Social and Cultural Lives of Immune Systems

By James M. Wilce Jr | Go to book overview

Chapter 12

Stressful encounters of an immunological kind

The social dimensions of psychoneuroimmunology

David Napier

Whence experience?

In his study of how certain habits of thought influence the form and content of scientific systems of belief, Howard Margolis (1993) is careful to distinguish between “experience” (as a form of embodied knowledge) and “experiment” (as a domain of self-conscious contrivance). The point of the distinction is not only to show just how unlike the experience of living experimental contrivances actually are, but to emphasize how different - even antithetical - are their behavioral paradigms. Whereas experiments by definition seek to eliminate uncertainty and to limit novelty to a controlled domain of observation, experiences are assessed by the quality of a response to the unexpected. Experiments strive for replicability as a mode of validation, whereas being “experienced” is measured by the degree to which an event transcends what is commonplace. Experimental truths are predictably replicable, experiential ones are often extraordinary. The constrained novelty of laboratory life works, it may even be said, against the singular novelty that makes for meaning in the domain of experience.

Thus, experiences are important because they are unique, while experiments are so because they are easily repeated. Experiences depend upon novel responses to stress, while experiments catalogue predictable responses to stressors. At the level of stress, therefore, the two could not be more unalike, which, in a nutshell, is why the science of studying stress is always at odds with the social world of experience. While the unpredictability of daily living wreaks havoc on the controlled settings of scientific experimentation, the controlled nature of experimental contrivance is regularly a part of daily life. Games and rules are, as theorists well know, an excellent example of the infusion of testable regularity into the inchoate practice of living, to the extent that we have numerous settings in which the controlled domain of measurable stimuli - the basic building blocks of scientific experiment - depend deeply upon that which we commonly label as “social. ”

Though games are often perceived as a relief from daily toil, at times the chance meeting of these two domains - of uncontrolled social novelty and

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