Review: Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited

Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited
Reviewed by Amy Ione

Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited offers an explicit sequel to the discussion featured in the 1990 book Representation in Scientific Practice [1]. I use the word sequel because this more recent volume is not an update so much as an effort to show that the questions surrounding representation inhabit a quite different theoretical and conceptual landscape 25 years later.

The 1990 book grew out of a workshop on “Visualization and Cognition” held in Paris in 1983 [2]. Although a compilation of already published articles, the book is now remembered as a contribution that helped to coalesce the late 20th century discourse on scientific visualization among historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science on visualization and representation. In some ways it was also representative of how Kuhnian paradigms had changed thinking. Thomas Kuhn introduced paradigmatic thinking in his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [3]. His thesis about distinctive ways of thinking in historical eras, in turn, laid the foundation for a focus on scientific context and a more nuanced approach to ideas and practices. With the first Representations volume it was clear that the discussion had shifted accordingly and included enhanced sensitivity to how humanists and social scientists perceived and modeled reality. Within this framework, epistemological thinking and practices were elevated.

The second volume demonstrates that this sea change brought about a focus on ethnographic studies within Science and Technology Studies (STS). The systematic study of scientists working and the environments in which they practice is so predominant in the articles of the second volume that an unacknowledged subtheme of the book is the degree to which practices within environments are now representative of what Kuhn might call a “normal” approach in historical, humanistic, and sociological investigation. Indeed, as author after author explained the design of his or her ethnographic study it is hard to miss how standardized the approach is. No doubt this is why some of the authors ask if the time is ripe for a shift from an epistemological to an ontological treatment of the representations concept.

Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited itself is comprised of 14 lengthy papers primarily by younger scholars and seven brief, reflective pieces by established academics.

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Math becomes art in Byrne’s 1847 Colourful Euclid

St Andrews has posted an edition of Euclid that is a richly saturated, tri-tone experiment in explaining the complexities of the foundations of geometry through shape and colour. This work, from the mid-19th century, conjures up Mondrian paintings, or Bauhaus and De Stijl schools of design. The following link offers a look at the work and some commentary: https://standrewsrarebooks.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/reading-the-collections-week-46-math-becomes-art-in-byrnes-1847-colourful-euclid/

Help Rebuild the University of Baghdad’s Destroyed Art Library

Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal’s exhibition Wafaa Bilal: 168:01 at the Art Gallery of Windsor addresses the cyclical history of violence against cultural institutions, and libraries in particular, during times of war and conflict. It is composed of a central bookshelf that occupies most of the gallery space. The shelves are filled with white books. As the exhibition progresses through a subtle durational performance, the white books will be replaced with donations of real books that were torched at the library of the College of Fine Arts, University of Baghdad.

The exhibition is linked to a Kickstarter campaign to replace all 1,000 blank books in the exhibition with educational texts. At the end of the exhibition, all of the texts will be shipped to the College of Fine Arts in Baghdad, beginning the process of rebuilding their library.

CFP: Taboo-Transgression-Transcendence

The Department of Audio and Visual Arts of the Ionian University organizes a two-day interdisciplinary conference with theoretical and artwork presentations under the theme of “Taboo – Transgression – Transcendence”, focusing on questions about the nature of the forbidden and the liminal as expressed in science and art.

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Amy Ione interview on Yale University Radio

The interview with Amy Ione, Director of the Diatrope Institute, is now included in the Interviews from Yale University Radio (WYBCX) index of The Art World Demystified, Hosted by Brainard Carey. It is available at http://museumofnonvisibleart.com/interviews/amy-ione/. This collection is an oral history of the Lives of the Most Excellent Artists, Curators, Architects, Critics and more, like Vasari’s book updated.

Exhibition: By Land and By Sea: Scientific Expedition Reports in Special Collections from 1826 to the 1960s

On display through 04 March 2016: University of Otage, Dunedin, New Zealand

LIB SC Land Sea Poster 2015 miniRich with photographs, colourful plates, scientific descriptions, anthropological and geographical observations and general insights into expeditionary life, the Scientific Expedition Reports are a veritable mine of information. From the Arctic to the Antarctic, from Uganda to Patagonia, the earliest of the reports dates from D’Urville’s expedition in the Astrolabe 1826-29, published in 1832, and the latest are from the University of Canterbury Snares Islands expeditions beginning in the 1960s.

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NYPL Enhances Public Domain Collections For Sharing and Reuse

The New York Public Library opened an online archives portal today. From their press release:

“Today we are proud to announce that out-of-copyright materials in NYPL Digital Collections are now available as high-resolution downloads. No permission required, no hoops to jump through: just go forth and reuse!

The release of more than 180,000 digitized items represents both a simplification and an enhancement of digital access to a trove of unique and rare materials: a removal of administration fees and processes from public domain content, and also improvements to interfaces — popular and technical — to the digital assets themselves. Online users of the NYPL Digital Collections website will find more prominent download links and filters highlighting restriction-free content; while more technically inclined users will also benefit from updates to the Digital Collections API enabling bulk use and analysis, as well as data exports and utilities posted to NYPL’s GitHub account.”

Full press release: http://www.nypl.org/blog/2016/01/05/share-public-domain-collections

Is Big History a step in the right direction?

From NPR: While most history courses start with the beginning of human civilization, roughly 10,000 years ago, Big History starts with the Big Bang. Humans don’t get mentioned until halfway into the course. It is exciting to hear that people are learning about history and science in tandem and I applaud the multidisciplinary as well. Like many historians, however, I wonder about the limited attention to human history in these courses. Parts 1 and 2 from NPR are below the break. Continue reading “Is Big History a step in the right direction?”

Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature (Book Review)

Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature by Alva Noë. Reviewed by Amy Ione for Leonardo Reviews.

Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature
by Alva Noë

Reviewed by Amy Ione

Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature endeavors to, as Alva Noë the author puts it, introduce art as “its own manner of investigation and its own legitimate source of knowledge” (p. xii) using the enactive approach that he has been working with for a number of years. According to this view, “experience is something we enact or perform; it’s not something that happens in us or to us” (p. 215), “it is something we do, or make, or achieve. And like everything else we achieve, we do so only against the background of our skills, knowledge, situation, and environment, including our social environment” (p. xii). His basic philosophical argument is that we can only understand the human mind in relation to bodily actions given that our experience is situational. Within this he claims that our lives are structured by organization and because art is a practice for bringing our organization into view, it reorganizes us.

When we consider art, Noë tells us, there are two levels we need to keep in mind. On the one hand, the defining feature of what he terms Level-1 activities is that they are basic and involuntary modes of organization. On the other hand, Level-2 activities play with and re-shape level-1 activities. The sum total is that active human experience is neither personal consciousness nor subpersonal (autonomic) consciousness. It is not personal because it is interactive and (again) situational activities add meaning to our lives in a way that does not reduce to subpersonal (autonomic) consciousness. Since technologies are a part of how we reorganize our lives, and art is an engagement with technologies, art includes a second-level manner of organization/reorganization.

Noë chose to characterize art in terms of strange tools rather than technologies because he sees art as an engagement with the ways our practices, techniques, and technologies organize us; art is not a technological practice so much as a pursuit that presupposes such practices. Essentially, Noë tells us the tools that help us organize our lives are bound up with our habits. Regular tools aid us in performing our normal habits. But, for Noë, artistic goals — confrontation, intervention, and subversion — differ from ordinary ones. Thus, the “strange tools” that artists use aid them in disrupting and reorganizing the norms of communication:

“Art always disrupts business as usual and puts the fact that we find ourselves carrying out business as usual on display. Put bluntly: the value of art does not consist in a (coevolving) fit (or dialogue) between what we make and what we like, but rather in the practice of investigating and questioning and challenging such processes” (p. 238).

The strongest sections of the book are the personal stories. In these narratives Noë eloquently communicates about the many artists he has known over the years. We learn that his parents were artists and that he grew up within the vibrant New York City art community of Greenwich Village in the late twentieth century:

“For me, art … is personal. The question of art, the question of why it matters, what it is, how it figures in our lives, is in some ways my very first problem in philosophy. … I admit that this book’s central claim — that art is a philosophical practice and philosophy an artistic one — serves me rather well. It can be understood, finally, as my defense of philosophy and its value, a defense of my work, in the setting of my family’s engagement with art. If art is the most important thing, and philosophy is art, then it turns out I’m an artist after all. Look, Dad!” (p. 208).

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Headhunters: The Search for a Science of the Mind (Book Review)

Book Review of Headhunters: The Search for a Science of the Mind by Ben Shephard. Reviewed by Amy Ione.

Headhunters: The Search for a Science of the Mind
by Ben Shephard

Reviewed by Amy Ione

Headhunters: The Search for a Science of the Mind traces a slice of history that in turn introduces us to some of those drawn to study human psychology and mental health a few decades after Darwin’s theory of evolution took root. Four of these pioneers are the focus of this book: William Rivers, Grafton Elliot Smith, Charles Myers, and William McDougall. They met at Cambridge in the 1890s and Shephard links their lives more broadly through their efforts to study the brain as biological approaches were gaining increased leverage due to Darwin’s work. The author begins the book by placing us in that context:

“How, then, did the human brain evolve? Why did it evolve as it did? In the 1870s, modern experimental neuroscience began, using electricity to stimulate the nervous system of animals and microscopes to observe the nerve cells of humans. Within two decades, researchers had established the location of functions within the brain, unraveled the way that the nervous system automatically governs the body’s functions, and begun to discover how messages are sent between neurons and synapses. But these extraordinary advances only posed further questions — about human behavior; man’s relations to his fellow primates, and the human occupation of the earth. A generation of scientists went looking for answers” (p. 1).

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