Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Degrees of freedom

Creationism and genetically modified foxgloves, both topics of recent posts of mine, seem to me to be weirdly connected in some way while still being totally different from each other. The following snippet from a book review I have been reading helped me put my finger on the difference. It captures the poles-apart POSIWID context of both:

…[There are] two distinct modes of doing science: the ‘encyclopaedic’ mode, which works by separating a complex sector of experience into its elements and arranging these ‘according to the natural connections inherent in the phenomena’, and the ‘positivist’ mode, which is a study of how things work, an investigation of ‘actions in nature, and indeed on nature, rather than arrangements’.

Once a science enters the positivist stage, its goal is no longer a metaphysical quest for truth nor a rational theory purporting to represent physical reality. There is no longer any question of classifying information about the world in a manner consonant with the nature of things.

In our book, Trust and Mistrust, Aidan and I explore at some length the role that degrees of freedom play in relationships – the more degrees of freedom within the relationship the more dimensions in which a solution to a problem can be found. The encyclopaedic mode described above reduces degrees of freedom while the positivist mode extends them. So that a creationist has to fit solutions into an ever-narrowing space while for a GM scientist practically anything is possible.

Here then, as well as the difference between dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden and foxgloves at Chelsea, we have the essence of POSIWID.

Reference: P N Furbank’s review of Science and Polity in France: The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Years By Charles Coulston Gillispie, NY Review of Books, 26 May 2005.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No. The creationist works within feasible boundaries. The GM may think anything is possible, but it is not. He can tweak genes to achieve a goal but he can only work with what was given to him in the first place. Never will he create life and never will horses living on mountains develop wings by themselves unless an inteligent designer willfully alters their genetic makeup...
It has nothing to do with perceived freedom. It has everything to do with actual freedom.