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Consistency from the perspective of an experimental systems approach to the sciences and their epistemic objects



It is generally accepted that the development of the modern sciences is rooted in experiment. Yet for a long time, experimentation did not occupy a prominent role, neither in philosophy nor in history of science. With the 'practical turn' in studying the sciences and their history, this has begun to change. This paper is concerned with systems and cultures of experimentation and the consistencies that are generated within such systems and cultures. The first part of the paper exposes the forms of historical and structural coherence that characterize the experimental exploration of epistemic objects. In the second part, a particular experimental culture in the life sciences is briefly described as an example. A survey will be given of what it means and what it takes to analyze biological functions in the test tube.
CDD: 509
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
Abstract: It is generally accepted that the development of the modern sciences is
rooted in experiment. Yet for a long time, experimentation did not occupy a promi-
nent role, neither in philosophy nor in history of science. With the ‘practical turn’
in studying the sciences and their history, this has begun to change. This paper is
concerned with systems and cultures of experimentation and the consistencies that
are generated within such systems and cultures. The first part of the paper exposes
the forms of historical and structural coherence that characterize the experimental
exploration of epistemic objects. In the second part, a particular experimental cul-
ture in the life sciences is briefly described as an example. A survey will be given
of what it means and what it takes to analyze biological functions in the test tube.
Keywords: Experimental system. Epistemic object. Representation. Epistemic
cultures. In vitro experimentation. Model organism.
The concept of ‘experimental system’ applies to those experimen-
tal arrangements in the laboratories of the world that have become
characteristic for the modern empirical sciences at least since the 19th
century. Experimental systems can be seen as the smallest integral
working units of the experimental sciences of our day and with that,
1Dedicated - as the contribution of an outsider to his field of work - to
Newton da Costa on his 80th anniversary.
Manuscrito — Rev. Int. Fil., Campinas, v. 34, n. 1, p. 307-321, jan.-jun. 2011.
they are the privileged spaces in which the production of knowledge,
that is, the generation of new knowledge takes place.
In the research literature of the sciences, the concept of experi-
mental system for the characterization of their specific experimental
arrangements has become common parlance around the middle of the
20th century. Compare, e.g., Gale and Folkes (1954, p. 1224) as an
example. Often, the notion of ‘model system’ or simply ‘system’ is
also used synonymously. So, the French molecular biologist François
Jacob has emphasized that in his area of work, biology, “any study
begins with the choice of a ‘system’ ” (cf. Jacob (1987, p. 234)). In
the life sciences, the concept took root especially in connection with
the establishment of an in vitro biology and with the coming into use
of a series of new ‘experimental organisms’, or ‘model organisms’, in
particular bacteria and viruses, in the 1930s and the 1940s. Today,
the concept is widely used in all of the natural and also the technical
sciences. In what follows, the life sciences figure as the reservoir of my
examples. The message, however, should be taken as covering the em-
pirical sciences in general. Whether there exist homologous or at least
comparable structures in certain areas of logic and mathematics might
be an interesting topic for discussion.
A historical comparison may help to set the stage. If philosophers
and natural historians spoke of ‘systems’ toward the end of the 18th
century, they meant systems of ideas such as Baron d’Holbach’s ‘sys-
tem of nature’ (d’Holbach (1770)), or Georges Buffon’s ‘system of the
earth’ (Buffon (1749)) or Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis’ ‘system
of the eggs’ and ‘system of the animalcules’ with respect to generation,
so eloquently described and criticized in his Vénus physique (Mauper-
tuis (1745)). Also Linné’s systema naturae - system of nature - is a
categorial one (Linné (1735)). In all these theoretical systems, their
protagonists integrated observations and sporadically also experiments
as additional arguments and evidences in favor of these systems. These
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observations and experiments, as a rule, were however not the driving
forces for the establishment of the systems. At best, they strengthened
their credit and plausibility. Two hundred years later, the situation is
just the other way round. The guarantee for scientific coherence has
been put upside down. Experimental systems - that is, material con-
trivances - govern the research fields, into which theories and concepts
have to be fitted, at least if they want to earn scientific credit and have
a real influence on a particular research trajectory.
Despite of its widespread practical use in the everyday language of
the scientists, the concept of experimental system has for a long time
not been picked up and analyzed with respect to its historiographical
and epistemological potential for the description of the modern research
process. First hints at such a use we find in the writings of the Polish
immunologist and epistemologist Ludwik Fleck. In his book on the
Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact of 1935 he spoke, with
respect to his case study of the Wassermann reaction, of a “system
of experiments and controls” (Fleck (1935)), but he did not yet make
systematic use of the concept. Fleck did however emphasize the fact
that the modern research process rests on a stream of experiments and
not on singular, isolated experimental acts. His contemporary Karl
Popper, as is well known, at the same time opted for the latter view
(Popper (1934)). Whether he thus formulated rather an epistemol-
ogy for the sciences as they prevailed in the 18th century than for
the present, we may here leave open. It was only at the beginning
of the 1990s and in the context of an ongoing replacement in history
of science of a theory-dominated by a practice-dominated perspective
on the research process that the concept of experimental system found
entrance into the literature of history and philosophy of science (Rhein-
berger (1992), Rheinberger and Hagner (1993)). From slightly different
perspectives, authors have been using expressions such as “manipula-
ble system” (Turnbull and Stokes (1990)), “production system”(Kohler
Manuscrito — Rev. Int. Fil., Campinas, v. 34, n. 1, p. 307-321, jan.-jun. 2011.
(1991)), or “experimental model system” (Amann (1994)). Since then,
the concept has gained a wide use, as for instance in Hentschel (1998),
Creager (2002).
Now, it needs to be justified if one takes up a concept of the ac-
tors, i.e. the scientists themselves, takes it out of the context of the
language of the laboratory, and raises it to a more or less central epis-
temological category for the characterization of the coherence and the
dynamics of the units of the empirical research process. The concept
of ‘system’, here as well as in the originary context of the laboratory,
is not used with a very strict determination. It stands for a rather
lose coherence, but nevertheless for an existing empirical coherence. It
appears to be useful to retain this lose determination also in our histo-
riographical and epistemological context. The notion of ‘system’ then
shall only indicate that between the elements of the material culture of
the sciences, there exist - if rather flexible - connections that have to be
characterized in more detail for every historical context. The concept,
that means, is used in a first approximation for the characterization
of a certain kind of lose ‘coupling’, to pick up an expression used by
Ludwik Fleck. These couplings exist in a twofold direction. They ex-
ist synchronically with respect to the technical and organic elements
that enter into an experimental system, and they exist diachronically
with respect to the temporal persistence, that is, the existence of an
experimental system as a - usually limited - historical research trajec-
tory. Experimental systems are thus entities that persist over time.
The advantage of the concept of experimental system lies in its faculty
to think and to bind together essential, but nevertheless very different
and heterogeneous aspects of the scientific research process - such as
instruments and measurement apparatus, preparation arrangements of
different kinds, the necessary skills to use them in meaningful ways,
the research objects, and not least the spaces in which these moments
are brought to interact with each other in productive and creative ar-
Manuscrito — Rev. Int. Fil., Campinas, v. 34, n. 1, p. 307-321, jan.-jun. 2011.
rangements. The notion is thus not one to describe science as a system
of theoretical concepts. Rather, the category describes the process of
research as a materially mediated process of the generation and the
proliferation of knowledge, or to speak with the French anthropologist
of science Bruno Latour, of “science in action” (Latour (1987)).
How can experimental systems be characterized with respect to
their more general characteristics? Such systems display social and in-
stitutional as well as epistemic and technical aspects. The social and
institutional aspects shall be only touched here in passing. They point
to the fact that experimental systems are always locally situated re-
search connections, thus creating a more or less coherent environment
of widely different embeddings for the activities of a single researcher or
a whole research group. At the same time they stand for a sufficient de-
marcation with respect to other, similar neighboring units, that is, they
also convey identity and individuality to the work of a single researcher
or a particular research group. But there exist also connections that tie
together whole groups of experimental systems to historically unique
‘research cultures’, as I have called these superstructures (Rheinberger
2.1. Epistemic Things and Technical Conditions
Let us now have a look at the epistemic and technical aspects of
experimental systems (see also Rheinberger (1997)). They can be sum-
marized in four points. First, such systems - as I said - constitute
the elementary, functional units of empirical research. In them, scien-
tific objects - the objects of epistemic interest - and technical objects -
that is, the technical conditions of existence of such epistemic entities
- are inextricably intertwined. The first entity, the scientific object, is
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that hardly definable something for the sake of which the whole exper-
imental enterprise exists and around which it revolves. Paradoxically
speaking, it embodies, in an experimentally manipulable fashion, ex-
actly that which one does not yet know exactly. In a late paper, the
noted sociologist of science Robert Merton has spoken in this context
of “specified ignorance”, and he has pointed to the productive func-
tion of this kind of ignorance, or state of not knowing (Merton (1987)).
Epistemic things are therefore notoriously underdetermined; they are,
so to speak, undefined per definition. In contrast, the technical objects
- at least temporarily - are defined in a characteristic manner. They
consist of instruments, apparatus and devices that at the same time
make possible and constrain the grip on epistemic objects. They re-
quire a certain measure of rigidity and precision in order to keep the
vagueness of the scientific objects at a sub-critical level. It is therefore
often that instruments are set in motion alone in order to test their
functional performance - their calibrating and testing probably con-
sumes the greater part of the working time of a scientific experimenter,
for the machines are supposed to function as ideally noiseless technical
boundary conditions of the experimental work. Within a particular
research process, former epistemic things can gain sharp contours and
become transformed into technical objects, thus becoming part of the
technical conditions of the system. But parts of the technical system
also can gain or regain an epistemic status and so be re-transformed
into research objects. In this view, the dialectic between the epistemic
and the technical is the core of an experimental system; it is its driving
force. Experimental systems are therefore to be seen as dynamic, ma-
terially conditioned research bodies; they bring scientific objects into
existence, and at the same time, determine the boundaries of their con-
ceptual apprehension. With François Jacob once more, it can be said
that on their “choice depend the experimenter’s freedom to maneuver,
the nature of the questions he is free to ask, and even, often, the type
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of answer he can obtain” (Jacob (1987, p. 234)). They thus create ‘re-
gional ontologies’, as we could add with reference to Evandro Agazzi’s
opening address to this Symposium.
In this context, a remark on the understanding of scientific instru-
ments is in order. Since the so-called ‘practical turn’ in history and
philosophy of science in the 1980s, instruments have caught particular
attention from the part of historians of science. Research instruments,
however, must not be hypostasized and taken in isolation. Their sci-
entific meaning derives less from the technical identity conditions that
are realized in them - to speak with the French philosopher of sci-
ence Gaston Bachelard, the “theorems” that are “reified” in them (cf.
Bachelard (1949, p. 103)) - but rather from the context of the exper-
imental system in which they are placed as technical objects. Their
scientific meaning is thus defined by the epistemic objects with which
they are brought to interact and also brought in friction within a partic-
ular experimental system. This is a general characteristic of research
enabling technologies. And this is also the reason for the particular
importance of the interface between instrument and epistemic object -
for the researcher as well as for the historian of experimental systems
(compare Rheinberger (2010, chapter 11)).
2.2. Reproduction
Second, experimental systems must be reproduced and must be
able to be differentiated permanently in the cycles of their reproduc-
tion. Thus we could say, perhaps more neutrally and without neces-
sarily having to understand differentiation in the sense of an increase
of complexity, they must be capable of “differing” in the sense of be-
ing differentially iterated (Derrida (1972)). Only then do they remain
arrangements in which new knowledge is generated, that is, knowledge
that lies beyond what can be anticipated and imagined at a particular
point in time. Only then do they function, in the words of the Amer-
Manuscrito — Rev. Int. Fil., Campinas, v. 34, n. 1, p. 307-321, jan.-jun. 2011.
ican molecular biologist Mahlon Hoagland, as “generators of surprise”
(Hoagland (1990, p. xvii)), or to use an expression of Jacob’s, as “ma-
chines for making the future” (Jacob (1987, p. 9)). If such a system
starts to turn in itself, it is reduced to the simple demonstration of
a phenomenon, and so loses its research function. Difference and re-
production are therefore the two inseparable sides of one coin. It is
their game and interaction that determines the retardations and the
breakthroughs in the course of a research process. In order to remain
productive, experimental systems must be arranged and carried on in
such a way that the generation of differences becomes the reproductive
driving force of the whole machinery. But differential reproduction also
lends experimental systems a particular kind of historicity. They can,
to speak with philosopher of science Ian Hacking, develop “a life of
their own” (Hacking (1983, p. 150)). They are entities that stretch in
time: They come into being, they grow, they proliferate, and they can
also disappear again.
2.3. Representation
Third, experimental systems are those units in which the material
semantic carriers of knowledge are produced. They usually begin their
life as meaningful traces of some kind that are generated in the sys-
tem. In their more permanent form, these traces become addressed as
‘data’. The horizon of their potential meaning is derived from those
spaces of representation in which the material traces and inscriptions
are recorded, connected, displaced, enhanced, superposed, marginal-
ized and eventually also replaced. Researchers ‘think’ with these in-
scriptions and within the boundaries of such spaces of representation,
in the hybrid context thus of the representational machinery at hand,
which is given by the totality of the technical conditions of an experi-
mental system. To understand experimental representation, not only
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the activity of the subject has to be taken into account, but also - first
and foremost - the means and procedures of representation.
2.4. Experimental Cultures
Fourth and lastly, conjunctures and ramifications of experimental
systems can lead to whole ensembles of such systems or, as it were, to
experimental cultures. Conjunctures as well as ramifications, as a rule,
are themselves dependent on the occurrence of unprecedented events
within experimental systems. Such experimental events are often trig-
gered by the introduction of new techniques of representation into the
system. In the last instance, such experimental ensembles or experi-
mental cultures determine the contours of what Bachelard once called
the “cantons” or “cities” of modern knowledge (Bachelard (1949, p.
9)). He has also characterized them as scientific cultures that in their
innermost are specified by the “access to an emergence”, as he put it
(Bachelard (1951, p. 25)). The concept of experimental culture as an
articulated ensemble of experimental systems should also allow us to
write the history of research fields free from the burden of the tradi-
tional history of disciplines. But this is not only a historiographical
matter. The more basic argument consists in the observation that the
modern experimental sciences derive their dynamics less and less from
drawing disciplinary boundaries and from cementing them socially, and
more and more from the digressions and transgressions of smaller re-
search units below the level of disciplines, in which knowledge has not
yet become labeled and classified, and in which new forms of knowl-
edge can take shape at any time. Through the articulation of such
smaller units, novelties generated in one system can quickly spread
and create effects at other places. At the same time, however, failures
or non-events can remain contained and must not necessarily influence
neighboring systems in the negative. One sees thus that there are good
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reasons for the historical fact of a systems structure such as the one
brought into being by the modern research process.
2.5. Experimental Organisms
A particular feature of experimental systems in the modern life
sciences consists in the fact that they are bound to the utilization of
‘experimental organisms’, or ‘model organisms’, as they are usually
called. From the early modern times until the 19th century, it were
above all the differences between the organisms that raised the interest
of natural historians who made it their task to mount an exhaustive
tableau of the overwhelming diversity of forms of live. Interestingly,
under the epistemic regime of the beginning 20th century, the biolog-
ical differences between organisms became transformed into tools that
could be used in order to get access to the most general characteristics
of living beings. In this perspective, in other words, the peculiarities
of particular organisms are no longer interesting for the sake of them-
selves. They are only interesting insofar as they allow for a search of
generalizable characteristics. One could go even so far as to claim that
what came to be called ‘General Biology’ at the turn from the 19th to
the 20th century, in order to get rid of its image as a pure and simple
science of order and transform itself into an experimental science, had
simply to create the category of model organism. If biology around
1800 meant to pose the question of life as a phenomenon sui generis
and to ask for the specific difference between life and non-life, that is, to
demarcate life from without, then biology around 1900 meant to tackle
the problem of the identification of all those structures and processes
that were common to all organisms as such, that is, to define life from
Beyond biology, Robert Merton has spoken in this context of what
he calls “strategic research materials”: According to Merton, it is, I
quote, that “empirical material that presents a phenomenon to be ex-
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plained or interpreted in such an advantageous and accessible manner
that it renders possible the fruitful investigation of formerly resilient
problems and the discovery of new problems for further investigation”
(Merton (1987, p. 10-11)). An ‘ideal’ experimental organism in this
sense is, first, an organism that displays a particular interesting phe-
nomenon in a particularly prominent form; but second and even more
importantly, an organism that in the context of the establishment of an
experimental system can be handled in a particularly efficient fashion.
This last point is decisive: In order to function as an experimental or-
ganism, the living being must be embedded in an experimental system
in which it can display its dynamic and fulfill its role as a model. But
model organisms, as a rule, are always also organisms modified for par-
ticular research purposes. In that sense, they are research tools; they
are not epistemic objects, but something like organic instruments that,
in order to allow for the investigation of epistemic objects, have to be
purified, trimmed, and standardized.
2.6. In vitro Systems
A second peculiarity of experimental systems in the life sciences
is given by the differentiation between in vitro and in vivo systems.
This distinction developed at the beginning of the 20th century, after
it had been shown that not only secreted enzymes - such as intestinal
enzymes - can function out of the body, but also intracellular enzymes,
at least under appropriate buffer conditions. Of course, working with
dead bodies and the production of preparations has a far longer history.
But the in vitro systems of the first half of the 20th century claimed
to create artificial environments in which processes normally occurring
in intact cells could be reproduced extra cellulam, thus creating new
possibilities for analytical investigation. With that, they marked the
transition from the experiment on the living body to work with isolated
tissues and cells, to a sub-cellular, and finally to a molecular knowledge
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regime. In vitro systems are reduced systems. They expose certain el-
ements of a complex metabolic network and eliminate or purify away
others. They offer completely new interfaces between the biological ob-
ject of investigation and a whole arsenal of research instruments. But
since they are prone to produce artifacts, they need to be permanently
controlled by binding their results back - in one way or another - to
the in vivo situation. A good part of the history of molecular biology
in the 20th century has inscribed itself into this peculiar game of cor-
roboration and rectification.
What good is the concept of experimental system for a historical
epistemology of the sciences? The comparative investigation of the
complex structures that this concept covers should help us to under-
stand how new knowledge - that is knowledge that in essence cannot be
anticipated - is generated in the process of research. Structurally, the
new is always the result of a spatial and temporal singularity. There
are good reasons to assume that the generation of new knowledge in the
empirical sciences of the 19th and the 20th century is fundamentally
bound to those structures that I have characterized as experimental
systems. They are exactly those material contrivances with which in
the context of knowledge acquisition researchers are able to generate
such singularities. To formulate it paradoxically: They allow for the
generation of knowledge effects in a regular and regulated manner, and
yet transcend our limited capability of anticipation. In exactly this
sense we could - once more with Bachelard - say that the “scientific
real” (le reel scientifique) is not the final point of reference for the
scientific spirit (cf. Bachelard (1934, p. 6), here misleadingly trans-
lated as “scientific reality”); rather, the specific reality of the scientific
real consists in pointing beyond itself, in creating a space for unprece-
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dented events. In exactly this sense experimental systems are, if you
will, more and differently ‘real’ than our everyday reality. The reality of
an epistemic thing to be explored in an experimental system lies in its
resistance, its resilience, its capacity to form an obstacle and to defy our
foresight. As the chemist and philosopher of science Michael Polanyi
once remarked: “To trust that a thing we know is real is, in this sense,
to feel that it has the independence and power for manifesting itself in
yet unthought of ways in the future” (Polanyi in Grene (1984, p. 219)).
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... For this reason, we will turn to his notions of 'experimental systems' and 'epistemic things' in order to rethink processes of (entrepreneurial) experimentation and their onto-political effects. Rheinberger (1994bRheinberger ( , 2001Rheinberger ( , 2011, along with other STS scholars, puts forward the idea that the realin this case scientific realityis not something stable and predefined, but rather something produced in (scientific) practice, in particular through experimentation. Rheinberger (2012, 7) conceptualizes the experimentation process by referring to the notion of 'experimental systems' in an attempt to do justice to the complex socio-material processes and temporalities involved in experimentation. ...
... While the term 'system' might evoke the idea of a rigid, closed-off apparatus, Rheinberger's notion comes closer to what we would refer to today as an 'assemblage' (Deleuze and Guattari 2013;Müller and Schurr 2016), an evolving configuration that connects the different components of experimentation, a system or network that is constantly being transformed, tinkered with, and, as Rheinberger (2018) emphasizes, is often brittle and fragile. An experimental system encompasses all the different and heterogeneous aspects of the scientific research process over time: instruments, preparations, methods, concepts, skills, research objects, institutional communities and also the spaces in which these moments are brought to interact with each other in productive and creative arrangements (Rheinberger 2011). Rheinberger's notion of experimental systems thus takes the locus of experimentation away from an isolated or predefined set of actions and describes it as a thick, loosely coherent socio-material web that moves and is moved in the process of experimentation. ...
... This generative potential of experimentation is paired with a disruptive one, implicitly mentioned when he explains the quality of epistemic things. In spite of their obscure and vague quality, epistemic things seem to form a kind of obstacle, defying our foresight and creating friction vis-à-vis the dominant orders against which they try to articulate themselves (Rheinberger 1994b(Rheinberger , 2011. ...
... Existen sincrónicamente con respecto a los elementos técnicos y orgánicos que entran en un SE y existen de forma diacrónica con respecto a la persistencia temporal, es decir, la existencia de un SE tiene una trayectoria histórica de investigación generalmente limitada, aunque persiste en el tiempo. La ventaja del concepto de SE radica en su facultad de pensar y unir aspectos esenciales, pero muy diferentes y heterogéneos del proceso de investigación científica, tales como instrumentos y aparatos de medición, arreglos experimentales de diferentes tipos, habilidades necesarias para usar todo esto de manera significativa, los objetos de investigación y, no menos importante, los espacios en los que todo esto se lleva a interactuar entre sí de manera productiva y creativa (Rheinberger, 2011). ...
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El presente artículo tiene por objetivo precisar la concepción de los sistemas experimentales de Rheinberger dentro del contexto del concepto de fenomenotecnia de Bachelard, para después mostrar su utilidad en el análisis y comprensión de un caso particular, como es la emergencia del objeto epistémico, «célula viviente», en la biología celular contemporánea. En este último caso, se parte de sus orígenes con la teoría celular, la citología y la bioquímica, hasta llegar a sus más recientes desarrollos basados en imagenología de células vivas. En relación con la noción de sistema experimental, se plantea que estos incluyen objetos epistémicos o científicos y condiciones experimentales, así como coyunturas, hibridaciones y bifurcaciones. La concepción de sistema experimental de Rheinberger, es una caracterización más fina de la ciencia contemporánea que atrapa un elemento central de la actividad investigativa: el surgimiento del objeto científico-epistémico (célula viviente) cogenerado entre un espacio de representación y un grafema (un rastro experimental que deja significantes) dentro de un sistema experimental llamado imagenología de células vivas. Finalmente, en el contexto de los recientes trabajos en estudios sobre ciencia, tecnología y sociedad, también se busca mostrar cómo es posible integrar las reflexiones filosóficas con la práctica científica, como sucede realmente en el laboratorio, que está bastante ausente en los actuales trabajos sobre filosofía de la ciencia.
... They draw on Rheinberger's ideal account of experiments as open processes that refuse preliminary decisions about outcomes, rather than as experimental apparatuses that make nature fit prior expectations (Sismondo 2010). Rheinberger (2011) proposes that experiments allow for "digression and transgressions of smaller research units below the level of disciplines, in which knowledge has not yet become labelled and classified, and in which new forms of knowledge can take shape" (p. 315). ...
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In recent years, the potential of contemplative practices like mindfulness meditation to alleviate modern ailments such as stress, chronic conditions and signs of old age has been studied with neuroscientific, psychological and clinical approaches. Researchers conducting such studies, sometimes called 'contemplative scientists,’ have been featured in the media to provide scientific legitimacy for the benefits of meditation. While proponents of contemplative science present this kind of research as unambiguously benevolent and capable of remedying global crises, opponents find it ethically dubious. Some social scholars and Buddhist practitioners worry that a scientific framing of meditation strips it of its intellectual, affective and ethical roots in Buddhism and makes it amenable to use for unethical ends, for instance as a concentration training in the military or a productivity booster in business corporations. Instead of reasoning in the abstract about these potential normative effects of contemplative science (for good or ill) and projecting them into the future, this dissertation explores the ethicality of contemplative science by studying how values emerge in practice. The exploration is guided by the following research questions: How are values enacted in contemplative science practices? How does the contemplative science community valorise and justify its research as epistemologically rich and ethically benevolent? How are knowledge-making practices related to scientific norms of good research on meditation? How can engaged social science research critique contemplative science in a way that is generative of changes in thought and action? To answer these questions, this dissertation draws on theoretical and methodological resources from the field of Science & Technology Studies as well as from interrelated discourses on Responsible Innovation and Responsible Research and Innovation. It combines multi-sited ethnography with engagement research guided by adaptations of the Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR) method to study and critique practices of valuation in contemplative science. The main finding is that contemplative scientists mobilise different strategies and repertoires to enact values – they perform what is here named ‘valuation work.’ The concept of valuation work captures how scientists make seemingly incompatible values, forms of authority and systems of orientation merge, coexist or alternate in practice. Ethnographic research on the laboratory floor, during scientific meetings and at conferences highlights that deliberations on and practical attempts to resolve value conflicts are inextricably bound up with scientific socialisation processes and knowledge production. Such valuation work can become visible and modifiable in interdisciplinary collaboration and practitioner dialogues guided by the STIR decision protocol. In examining and inflecting the processes through which scientists engage with the socio-ethical aspects of their work, this dissertation adds an empirical perspective on ‘ethics in action’ to public and academic debates on ‘ethics in theory’ in contemplative science. The analysis reveals that contemplative science does not automatically have the normative effects which proponents and opponents anticipate. For example, by turning mindfulness meditation into an object of research it does not necessarily lose its ethical roots in Buddhism, neither does it automatically result in improved mental health and well-being in society. Rather, both Buddhist and modern framings of meditation can be traced, destabilised and modulated in scientific work through reflexive practices that are already embedded in contemplative science and those that are stimulated by social science engagement research. This finding indicates that scientists can account for the ways in which their research influences society and culture – the kinds of impacts which are usually assumed to fall outside the scope of their responsibilities. Hence, Ethics in Action is not only relevant for contemplative scientists, but also for other technoscientific practitioners, policy-makers and engaged social scholars because it suggests that joint efforts to open up reflexive spaces, where conventional approaches and convictions are made available for reconsideration and revision, can facilitate the social steering of technoscience.
... In this chapter, I suggest that in the context of art-science collaboration, scholars and artists can play a new role besides those I discussed above: the role of the "modest witness." By bringing together Donna Haraway's figure of the modest witness and a diverse body of scholarly literature on datacentred research in experimental systems (Halpern 2015;Leonelli 2016;Rheinberger 2011), this chapter argues that unveiling the role of the modest witness is a required action for any scholar and/or artist engaged in art-science. It is also imperative that one is willing to explore the power relationship issues at stake in the laboratory and then in the actual art-science collaboration. ...
... Indeed, computer music is a field that spans across multiple disciplines-from scientific to artistic through social sciences and humanities-and thus gathers a great diversity of goals, skills, and methodologies (e.g., experimental studies, practices-based research). It appears that a common ground for the support of this diversity can be found in the concept of experimental systems-as systems composed of epistemic things and technical objects in constant evolution and reconfiguration-developed by Rheinberger [17,18] and pursued by Schwab in the context of artistic research [19]. We postulate that such epistemological ground can lead to the implementation of particular patterns [20] in order to support this diversity of research practices effectively. ...
From the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, American experimental musicians like Pauline Oliveros, David Tudor, and Gordon Mumma employed complex and idiosyncratic technological systems to produce and capture acoustic resonance for aesthetic appreciation. Although this shared exploration exhibited many of the hallmarks of a genuine research project, scholars of experimental music have long been wary of claims that there is anything particularly scientific about this music, frequently comparing its informality unfavorably with the rigor and empiricism of the individual scientific experiment. However, historian of science Hans-Jörg Rheinberger has long held that the fundamental working unit of scientific research is not the individual experiment, but what he terms the experimental system: The loose coherence of objects, instruments, and technologies through which research questions are materialized over time. I argue that Rheinberger's framework of the experimental system offers a compelling way of understanding the experimentation that catalyzed the emergence of what has come to be known as “resonance aesthetics” in American experimental music. By focusing on the material links of musicians’ activities, the experimental system illuminates how knowledge was produced and circulated within and between vastly different musical performances. Rheinberger's characterization of successful research also informs a more nuanced conception of virtuosity in experimental music. Finally, this framework is an opportunity to re-evaluate the status of sound as an object of epistemological inquiry, akin to what Rheinberger describes as an “epistemic thing.” In theorizing epistemic sound as both contextual and emergent, I re-evaluate musicians’ approaches to spontaneity and improvisation in musical performance.
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Much of the artwork that rose to prominence in the second half of the twentieth century took on novel forms—such as installation, performance, event, video, film, earthwork, and intermedia works with interactive and networked components—that pose a new set of questions about what art actually is, both physically and conceptually. For conservators, this raises an existential challenge when considering what elements of these artworks can and should be preserved. This is an introduction to a provocative volume that revisits the traditional notions of conservation and museum collecting that developed over the centuries to suit a conception of art as static, fixed, and permanent objects. Conservators and museums increasingly struggle with issues of conservation for works created from the mid-twentieth to the twenty-first century that are unstable over time. The contributors ask what it means to conserve artworks that fundamentally address and embody the notion of change and, through this questioning, guide us to reevaluate the meaning of art, of objects, and of materiality itself. Object—Event—Performance considers a selection of post-1960s artworks that have all been chosen for their instability, changeability, performance elements, and processes that pose questions about their relationship to conservation practices. This volume will be a welcome resource on contemporary conservation for art historians, scholars of dance and theater studies, curators, and conservators.
This chapter explores the tensions between analogue and digital methods in a processual way, placing social data science within the genealogy of the long-term disciplinary relations between phenomenological sociology, expertise in computer science associated with digitalisation and the narrative positivism linked with the use of statistics in social research. Focusing on what endures as well as on what changes, it discusses the theoretical, epistemological and ontological sensibilities that are involved in a commitment to digital data analysis. Referring to the ESRC Digital Social Research programme and to more recent work by the Alan Turing Institute Interest Group in Social Data Science, it acknowledges a UK-centric take on Social Data Science.
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Kant’s Copernican turn has been the subject of intense philosophical debate because of the central role it plays in his transcendental philosophy. The analogy that Kant depicts between his own proposal and Copernicus’s has received many and varied interpretations that focus either on Copernicus’s heliocentrism and scientific procedure or on the experimental character of Kant’s endeavor. In this paper, I gather and review some of these interpretations, especially those that have ap­peared since the beginning of the twentieth century, to show the many disparate and often contradictory stances that the Copernican turn has elicited. Despite the controversies between the different interpretations, they all are follow ups and reinventions of the single philosophical event named the Copernican turn. This common origin allows me to advance a narrative that portrays that event as an experiment, following Hans-Jörg Rheinberger’s philosophy of experimentation. My position does not entail that an experiment such as Kant’s conforms to what a scientific experiment is, although their histories could be narrated using a similar conceptual framework. In the end, my argument advances an experimental reading of the history of philosophy.
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Introduction. In “Ferment in the Field” (1983), 37 years ago, Katz stated that the best thing that had happened to communication research was to stop looking for evidence of the media's ability to change opinions, attitudes and actions in the short term to analyze its role in the configuration of our images of reality. Mattelart (1983) encouraged to study the interaction between audience and media from a non commercial perspective and Ewen (1983) proposed using oral histories or literary sources. Four decades later, the short-term effects of media continue to be studied and predominates the analysis of their content (Martínez Nicolás and Saperas, 2011, 2016), analysis, that of media contents, on which as it happened thirty years ago (Cáceres and Caffarel, 1992; 12) the field seems to support its specificity, suffering the lack of an intellectual institutionalization (Peters, 1986; Lacasa, 2017) which can be filled through a meta-research of ideas, by distilling perspectives, concepts and methods that have been used in communication research. Method. Through the analysis of three reference volumes in meta-research, the volumes of the Journal of Communication "Ferment in the Field" (1983) and "The Future of the Field. Between fragmentation and cohesion" (1993) and volume 1 of Rethinking Communication (1989)"Paradigm Issues". Results. We will be bringing perspectives regarding the meanings of communication, the disciplinary character of the field and regarding the requirements needed for turning the field into a science. The perspectives and proposals emerge, mainly, from two ways of understanding communication: as product or result and as a relationship.
We normally think of viruses in terms of the devastating diseases they cause, from smallpox to AIDS. But in The Life of a Virus, Angela N. H. Creager introduces us to a plant virus that has taught us much of what we know about all viruses, including the lethal ones, and that also played a crucial role in the development of molecular biology. Focusing on the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) research conducted in Nobel laureate Wendell Stanley's lab, Creager argues that TMV served as a model system for virology and molecular biology, much as the fruit fly and laboratory mouse have for genetics and cancer research. She examines how the experimental techniques and instruments Stanley and his colleagues developed for studying TMV were generalized not just to other labs working on TMV, but also to research on other diseases such as poliomyelitis and influenza and to studies of genes and cell organelles. The great success of research on TMV also helped justify increased spending on biomedical research in the postwar years (partly through the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis's March of Dimes)—a funding priority that has continued to this day.
In recent years, there has been a wide, interdisciplinary focus on experiment in science (Batens & Van Bendegem, 1988; Collins, 1985; Galison, 1987; Hacking, 1983; Knorr-Cetina, 1981; Knorr-Cetina & Mulkay, 1983; Latour & Woolgar, 1979; Pinch, 1986; Rouse, 1987; Shapin & Schaffer, 1985). All are agreed in portraying the laboratory as a site where an activity central to science occurs. From the perspective of the sociology of scientific knowledge it is in the laboratory that scientists, instead of passively discovering reality, actively manufacture knowledge. Scientific experiment, rather than being in Reichenbach’s (1951: 97) phrase, simply ‘a question addressed to nature’, is seen as the opportunity for scientists through a variety of social, literary and technical practices to accomplish ‘facticity’, ‘truth’, ‘objectivity’ and ‘efficacy’ (Latour & Woolgar, 1979, 180–3).
The System of Nature or, the Laws of the Moral and Physical World (Système de la Nature ou Des Loix du Monde Physique et du Monde Moral) is a work of philosophy by Paul Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach (1723–1789). It was originally published under the name of Jean-Baptiste de Mirabaud, a deceased member of the French Academy of Science. D'Holbach wrote and published this book – possibly with the assistance of Diderot but with the support of Jacques-André Naigeon – anonymously in 1770, describing the universe in terms of the principles of philosophical materialism: The mind is identified with brain, there is no "soul" without a living body, the world is governed by strict deterministic laws, free will is an illusion, there are no final causes, and whatever happens takes place because it inexorably must. Most notoriously, the work explicitly denies the existence of God, arguing that belief in a higher being is the product of fear, lack of understanding, and anthropomorphism. Though not a scientist himself, d'Holbach was scientifically literate and he tried to develop his philosophy in accordance with the known facts of nature and the scientific knowledge of the day, citing, for example, the experiments of John Needham as proof that life could develop autonomously without the intervention of a deity. It makes a critical distinction between mythology as a more or less benign way of bringing law ordered thought on society, nature and their powers to the masses and theology. Theology which, when it separates from mythology raises the power of nature above nature itself and thus alienates the two (i.e. "nature", all that actually exists, from its power, now personified in a being outside nature), is by contrast a pernicious force in human affairs without parallel. The book was considered extremely radical in its day and the list of people writing refutations of the work was long. The prominent Catholic theologian Nicolas-Sylvestre Bergier wrote a refutation titled Examen du matérialisme ("Materialism examined"). Voltaire, too, seized his pen to refute the philosophy of the Système in the article "Dieu" in his Dictionnaire philosophique, while Frederick the Great also drew up an answer to it. Its principles are summed up in a more popular form in d'Holbach's Bon Sens, ou idées naturelles opposees aux idées surnaturelles.
This occasionally biographical paper deals with three cognitive and social patterns in the practice of science (not 'the scientific method’). The first, “establishing the phenomenon,” involves the doctrine (universally accepted in the abstract) that phenomena should of course be shown to exist or to occur before one explains why they exist or how they come to be; sources of departure in practice from this seemingly self-evident principle are examined. One parochial case of such a departure is considered in detail. The second pattern is the particular form of ignorance described as “specified ignorance”: the express recognition of what is not yet known but needs to be known in order to lay the foundation for still more knowledge. The substantial role of this practice in the sciences is identified and the case of successive specification of ignorance in the evolving sociological theory of deviant behavior by four thought-collectives is sketched out. Reference is made to the virtual institutionalization of s...