Jul 14, 2008

soylent green was made of people, too

Call me a humanist luddite and beat me over the head with my liberal arts degree, but I rather enjoyed Will Davies' rebuttal Chris Anderson's The End of Theory, titled why Google can't replace theory. A lengthy snippet:

I would suggest that Anderson is extending the Chicago School project of selectively dismantling the bases for authoritative knowledge claims. Chicago economics renders social knowledge so fragile and polluted with self-interest, that it becomes impossible to produce a better model for society than that of the unimpeded market. Again, there is a sleight of hand at work here - man's epistemological condition leads not just contingently but logically to the technological solution of the market.


For Anderson it is not the market that comes to our rescue, but the world wide web. What the market can do for material resources, the web can do for knowledge. In each case, we are relieved of the political and theoretical burden of trying to produce a good, coherent model for society, and put ourselves in the hands of an ignorant, amoral mechanism - price in the case of material resources, algorithm in the case of immaterial ones.

Davies may be overreacting...but when Anderson writes argues that "science can advance even without coherent models, unified theories, or really any mechanistic explanation at all," the logical retort is Sure, science may advance that way...but can society?