Comments on “Going down on the phenomenon”


(+1, for the relevance to

muflax's picture

(+1, for the relevance to what I mentioned in my comment on the last post, and the gratuitous sexual metaphor)

Another sexual gratuitous metaphor

I’ve found some of my 1992 notes on “how to think real good.” From them, the following:

Sydney Brenner is one of my scientific heroes because he has been consistently productive over a very long career by repeatedly choosing the right, unpopular thing to work on.

In Science, July 17, 1992, he wrote:

Those who prefer the airy realm of theory to the grimy arena of decisive experiment aren’t necessarily doing so by choice. It’s important to distinguish between chastity and impotence.

Some philosophers’ analysis of the sexual dynamics of science is that theory, chastity, and purity (on the one hand) and practice, sex, and dirt (on the other) have in fact been linked metaphorically since at least Descartes.

Less Shock & Scientists I know

So glad to hear you wrote this in in the 1990s. Since this did not sound like your present writing style, I was a bit worried.

Questioning the metaphors and attitudes used toward science (data, theories, testing and institutions) is fascinating. Great points. I must admit, I did not your analogy. Too blunt, too taboo, too close to the Kirk Douglas thing – especially in light that Keller already seemed to do a good job and you were just trumping her is shock value.

That said, shock can wake people up or turn them off. You point is excellent – of course.

Most of the scientists I know, btw, are excited about their work and see data as wet. But my data set is small. Most the medical folks I know are more like technicians and think more black-and-white, they love protocols, they love memorizing. I wish I could have their minds and keep my attitude! :-)

gratuitous sexual metaphor

Kate Gowen's picture

Let’s hear it for friendly, cooperative sexual metaphors rather than domineering ones.

Gratuitous Metaphor About Better Science

When I was in India, it was not permitted to have kissing in movies. But “shocking” has changed for Indians (for the better or the worse), and they are catching up to Western Standards.

Yet as a child, what was considered “shocking” on TV is totally different than the TV I have to filter for my kids today. The sexual conversations at my new place of employment shock me. I have not considered myself a prude, but as a parent and a surveyor of the superficiality of common culture, I guess I have grown more prudish.

Unwanted sex metaphors (as Kate says) are horrible. I was surprised and disappointed by your revelation that Francis Bacon used a rape metaphor. I am sure I hold these figures as impeccable mythical heros in my mind and you attacked that. As you know, I think addressing myths can be valuable. And your illustration of male-mentality in science ( the tendency of males to think aggressively about objects they desire) was enlightening.

It is a valuable message. I still find much of sex on TV and Movies in the USA to be gratuitous in that to get the same feelings across and the same messages, the vehicle feeds something odd in us. Is the casualness we talk about sex just a thing of our times? Is it healthy? Is there any value to prudishness. I don’t know the answers to this, for I am as trapped by my times as many are.

But in present American culture, only allusion to cunnilingus is allowed in even R-rated movies (and barely on TV). Thus, I would think this would vote for the sociological empirical test of a working definition of “shocking”. It will change, I think as culture changes.

But here I was questioning marketing – it is a good message, but is the shocking element the best way to sell it. I am not sure. You have heard me question such things before – and ironically, such questioning has gotten me excluded from otherwise self-imagined liberal groups.

Coastal bubble

That’s interesting!—apparently I’m still living in a Cambridge/San Francisco/Sydney/London bubble, in which (I’m pretty sure) this piece has zero shock value.

Or maybe the bubble is personal—feedback from urban coastal readers would be helpful!

It wasn’t intended to have any shock value, just quirkiness value. So the marketing question “is shock the best way to sell this” wasn’t something I considered.

Bubble Blindness

Later, I thought, I wonder if having kids is part of the prudish reflex – for certainly I have not led a prudish life!
And I think you may be right, part of my bubble is the MidWest Mindset.
And interestingly, I thought you were intentionally shocking for some sort of Tantric therapeutic effect.

What is "shocking" is

Kate Gowen's picture

What is “shocking” is choosing a DIFFERENT sexual metaphor than the default one: NOT the dominating scientist seizing Nature’s secrets by force, by entitlement, by ignoring the “side effects” of the process, with “Nature” dead matter, a mere object and instrument of the scientist’s will-to-know .

Instead, a metaphor for intimate engagement, with “the phenomena” recognized in its own “space of existence.’” Funny: Zen speaks of “becoming intimate” as realization/enlightenment. And Ikkyu wrote some pretty naked poetry about his lover, in this vein.

I agree with Sabio that media over-represents sexuality; but it does so as a matter of the normalization of porn, not celebrating intimacy. And becoming inured to porn is entirely counterproductive to intimacy, or the voyage of discovery that science can be, at best. Porn is, in fact, in complete alignment with the default science metaphor.

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