Purchase Welcome to the Machine: Science, Surveillance, and the Culture of Control
Read more

Excerpt from Welcome to the Machine

Science or Truth (p. 24)

From chapter "Science"

The spooks at the Information Awareness Office aren’t the only ones who conflate science and knowledge. It’s pretty common in our culture. I asked philosopher Stanley Aronowitz, author of Science as Power, among many other books, about this conflation. He said, “Science is founded on the idea that the results of its methods—which are very specific mathematical and experimental methods—are equivalent to what we mean by truth. The mythology holds that science describes physical reality, that science is truth. And if science is truth, instead of merely one form of truth, then all other forms of truth—all philosophical truth, all ethical truth, all emotional, spiritual, relational, experiential truths—are devalued. They’re regarded as something else besides truth. Scientists may agree, for example, that there is something called artistic truth, but they—and I’m talking not so much about specific scientists (although this is often true) as I am about what the scientific worldview does to all of us—don’t think artistic truth has anything to do with the material reality that the scientist investigates.”

He continued, “Science is based on exclusion. And not just the exclusion of all these other forms of knowledge. It’s full of exclusions. Logic, for example. In order to establish its authority it excludes what might be described as a critical logical analysis that derives not strictly from experiment, but from the less formal observation of any, say, philosopher or political or social theorist.”

“Or human being,” I added.

He said, “Scientists will say, ‘That’s all very interesting, but it’s really got nothing to do with truth. It’s just your opinion.’”

“Why do we care?”

“At the very least because if you can convince people that science has a monopoly on truth, you may be able to get them to believe also that the knowledge generated through science is independent of politics, history, social influences, cultural bias, and so on.”

And in the bargain, you can get them to doubt their own experience.

* * *

This might be a good time to examine the etymology of the word science. It comes from the Latin scientia, from sciens, which means having knowledge, from the present participle of scire, meaning to know, probably—and here’s where it gets exciting—akin to the Sanskrit Chyati, meaning he cuts off, and Latin scindere, to split, cleave. The dictionary tells me there’s more at shed (presumably the verb, as in dog hair, not the noun, as in a shack).

So I look up shed, which derives from the Middle English for divide, separate, from Old English scaeden, akin to High German skeiden, to separate, which brings us back to our Latin friend scindere, and from there to the Greek schizein, to split.

We are all familiar of course with the root schizein because of its famous grandchild schizophrenia (literally split mind), which is a psychotic disorder characterized by a loss of contact with the environment, illogical patterns of thinking and acting, delusions and hallucinations, and a noticeable deterioration in the level of functioning in everyday life.

Science, scire, scindere, schizein, schizophrenia. A mind split into pieces.

* * *

It should come as no surprise, at least to etymologists as well as regular people with too much time on their hands, that the words scientia, translated to mean knowledge, and science, the main means by which people in this culture are presumed to gain this knowledge, have at their core the notion of splitting off, separating from. After all, the word separate comes from the Latin for self, se, meaning on one’s own (which springs from the belief and promotes the fiction that a self is independent of family, community, landbase), and parare, “to prepare.” In this culture it is separation that prepares a person for selfhood. It is separation that defines us. Separation has become who we are. It is the illusion of separation, as we shall see, that keeps us enslaved.