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Edward MacKinnon* - page 40 / 59





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The most important feature of LCP is that it is a language of interpersonal discourse, not a theory. Its proper functioning must be appraised by methods of linguistic analysis, not the interpretation of theories. Such analyses, however, must recognize distinctive features of LCP. Consider especially the notion of objectivity. In ordinary language the concept of objectivity is grounded in the subject/object distinction, which is at the core of any spoken language. It can also treat subjects as objects with distinctive vital and psychologistic properties. LCP is an extension of the objective side of this division. In its long incubation period it was effectively detached from dependence on any particular language and began to center on quantitative properties of bodies. The leaders of the scientific revolution, all dualists, attempted to put physics on an atomistic foundation. After the gradual realization that the foundation of mechanistic atomism did not really support the enterprise and the revision of mechanistic atomism collapsed, classical physics had a rather dualistic stance. Ontological reductionism remained as a goal, the Holy Grail of physics, and a unifying force in the conception of reality. Yet the informal functional unification of physics that allowed physicists to interrelate personal activities, mechanics, electrodynamics, and thermodynamics in accounts of experiments or analyses of the sun’s behavior, was rooted in LCP as an extension of ordinary language.

LCP is a linguistic parasite. It can be grafted onto Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, or any other sufficiently developed language while retaining its evolved structure and inducing mutations in its successive hosts. The protracted struggle to make this language objective loosened the role of personal and cultural biases and presuppositions. With the limits of its valid applicability established, LCP could be treated as an idealization. In this idealization the subject is the ideal detached observer. Through training and assimilation of tribal customs, young physicists learn to assume the persona of the detached observer35. With the role of the subject depersonalized and de-emphasized and ontological reductionism as a guiding goal, it was natural to think of the objectivity of physics in terms of a correspondence with objects as they exist independent of human knowers.

The advent of quantum physics and the growing conceptual crisis it precipitated had the effect of showing the limits of applicability of the language of classical physics. To the degree this realization was actualized it allowed LCP to emerge and be seen as what it is, a language-centered conceptualization of reality. After the linguistic crisis was effectively resolved and receded into forgetfulness, the conceptual revolution was open to reinterpretation. I will indicate the aspect of this reinterpretation that I consider the most serious misrepresentation. This is the claim that classical physics is objective in the sense that physical statements make no reference to the means of observation or reference. Quantum mechanics lacks such strong objectivity, and this is seen as a defect to be remedied. This contrast makes sense when one thinks of quantum

35 Thus Crane (1972, p. 6) summarized the then standard sociological assumptions concerning scientific activity: "(1)  the scientist is expected to evaluate new knowledge critically and objectively; (2) he is expected to use his findings in a disinterested fashion; (3)scientific merit should be evaluated independently from the personal or social qualities of the individual scientist; (4) the scientist does not own his findings; secrecy is forbidden;  (5) he is expected to maintain an attitude of emotional neutrality towards his work." This summary of the ideals inculcated by normal training was written before James Watson shocked people by revealing that creative scientists can diverge widely from such ideals.

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