Science, objects and subjects

April 9, 2016 – 10:36 am


Like many of us, I watched with keen attention as the technical crew who run SpaceX pulled off one of the greatest stunts in rocket science ever.  For the first time, they managed a controlled landing of the discarded stage 1 from a rocket, bringing it down vertically on a drone ship with near perfect accuracy.  I got a lump in my throat, my eyes teared up, it was fantastic.

I suspect many in the crowd had a similar experience.  The event was broadcast live with a very sophisticated webcast, full of happy presenters who were keen, so very keen, on the science.  I might gently point out that a great deal of what they were enthusing about was technological and engineering in nature, and not really science, though for sure, science was a motivator.

But pay attention to what happens to the crowd at 1’15” in the video excerpt here. (If copyright considerations break the link, it is at 28’37” of the original video here).  There is a great deal of cheering, and clapping, but then they break out into a chant of “U.S.A.”. Right in the middle of this celebration of science in an objective key, the collective subject asserts itself, by literally jumping up and down and chanting.

The project is, of course, motivated to a great extent by the fact that the American space programme is in an odd state of limbo, as the shuttle no longer flies, and the only actors capable of sending people to the ISS are China and Russia. There are interests afoot.

Now, do we want a science that is unable to address what we witness in this video?  Not just the rocket landing bit (and, again, hurrah for that!), but the jumping up and down and synchronised chanting bit?  Yes, we can approach this in a scientific manner, but only if we do not recoil from recognising that there are, indeed, subjects here.

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