that of Pragmatism. It always amuses me how often people hold de facto Pragmatist views, often without realizing it. Like that time William James wrote to H. G. Wells after reading one of his non-fiction books and not only claimed him as a philosophical kinsman but also declared, "You're a pragmatist!"

Non-Western Science (49 mins, 37 secs)

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