ANAT: News #34
Scientific Serendipity


In 1998 ANAT is focussing on collaboration between art and science. This focus entitled, scientific serendipity, is permeating all aspects of ANATıs programs and activities. To intellectually contextualise scientific serendipity, the critical discourse section of the ANAT newsletter has taken on a scientific flavour. In the second of these critical texts, Austrian based Australian, Tim Boykett, founder of the Time's Up collective, muses on the nature of psueudoscience. Time's Up are running a series of research workshops analysing the space between science and art throughout August and September of this year, Closing the Loop 98.

by Tim Boykett

"We hereby reclaim the notion of pseudoscience from the dangerous misanthropes, misguided fools and assorted miscreants that have been labelled with it. We claim pseudoscience as a source of life and flavour, a way of approaching work in the world that loses the life-threatening deadness of creation science or elixir-toting quacks, even that professional cynicism of that bugbear of rationality writ large, the institutional scientist. We are pseudoscientists, and we are here to make waves. None of this accretion of results in a Baconian evolution with outbreaks of paradigm shifting as per the Kuhn model. No, pseudoscience is for those who never lost the glint in the eye from those kiddie scientist stories, who really believed they could change the world from the back garage, and who aren't yet sure that they can't."

What is this "pseudoscience" business? It's got something to do with the undeterred feeling that science, writ large, small or in italics, is something that is good and interesting, or at least value-free and interesting. That there are too many redefinitions of science that don't quite meet my specs for what it is that makes my ears prick up when I hear the word. That abstraction in all its glory is a good thing, that there are connections, that things can be valuably seen in solitary situations, also in connection, that there are ways of talking about all these things that are not completely meaningless. Perhaps it's the romance, perhaps I want justification for having bad hair.

These notes are an attempt for me to piece together what it is that makes me wear the badge "pseudo scientist" without shame, why it is that a scientist is a good person, why this thing is interesting.

Some distinctions. Some definitions belong to the beginning of every good pseudo-scientific text. We need to know what is being said, not falling into the obfuscation or intellectual brow-beating-techniques of art critics, politicos and popular scientists. For us, popular science denotes all those science-type things that are based on some kind of popularity, whether it's occult National Enquirer stuff or peer-reviewed journals. Science itself is about separation and cutting, using the etymology of the word, it's about abstraction and understanding, as compared to development, which is about product, technology, use. Of course development of tools is necessary for science, one needs scalpels to cut, but science is not about knives. Scientists are by their nature mad, they are unusual, they are other, whether solitary crazies in the wilderness or groups in ivory towers. A scientists is someone, or even something, that does science.

I speak from the position of a confessed pseudo scientist, I am not in a twelve-point program.

The expression "pseudo" science is meant, above all, to push buttons and ensure that we do not get lumped with all them other sorts of scientists. Since most things are useless by their nature, so will our science be "useless", angels on pins, but infinitely important to us, in the same way that any obsession becomes all-consuming. Our researches are not meant to be barren, although there are not, a priori, tangible results in the sense of new machines or protocols or systems. We produce understanding which by its nature must be transmitted to be regarded as real. We are not Gnostics, looking for intimate knowledge of the universe for our own sake, we are explorers bringing back maps to new treasures. We seek to explain, in much the same way that many seek to represent. Thus there must be texts, diagrams, discussions. This is a parallel universe to that of the working day of the pseudo scientist, it is not the creation of these texts that are important, it is the development of understanding and abstraction behind them.

The job of the pseudoscientist might be said to be the opposite of the (classical) artist. The artist creates a specific version of a general idea, a work that is an embodiment of some thoughts, feelings, intuitions that have apparently happened. The pseudo scientist does the opposite, the development of abstractions, reasoning and intuiting about those abstractions, developing methods to convey those abstractions in ways that do not become concrete, that survive bad photocopying, that can be explained in the dust with a stick as well as with an interactive high-tech computer thing.

In these developments of abstractions, the pseudoscientist will run across similarities that span widths unexpectedly, there will be connections where truths in one area can be transported across to truths in another area via the bridge of abstraction. Understanding in one area can be spread, shared, developed through appropriate imagery, similarity, difference.

The depth of applicability is always in question. Thus the pseudoscientist returns to perhaps the most romantic of all things scientific, the laboratory, where experiments must be carried out. Technology must be developed, devices constructed, situations composed that let the scientists see what is going on, methods to look inside systems, to analyse, record, translate and transpose. These experiments must be reproducible, but the equipment does not need to be reliable beyond some measure of accuracy. This is not technological development of idiot-proof consumer electronics, it's about searching for understanding. Though it probably looks pretty cool as it produces its results.

Pop science will never satisfactorily explain the reactions of the individual to their dependence upon biomechanics, control, perception and their resulting chain reactions. Together with international specialists (artists, researchers, biomechanics, etc), Time's Up produces situations that investigate the impact of these three factors upon the individual, choosing a form of situationist research towards artistic ends.

Control: The ways and means via which we hold ourselves under control, from the primitive reptilian drives to those dependencies which we have chosen to place upon ourselves.

Perception: The resulting effects of sensory information upon the dynamically balanced web that is our "us" (my "me"), the correlation between sense and the bifurcations that occur in the meme-pool that is our mind.

Biomechanics: The banal functions, trained onto our antique brainstem to a degree which prohibits conscious performance of the actions.

As a result of the inviolate interrelations and reciprocal (inter-)effects, the delineation of any demarcations or even of proper scientifically acceptable definitions is arbitrary to the highest degree. Exactly this field of interacting polarities generates the unusual situation in which a participant at a Time's Up event finds themselves.

It is the exposing, the dis-covering of these dependencies and interdependencies that we place as a carrot before our noses as the participant becomes the central effector determining the situation developing around them.