“It’s Our Job to Know Stuff”: The Epistemology of CSI
by Kathleen Fitzpatrick — Modern Language Association
July 30, 2007 – 03:01
This compilation of brief clips begins with a paradigmatic scene from episode 101 of CSI, "Cool Change," which lays out the show’s most basic philosophical premises: "It’s our job to know stuff," Grissom points out, but the importance of the origins of that knowledge is made clear as well. When Sara hints that Grissom might have relied on computer simulations for his data rather than tossing dummies off a building, Grissom responds somewhat defensively: "No, thank you. I’m a scientist. I like to see it." So does the audience, of course, but when we get to "see it," the irony is that (as in the second clip) it’s made possible precisely by the sophisticated computer simulations that Grissom eschews. The third clip is from episode 105, "Friends and Lovers." I find this scene curious: As an academic, of course, the first question I ask is why the story Grissom tells Warrick revolves around a Harvard philosopher. Why is the professor the butt of this oddly scatological anecdote? Is this a cautionary tale about the damage that can be done when philosophy oversteps its bounds and interferes in the empirical process, focusing on the role of subjectivity in the production of knowledge? How, then, does the show reconcile the too-apparent contradiction between its rejection of computer simulation as a basis for evidence and its uses of that simulation? And how does the relationship between subjectivity and evidence play out in a show that is as much, if not more, about relationships as about scientific discovery?