Saturday, September 12, 2009

Are You a Witness?

"In Boyle's view the capacity of experiments to yield matters of fact depended not only upon their actual performance but essentially upon the assurance of the relevant community that they had been so performed" (55). In other words the establishment of matters of fact depends on both experimental success and relevant witnesses. Boyle believes that the more people who witness the experiment the more reliable the testimony. The book gives three ways to multiply witnesses: (1) perform experiments in a social space; (2) allow witnesses to perform experiments themselves; and (3) virtual witnessing - invoking desire in the witness to either witness or replicate the experiment. So the more witnesses, the better right? What do you guys think about the idea of multiplying witnesses? Is gathering witnesses just for the sake of gathering witnesses justifiable?

In the same train of thought, why is it that the majority of us would believe someone widely known/regarded over someone of lesser significance? For example, would you rather trust a university professor or a high school student? Most people would take the professor without question and completely disregard the student, but shouldn't both sides be subjected to the same scrutiny? Professors can be wrong sometimes. I am not proposing that choosing one over the other is right or wrong, but it seems like our society is predisposed to to give in to the bigger guns. So my question to you fellow classmates is, "Why do most people in our society seem to comply with the people of higher status/wealth/fame?"


  1. I'm also curious as to why we lean towards the person with the higher status/wealth, and fame. It's the power they hold that naturally grasps our attention. Of course people would believe the university professor because he has studied and researched and is an expert in his field. The high school student has not had a complete education yet and is less likely to be more knowledgeable than the professor. We put our trust into status and wealth because in our heads we are thinking, "How else did they get their wealth, fame, or social status?" Knowledge is power and I think we mistake it as power is knowledge.

  2. I do think that gathering witnesses just to gather witnesses can be justified. In Boyle's view, in order for experiments to demonstrate matters of fact, they have to come out in favor of the matter of fact, and then people have to agree they saw it happen. I think that already goes beyond what needs to be done to get anything to be accepted as truth. After all, the only prerequisite for having a "Universal Truth" is that enough people believe you and accept it. Take for example rumors. If everybody in the world believed the rumor, then it may as well be fact. Boyle wants that experiments can only generate facts if they actually support the facts. Having more witnesses simply makes the results of the experiment more of a fact. And having more witnesses can increase the chance that mistakes will be noticed, so that faulty experiments do not generate mistaken facts.


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