Anna Henchman responds to David Coombs

David Coombs’s reflection clarified for me even more one of the transitions that Michael Tondre is capturing in The Physics of Possibility: a distinction between “an epistemological understanding of probability (as simply reflecting an observer’s uncertainty)” and “an ontological understanding of probability (as reflecting a fundamental indeterminism at work in the world).” For me, it’s useful to have that fundamental indeterminism––in natural systems, political systems, social dynamics, personal dynamics––articulated as only one way of viewing things. I get impatient with apocalyptic declarations about the “end” of the world, of democracy, of the humanities, which suggest that there is some grand narrative going on that is outside of our control. These narratives create paralysis; the fundamental indeterminism Tondre writes about can be a source of hope.

I was inspired by Coombs’ point that we have an opportunity to “imagine our own disciplinary future otherwise.” This past fall I taught a class on climate change with a political scientist, two scientists, and a fellow humanist. This experience made us all vividly aware of the fact that the current configuration of disciplines creates major impediments to understanding the world in 2019 and thinking about how it might be different. None of us felt that climate change could be addresses by the sciences and social sciences alone. I have come away from that experience determined to be better at making connections between my own training in how narratives work and how ways habits of thought can shift fundamentally—and feeling yet again the important of turning back to the nineteenth century to see where certain assumptions got formulated.

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