Science does not necessarily destroy its object

Glen Sanford

In order for ethnology to live, its object must die; by dying, the object takes its revenge for being "discovered" and with its death defies the science that wants to grasp it.

Doesn't all science live on this paradoxical slope to which it is doomed by the pitiless reversal that the dead object exerts on it? Like Orpheus, it always turns around too soon, and, like Eurydice, its object falls back into Haydes.

...The logical evolution of a science is to distance itself increasingly from its object, until it dispenses with it entirely: its autonomy is only rendered even more fantastic--it attains its pure form. (Simulation and Simulacra. pp. 7-8)

Baudrillard seems to be saying here that there is no way to fully study or know an object without destroying it, that the Sciences as a whole ultimately erase what they are attempting to study. She fails, however, to back up this argument well. Her only real example is that of a specific case of ethnology, in which in order to learn the ways of a primitive people ethnologists must interact with them, and therefore destroy the separation that allowed the tribe to stay primitive.

The problem here is that this is a special case, and cannot be used alone to make blanket statements about science. It also fails to make the distinction between active and passive study, which seems important here. For instance, It impossible to tell whether an electron is a wave or a particle. When tested for wave-like properties, it responds as a wave. When tested for particle-like properties, it behaves as a particle. We cannot look at an electron. It is too small to reflect light. the only way to see it is to bounce a particle of similar or smaller size off of it. This makes it impossible to study the electron or system of electrons with out disturbing it/them. This is an example of what I am calling active study, and is similar to Baudrillard's example.

Not all of the sciences function in this way. Astronomy, for instance, is as passive a science as they come. By observing the electromagnetic glow of the Universe, astronomers have learned much about it. It would be absolutely ludacris to state that astronomers have any effect at all on the Universe they study. I would be most surprised if by attempting to objectify the Universe, some astronomer managed to destroy it.

I can also imagine a situation in which the study of the primitive society Baudrillard mentions could be done passively and with no effect at all on the primitives themselves. With a mixture of spy-satellites and on-site miniature robotic cameras and microphones, one could study these primitives without changing them, certainly without destroying them.

[To other discussions of Baudrillard by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]

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