Saturday, June 11, 2005

Science 1

I've been a scientist ever since I could be, I always knew it was what I wanted - till I got there. My performance at my degree (four-year integrated Master of Chemistry) got worse and worse. At the time, I put it down to depression from my mother's death and a very nasty and fucked-up first relationship doomed to failure, but looking back, it was probably more that I really didn't get on with the atmosphere.

I liked the Chemistry department at York a lot, lovely place, a lot of good people, but I was never even slightly interested in the chemical industry in any of its manifestations, and they kept trying to make me commit to specializing in one kind of chemistry.

I did modules in environmental chemistry, computational modelling, management in industry (run by a former ICI troubleshooter and professional strikebreaker), materials science, energy generation & policy, and postmodern sociology, in addition to the core chemistry content in three areas (physical, organic, and inorganic chemistry). The sociology was because I really didn't like the core-content options they gave me for the fourth year, which were all aimed at prospective ivory tower denizens - advanced quantum, advanced chemistry of natural products, and a similar course in the inorganic area.

(I dropped inorganic chemistry as soon as I possibly could. Hated it.)

What I'd wanted to do - and expected to have as an option in my department - was to learn more about science, as opposed to how to do science, to learn about the philosophy and sociology of science, how to be a scientist and what being a scientist meant. But we didn't have one single lecture course on professional ethics, on the relations of science to the rest of society, on the history of science or the history of error. I had to go find all that out for myself, in bits and pieces over the years, chasing down references and waiting for serendipity to decide she'd spread for me at last.

So I tried to take a course in the sociology of science, but it wasn't being offered that year - so I ended up with Postmodernism instead. Which proved to be absolutely fascinating and completely infuriating. Now, many postmodernists are smart and interesting people, full of insights and theories about how things work. But it all depends on the conviction that, in the end, nothing matters, and probably doesn't exist anyway, if the term 'exist' can be said to have any meaning. Or, indeed, if there is such a thing as 'meaning' outside its cultural context.

I'm an Eng. Lit. geek from way back when, and a Kipling fan (I've got a nearly complete set of editions published during his lifetime, tucked away safely but where I can't get at it) so that was another hookup to think about postmodernism, and looking at postmodernist architecture got me into design & usability, and the overarching idea that no matter what's there, it's a) interesting and b) optimizable.

(And deconstructionalism. What you see there is what is there. Cuts both ways.)

I'm getting off the subject, though, so I'll leave you, O my reader, with a promise to carry on rambling on both themes some other time.


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