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S for Sciences

Anne-Françoise Schmid, Phillipe Petit, trans. Sylvia

from: SCIENCES, YouTube: abcpenser, 21 February 2017.

Anne-Françoise Schmid: It is very difficult to speak of sciences presently [actuellement]. We see so many positions on the sciences: they are social agreements, it is a specialized language between specialists of various domains, it is a creole, it is a structure of rigor, it is… it is what makes up the surroundings of our actual world, etc. There are enormous amounts of qualifications of science. While before the sciences were represented by a hierarchy of disciplines. It was… it was across the discipline that we saw science. Now, it has become a little bit more difficult to reason like that. It is still true, of course, but not always though because there are now disciplines that are on interdisciplinary funds and therefore the structure of the discipline no longer functions… it no longer functions. You now have a certain quantity of scientific works that evidently suppose that there are disciplines, they are fundamental for avoiding catastrophes, i.e., if you work on a model or on a modeling, and the hypotheses on which these models repose are incompatible with the fundamental cognitions, you can be sure that you have a technological catastrophe, it is certain. The Furiani disaster, for example.


Philippe Petit: Examples of these hybrid disciplines?


Anne-Françoise Schmid: Ah well, synthetic biology for example. Hybrid is not the right name, it is a fashionable word, but I believe that it is… seedy. No, I would not say it. I do not say hybrid disciplines, I do not say hybrid object, I say integrative object, I will explain what this means. It is one of… one of the notions that I brought to generic epistemology.

            How do I say it? I would rather say that we have scientific cases where the problem is not at all that of the application of a discipline onto an object, but where there is a certain number of sources of cognitions. For example, there is mathematical modeling, there is informatics, there are… materials sciences, there are certain domains of biology and then you fabricate models, that is, small concentrates where you have elements that come from biology and come from informatics and that come from… etc., that no longer depend on a particular discipline but that permits posing, if I may say, bricks for more local, more generic, etc. … constructions. Therefore, in fund, this generic epistemology, it permits comprehending all these movements that there are in the sciences in a simpler and easier fashion, where you are no longer solely within one discipline, but where you work on several disciplines at a time. And you see, in fund, this is constant when you model mathematically, well you do math, but at a given moment where this modeling… it will… it will… bear on dimensions. These dimensions will be useful for the analysis of physical or biological problems… and then the… entanglements [intrications] will be very… very important. But if we only see these entanglements as entanglements, these disciplines are seen as techniques. And in my opinion, that does not suffice. If you… if you decide to… to take for example synthetic biology, especially as a technique, ah well, we arrive at ethical aporias. Evidently, we will fabricate artificial things, that are only machines, and in fund, from technics, we see the great drift [dérive]. I think that this logic of the drift is not the good one. I think that one must take up all these notions again and see them both as techniques and sciences. Both at a time, the contemporary sciences are both at a time. But if we only treat the techniques, then the problematics can no longer be treated. To be able to treat the problematics will, for example with synthetic biology that is exactly a discipline that reposes on very… very different disciplinary funds, one must be able to… treat it as a science. Now, in principle, in the history of sciences, models have always been treated in a technical fashion. I propose treating them as also scientific. There are sciences where you work outside of disciplines but with scientific concepts, with scientific concepts that you can articulate. There, you start to already have the notion of style that arrives. There is no science without style.


Philippe Petit: Then, can you give an… an example? We are still with the letter S. Let us say an… application in some way on what you have worked on… we see that the, at a time, this link between science and technique is at work and these… theses modes of operation of which you speak?


Anne-Françoise Schmid: I think that synthetic biology is a… a very good example. Most writings treat it as fundamentally technical. By means of automatizations, for example, of the fabrication of molecules for… for medicines, for example, things like that, well. But, rightly, I think, but why is it treated as a technique? Well, that is because one can automatize, of course, but it is also because it no longer sees what the relation to the basic disciplines are. And justly, I think that this relation that they seek to the basic disciplines is not adapted, it is adapted to an epistemology that is theory-centered and that does not exactly know to give its place to models and simulations. In classical epistemology, the model is always an intermediary between theory and experiment, between theory and observation. If you look at contemporary sciences, this image of… of the model absolutely suffices no more. And then, it is when you use the classical schemas that you progressively see things done by the sciences that you treat as techniques exactly because it did not know how to give an epistemological place to the model, to give an epistemological place to the hypothesis. You know, there is an incredible thing, if you see Lecourt’s dictionary of history[1]… there is not… there is… under hypothesis… there’s conjecture, which are two altogether different things. Why do we not see it? The hypothesis, what we estimate when it is… it is realized, ah it becomes an empirical law. If it is contested, well abandon it. Therefore, the hypothesis does not exist or… or has no status and there… and this problem is fundamental. There are other uses of the hypothesis and hypotheses that could make us exactly comprehend scientific workings [fonctionnements] that are no longer the… the classical disciplinary workings, but the hypothesis being what permits making… links… and local coherences at certain moments, but in a fundamental and positive fashion. Where the hypothesis would no longer be this element with which we know not what to do. But… but, on the contrary, something important. And then, moreover, hypotheses and conjectures, they are not at all the same notions. The conjecture parts from givens that we have, finally from… from elements that we have, and we try to project them into the future [l’avenir], while the hypothesis is a break. A transversal break. Therefore, we make a hypothesis or make a conjecture, it is not at all the same activity, but they are found… it is not only in the dictionary, I have also seen them in a dictionary, I do not know if it was Oxford or Cambridge, I would not like to say from where. Simply, you have nothing under the hypothesis in a… in a…. You see, there are notions like this that are dropped. We know that it exists. But in fund, Poincaré was a genius for this. In Science and Hypothesis, he had comprehended that the hypothesis had an altogether different role that what it was habitually given. And Leibniz would also be included. In Leibniz, as soon as there is an infinite series, that only God can see… man is obligated to make a hypothesis to try to comprehend it. Voila, Leibniz brought that, Russell as well. There are some philosophers have known to give a signification to the hypothesis, but otherwise, even within the works of epistemology, it is a term that has altogether been something that one know not what to do with and this happened because classical epistemology is a hypothesis, it is a theory-centered epistemology… you have theory, you have experiment, and then you have everything that is between the two, things, it’s like cooking. If you put a hypothesis, well it is for doing a scaffolding, then you have to find the built result. Scaffolding. And then goes very well in a science where you arrive at a neat positive result, but if you will, if you now look at the articles of contemporary biology, the conclusions, these are tendencies. It is not such and such fact. It is tendencies that we discuss. Therefore evidently, at this moment, the question of the hypothesis takes up another function again.


Philippe Petit: And, still at the letter S, and in a somewhat condensed fashion, can you expand on sciences and models, sciences and modeling, knowing that today nearly every science, including geography, economics, etc. uses models?


Anne-Françoise Schmid: Yes, I can, I can, in the fund of classical epistemology, the model was comprehended as an intermediary between theory and experiment, but one has quickly seen that that does not suffice. And yet, that has given place, in France especially, less in the USA because they have been more pragmatist… they happen to construct a model and then, alright, it’s fine, there are commands of the army, all sorts of disciplines. Well, in France, making a model was another thing. There were extremely violent debates. Badiou had written a small book in ’69, The Concept of the Model, where he said that he admits one definitions of the model and refuses the others. He accepts a logico-mathematical definition of the model, i.e., as the true interpretation of theory, one chooses some parameters, one chooses a domain, etc. If we happen to make injections of this sort, mathematical injections, such that each element responds to theoretical constraints, then we have a model. Then at the end of the small book, he made all the logico-mathematical demonstrations of the theory of models that he had done elsewhere with the mathematician Maurice Mathieu. Which is also a well-known step. But the technique of the book had truly been partially done by Maurice Mathieu. And Badiou, in 2007, he republished this book while telling me in the introduction that nothing had changed. At that moment, science between those two moments, science had developed techniques of modeling, not just techniques, but in fund a form of autonomy of models in scientific work. That he had absolutely not seen. And that he did not want to see in ’69, evidently, his goal was to show that the human sciences, like what Lévi-Strauss was doing, were not sciences, but ideologies that utilize scientific terms like that of the model to make people believe that they are sciences. Or that one utilizes the term of structure to make people believe that they are sciences while they are ideologies. But now, in fund, the sense of ideology has altogether changed. You have an ideological phenomenon in the contemporary sciences if you erase one discipline by another. If, for example, in synthetic biology you would say, at a given moment mathematical modeling has no importance or informatics or… etc. then, well, you will do a sort of erasure that will give place to promises, in the project to all sorts of promises that one could never see like that if one has all the elements.


Philippe Petit: And, taking up my question again, what is the difference between modeling and simulation?


Anne-Françoise Schmid: Well, simulation is a modeling, but a modeling that one runs [faire tourner]. Running is the terms that used. Evidently, what is it? In a simulation, you evidently have a certain number of models that play together in a dynamic fashion, so as to represent something… a morsel of reality. And evidently, we come upon it with extraordinary precision. You know, for example, Kant said in The Critique of Judgement, that there would never be a Newton of the blade of grass, you remember that, huh? Now, there is a Newton of the blade of grass. I was with Phillipe de Reffye, and there, to be able to describe the growth of a blade of grass, Phillipe de Reffye had to make moments of mathematics, modeling, … huh, make them alternate each time, informatics, mathematics, etc. And especially what he had done was to create a space, he created a space, that is, he did not say to people, “You are specialists of several disciplines, here is your object, this object”. No, you take your space, you do what you do as best as possible. I only give you a condition of compatibility. As it happens, he said a strictly mathematical condition that he said like that, the buds are automata, i.e., everything that you would have to do should be able to be put into recursive functions. That’s it. But he had created a space and given a condition that they did not treat within mathematical theory itself, but as a proposition that I call floating, that was that which should permit putting the work of one another in relation. Therefore, there as well, the construction of a space while we do interdisciplinary work and I think that we see this interdisciplinary work as technical when we no longer see this space.


Philippe Petit: Still on the letter S, and you are responding to my questions very well, are scientists always laborers of proof and how do you see the science of tomorrow?


Anne-Françoise Schmid: So, proof is important. Of course. But in fund, this is also an epistemological ideology, in the sense where classical epistemology is done around verification, justification, etc. That is what is lacking. While evidently, it is very important to be able to verify a result. If you cannot, if you cannot dispute the hypothesis, it makes no sense. Therefore, it is important, but that does not suffice for invention. Save for, evidently, if seeking a verification permits giving other ideas of it as well. Then that is done, and it is only verification. Yes, [Gilles-Gaston] Granger and others had said it well, verification is an important thing and had wanted to come back to what had been done at the time of the Vienna circle, etc. It is important for sure, but it is just as important to try to have scenarios on the future of science. Why? Because the objects are no longer synthesizable. If you will, when you work on a classical object that depends on a discipline, you think you are able to synthesize it. When you have complex objects, you think that you can make the different disciplinary perspectives converge. And well now you have objects of sciences that do no longer respond to that much. This is what I call the integrative object for example, take the subject that is being worked on in every sort of laboratory right now, that of obesity. For example, I this a little bit because I know the INRA laboratory in Jouy-en-Josas where one works on this, one works on the human intestinal microbiota. We have been able to give a signature to people who are or become obese. A micro signature. And we have hoped that we might have biotic problems. The farmer, sour people or make it such that children do not become obese.


Philippe Petit: From biomarkers?


Anne-Françoise Schmid: Yeah, well, we can’t… that does not work. 1/4th of the planet is obese, out of the whole planet… poor countries, rich countries… 1/4th of the planet. If you fabricate a medicine, it would only be effective on 50 people. That is… I discussed this… if you look at Sanofi, etc. I would not like to engage with that. There is no… one cannot give a medicine for example, that makes wine disgusting or something like that and then you drink less or etc. Well but it is… it is not a medicine against obesity but on the other hand, you have all sorts of other works on obesity, it could be of the hormonal system, of the plate, immigration, etc. You see for example, there are Japanese people who emigrate to different places, in one place they all become fat and in others they do not, etc. There are sociological reasons, etc. There are all these results. You can try to consider them all as valid. I would not say to my colleagues at INRA that what they do on the microbiota has nothing to do with the lived experience of the plate. It is an element, but I do not have the capacity to synthesize them with other elements and therefore in the contemporary sciences, we need to reason with not just the idea of the unknown, not just with the idea that there is an uncertainty, but also with the idea that there is a non-synthesis. How do we do that now to take the question of obesity? By making within this non-synthesis something of a scientific method. And that is something that many research directors seek. I have been consulted by people that, for example, virologists, etc. that have teams of 70 people and tell me, here, I have such a problem what will I do about the domains where I know nothing but that I am in a little bit, it is this practice that I have, it is also a practice of the terrain, conceptual practice, the fact of having modified and extended the concepts of generic epistemology. I can give them indications. One even happened to ask me if they should work on the question of the virus in virology specifically or generically. Do we remain across, do we work on AIDS? Where… etc. Do you know what I responded with? Both.


Philippe Petit: The science of tomorrow will be non-synthetic.


Anne-Françoise Schmid: Indeed. It will be, in a certain fashion, of accounting for this non-synthesis. If not, it becomes a danger. If not, it becomes a danger, All the things that have been written on synthetic biology, etc. or on GMOs. Why is it that, on GMOs, we have very few writings that are interesting, it is simply because the product has been taken. But one must come back to it such that it is not only technical. Of course, it is technical, it suffices to do an injection but… how do I say it? This injection happens in a certain a scientific context and if you do not account for this scientific context that is no longer only disciplinary… the disciplines have not disappeared, not at all. But where there are certain stakes and other methods that are put in place, then you will have so many alternatives to GMOs. That the problem will be posed otherwise.


Philippe Petit: Then, the last question. Do you join Science Studies on some sides?


Anne-Françoise Schmid: Listen, Science Studies is truly very useful, but, if I may say, it is specialized on the social relationships of scientists. So, I think that is very important, very useful, but at a certain moment… uhh… some specialists have thought that it can replace epistemology. But in fund, they cannot speak of what I have told you here, you see. They can tell you, yes, we put a mathematician with a certain, etc. etc. But the organization does not know if this is technical or scientific, know that it is there, the relation, the hypothesis, know how to tell you what we do in the GMO. But I can tell you, if we work in a certain fashion, for example, there is a fundamental thing in science when one works in interdisciplinarity, which is the work on non-knowledge. If you will, if you say well, I will put a botanist, an embryologist, an… etc. to calculate the speed of the growth of cabbage, well, once they have calculated it, they say bye-bye, we’re done. On the contrary, if you say, here, we will take things in a more fundamental fashion, I will, when I work on an object, create a space. Then I will say, here, this is what my discipline for the instant does not know to do on this object. And each discipline says it and we redo it by iterations and each one rewrites their own discipline with the non-knowledge of the other. Then, we no longer say bye-bye like that, huh? In Ethics Committees, this has become altogether fundamental because when you take a decision, for example, how to, as they did in Belgium for euthanasia, huh, I know Marie-Geneviève Pinsart who is the president of the ethics committee well, which is very important, accounting for the fact, the non-knowledge. An ethics committee functions when you the philosopher don’t say to the neurologist “ah, what an imbecile” or indeed that a neurologist hears the philosopher, “Ah, he knows nothing, in the state of coma” when we have another attitude, and we utilize the knowledge of others otherwise… and this can commence ethical work. You see? And I think that from a scientific point of view that is a moment where science and ethics can join together.


[1] [Trans.]: Stoffel, Jean-François (2000). D. Lecourt (éd.), « Dictionnaire d’histoire et philosophie des sciences ». Revue des Questions Scientifiques 171 (1-2)

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