The Triumph of Uncertainty

Science and Self in the Postmodern Age
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Tauber, a leading figure in history and philosophy of science, offers a unique autobiographical overview of how science as a discipline of thought has been characterized by philosophers and historians over the past century. He frames his account through science’s – and his own personal – quest for explanatory certainty.

During the 20th century, that goal was displaced by the probabilistic epistemologies required to characterize complex systems, whether in physics, biology, economics, or the social sciences.  This “triumph of uncertainty” is the inevitable outcome of irreducible chance and indeterminate causality. And beyond these epistemological limits, the interpretative faculties of the individual scientist (what Michael Polanyi called the “personal” and the “tacit”) invariably affects how data are understood. Whereas positivism had claimed radical objectivity, post-positivists have identified how a web of non-epistemic values and social forces profoundly influence the production of knowledge.

Tauber presents a case study of these claims by showing how immunology has incorporated extra-curricular social elements in its theoretical development and how these in turn have influenced interpretive problems swirling around biological identity, individuality, and cognition.  The correspondence between contemporary immunology and cultural notions of selfhood are strong and striking. Just as uncertainty haunts science, so too does it hover over current constructions of personal identity, self knowledge, and moral agency. Across the chasm of uncertainty, science and selfhood speak.

Foreword by Scott F. Gilbert

Chapter 1—Beginnings
Chapter 2—On Ways of Knowing
Chapter 3—Transitions
Chapter 4—Rewriting Immunology
Chapter 5—The Immune Self
Chapter 6—Systems Philosophically Considered
Chapter 7—Pursuing the Enigmatic Self
Chapter 8—Rethinking Science
Chapter 9—Outline of a Post-Positivist Philosophy of Science 
Chapter 10—A New Agenda
Chapter 11—Personalizing Science
Chapter 12—Moral Epistemology
Chapter 13—Requiem for the Ego
Chapter 14—Identity Reconsidered


Appendix—The Modernist Self


“Fred Tauber has written a brilliant book. At once autobiography, intellectual history, and theory of immunology, Tauber focuses less on self/nonself discriminations than on the symbiotic relationship between antibodies (anti-foreign bodies) and antigens (antibody generators). But it is not only Tauber’s original ideas about immunology that matter. What also makes The Triumph of Uncertainty memorable is its personal origins. Anyone contemplating a career in medical science should read this book. So too should seasoned immunologists, and all clinician charged with explaining immune responses to unsettled patients.”
“Tauber is well qualified, I would hazard to say uniquely qualified, to relate the growing pains and false starts of the developing science of immunology – his insights and perceptions penetrate to the core of the subjects covered. This book brings its intellectual message as a product of the writer’s quest for self-examination and personal understanding, a revelation of the doctor-scientist-philosopher as a young man viewed from the elevation of his maturity.”
“While Tauber’s book is intensely personal, it yet manages to break new philosophical ground while displaying varied interdisciplinary scholarship.”
“Triumph of Uncertainty can be seen as a modern ‘Guide for the Perplexed,’ for most of us are indeed perplexed and confused. Beyond recognizing the constitutive nature of uncertainty, both natural and personal, Tauber suggests that an internal moral compass must guide us.” - From the Foreword