Science, contingency and ontology
Extending the analysis that I developed in The Mangle of Practice, I argue for a contingentist understanding of the evolution of scientific culture while seeking to shift the argument from an epistemological to an ontological terrain. I discuss the ontological prejudices we transmit to our children, and seek to develop alternative ontological pictures that leave space for contingency. I first discuss a crystal world that can contingently split along a multiplicity of planes. I then develop a mangle-ish vision of the world as an endlessly lively place with which we engage via decentred, emergent and performative dances of agency. I argue that on this account contingency is not something to be feared or regretted; it is a necessary feature of how the world is. I also note that in science dances of agency have a peculiar structure in that they aim at their own extinction. This telos feeds back into our intuitions of necessity, but I argue that it does not, in fact, efface contingency. I end with the suggestion that this telos is itself contingent, that we are not compelled to structure our dances of agency around it, and that very different modes of being in the world are possible and even politically desirable.
Presented at a conference on ‘science as it could have been: perspectives on the contingent/inevitable aspects of scientific practice,’ fondation des treilles, tourtour, france, 31 aug-4 sept 2009