What would it look like if our scholarly practice was actually informed by our shiny new theories of complexity? Below the fold is one possible answer, a draft review article by absential-in-chief Chuck Dyke (Temple University) covering neologism, “ecologies of practice” and theoretical propagation in Deacon, Stengers, Juarrero, Thompson and others. The introductory section is here below the fold; the whole piece (pdf, with notes) is linked at the end:
Two recent books, Isabel Stengers’ Cosmopolitics and Terry Deacon’s Incomplete Nature introduce daunting arrays of terminology, some neologisms and some adapted from sources that may not be generally familiar. Specimens from Stengers include “factishes” (from Bruno Latour), and “singularities” (from Deleuze and Guattari); Deacon provides us with “absentials” and “ententions” (self-imposed), along with many other terminological prodigies. Cosmopolitics invites us to take a new look at some traditional issues in the philosophy of science, and reframe them. Incomplete Nature sets about a systematic (thermodynamic) framework designed eventually to account for the evolution of consciousness in humans. To understand either book is to make peace (perhaps a critical peace) with the terminological demands the authors make.
In what follows I want to urge such a peace – though perhaps not perpetual peace. The working premise will be that, whatever else it may be, science is a process of mutual learning. So the dominant line of persuasion will be that mutual learning is best served by a tolerant and receptive attitude toward neologism once an initial prima facie credibility is established – as it is with both Deacon and Stengers, both of whom have a solid track record. Authority legitimates candidates, but surely doesn’t guarantee success.
The strategy will be to set out some basic features of Stengers’ rubric, with the terminology that goes with it, then use that to present some of the key features of Deacon’s project. The attempt will be to provide a useful pedagogical perspective on Deacon without any serious modification of his theory. This is especially possible since his work is rooted in thermodynamics, and Stengers was famously closely associated with Prigogine and his thermodynamics. The works of Alicia Juarrero and Evan Thompson, two others who have earned their candidacy, will be used to create a more contentious contrast space. The point isn’t to dwell on contention, but to illuminate Deacon’s project by understanding some fundamental contrasts.
As fundamental contextualization we have to acknowledge that neologisms are ubiquitous in the history of Western scientific practice. In fact, with the possible exception of quantification and mathematization, nothing is more characteristic within that history. “Mass” may well be the most conspicuous example, but only one among millions, ending up, say, with “Higgs boson,” or “chaperonens,” or the dozens that will be invented this week. A large part of what historians of science do is explain the rise and robust establishment of neologisms and the theoretical and experimental frameworks in which they figure. So to some degree we’re dealing with the obvious here, except that particular case by particular case it’s important to account for the risings and the robust establishments. We’ll be doing that in a specific context: the one occupied by Deacon and other theorists as they try to increase our understanding of human consciousness as a scientific “object.”
Charles E. Dyke, Temple University. Draft; all rights reserved; NOT for reposting. Full version (pdf): TOLERANCE OF TERMINOLOGICAL TRICKERY.