Posts filed under Science

Science as Radicalism

Hey, read this. Seriously.

Science as Radicalism

William Gillis

It’s no secret that a good portion of the left today considers science profoundly uncool. A slight affinity with it persists among a majority, but few asides of scorn by the continental philosophers influential in the contemporary leftist canon see spirited response and science’s most prominent champions remain dated historical figures like Peter Kropotkin and Élisée Reclus. Indeed there’s a lingering whiff of technocratic stodginess and death that the word “science” has never quite shaken. Those leftists most associated with it have a tendency to either be authoritarians looking to legitimize near-fascist narratives, or doe-eyed activists enchanted by saccharine visions of self-managed bureaucracies and The Meeting That Never Ends. To a great many who identify as radicals “science” appears in our lives primarily as a place our various enemies habitually retreat to conjure the authority their shoddy arguments couldn’t.

. . .

The fact of the matter is that the remarkably successful phenomenon that the term “Science!” has wrapped itself around is not so much a methodology as an orientation. What was really going on, what is still going on in science that has given it so many great insights is the radicalism of scientists, that is to say their vigilant pursuit after the roots (or ‘radis’). Radicals constantly push our perspectives into extreme or alien contexts until they break or become littered with unwieldy complications, and when such occurs we are happy to shed off the historical baggage entirely and start anew. To not just add caveats upon caveats to an existing model but to sometimes prune them away or throw it all out entirely. Ours is the search for patterns and symmetries that might reflect more universal dynamics rather than merely good rules of thumb within a specific limited context. As any radical knows “good enough” is never actually enough.

— William Gillis, Science as Radicalism
Human Iterations, 18 Sextilis 2015

Shared Article from

Science as Radicalism

Sex, and not the natural kind.

Here’s a story from last month over at Science Made Easy, featuring a nice diagram which is (misleadingly, in my view) called the Tree of Sex.

What makes a creature male or a female? If you mentioned the X and the Y chromosomes, you are correct. I mean, you’re correct if you ignore most forms of life on this planet. If you actually take the time to examine the lifestyles of different life forms, many of the basic assumptions about sex differences don’t hold.

I am going to try and explain this to you, using the Tree of Sex. This family tree traces the ancestry of sex in all of its weird and wonderful manifestations. Those Pie charts are coded according to the method of sex, and I will be explaining what each of those colour codes mean below.

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— Faz Alam, What can we learn from the Tree of Sex?
Science Made Easy (3 June 2014).

You should read the whole article, because if you’re not familiar with this stuff, it’s pretty interesting from a scientific standpoint.

That said, I think that the main thing that this kind of diagram shows is that really it’s kind of a silly and obsolete bit of cultural detritus that we go on pretending that bees and mayflies and fig trees even have male and female sexes that way that humans or turkeys (kind of, somewhat) have male and female sexes. They have sexual reproduction, sure, but when it comes to the idea of the sexes of individual organisms, what we’re talking about across all these different species are basically very different biological phenomena. They’re basically very different in what they arise from, structurally, and they’re also basically very different in how they function. Trying to wrap them up with human categories for sexual dimorphism[1] is at this point kind of like imagining that the queen of an anthill goes around wearing a little crown and ordering ant commoners to do her bidding. Biological sex is not a natural kind, it is the projection of a social metaphor, and often it’s kind of a misleading or an unhelpful one.

Your Tuesday morning Spontaneous Order

A marine photographer managed to capture hundreds of wide-eyed fish apparently posing for a picture. Californian photographer and conservationist Octavio Aburto had spent years photographing the school in Cabo Pulmo National Park, Mexico, and had been trying to capture this shot for three years.

Fish are pretty awesome. (So’s technological civilization.)

(Thanks to Cap’n Midori.)

Wednesday Lazy Linking