Sunday, April 25, 2010

Circulating Reference; More on LaTour

In this week's reading, we followed Bruno LaTour into the Amazon, near a place where the savanah and the rainforrest meet. The goal of the scientists there was to determine whether or not the rain forrest was encroaching on the savannah, or vice versa.

During the course of his observations of the scientists and their methods, a few key concepts are revealed.

First, on page 27, LaTour makes reference to a concept which is now familiar to us in the class, where he says that "soil cannot avoid degradation; if the laws of pedology do not make this clear, then the laws of thermodynamics should." --In this sentence, we reaffirm that what we "know" is constructed from things which have occurred "upstream" from our current position as critics. He goes on to expand and reiterate this idea on page 29 in more depth, calling out the "age old disciplines" of trigonometry, cartography, geography--AND the mediating technology which "shows us" what we can't physically see with our own eyes; rocket ships, orbiting sattelites, data banks, draftspeople, engravers, printers--which leads us to the idea that circulating reference occurs when we must make use of these recorded repositories of information in order to solidify claims which exist in the real world.

Here, we establish the idea which we discussed in class as the necessity to move from "WORD" to "WORLD", and back again, in order to continually clarify and push knowledge in directions moving closer and closer to ease of both transport and example, such that others might refer to it, and thus strenghthen its credibility --as they may not have the impetus to do such tiring research themselves.

Circulating reference is concerned with the ability of researchers to catalogue and "come back to" the very proof of the claims they make.

Another interesting concept which was also discussed in class, is brought to the forefront on page 38, where LaTour says that "A second advantage, just as important, is that once classified, specimens from different locations and times become contemporaries of one another on the flat table, all visible under the same unifying gaze."

From this, in class, we discussed this concept in metaphor to the musical "Mash-up", where different types of musical samples may be overlaid in an either complimentary, or non-complimentary style--the point being, that the observer is able to see each peice from a new perspective, and can superimpose different ideas, all while maintaining a "bigger picture" perspective as the synthesist.

LaTour notes that we are then "able to discern emerging patterns that no predecessor could see."

I am able to give plenty of credence to this notion, being an electronic musician, and having worked on a few mashups myself. This makes sense.

Finally, another topic: Translation.

LaTour supposes that through the process of moving from the "world" to "words" which is the very definition of translation, things necessarily become lost in translation (to use the common saying). As we record information about our world, we use language, which is shaped by our own experiences and culture, which leads us to talk about our percieved reality in certain ways---ways in which are subjective, and not always equally understood by all. --but what we lose in translation, can be gained again via referece--and further definition of the referent of a thing.

(*insert sound of head exploding!)


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Reading Kosso

Some things that I found interesting while reading the summary of Kosso's book were:

The idea that we are sort of taught how to observe, theorize, and talk about theories--or that inquiry itself is socially constructed. And that this being the case, we may be a good idea to distance ourselves as much as possible from commonly held views of what scientific inquiry really is--in order to attempt to be more objective.

More on science as socially constructed:

Kosso seems to say that existing theories affect and form our perceptions about what the fundamentals of science are: much like LaTour's assertion that once we move upstream, we have to contend with more and more "blackboxes"--this is congruent with Kosso's thinking regarding how we find ourselves "downstream" and find our choices affected by previous works.

Another thing I found interesting, which I mentioned in class, was the complexity of Kosso's argument as it pertains to self reference. He's theorizing about theories--which I think, opens him up to either self criticism, or self-reinforcement, not quite sure what yet--but I think that since he goes on to talk about credibility of experience (and since that is also socially constructed) he may be able to toot his own horn.

Kosso makes a similar point to Latour's in that he describes theories as being "cohesive", where Latour/Flower ideology is that of a "hang-togetherness"--a term repeated many times in class. The idea that similar or congruent theories will tend to reinforce one another, and because of this, tend to be referenced in the same breath. (See also, Kosso's "theories travel in packs")

On another tangent:
I'm not sure if I am taking this correctly, but I also think that Kosso may have been proposing that while it is good for a theory to be falsifiable, a single falsification does not a theory-buster make. Exact conditions cannot always be replicated, such as the situation we saw in LaTour's writing with the guinea-pig gut.

Of note, also, was the idea of the nature of observability--and the thought that as our ability to "SEE" things for ourselves with our actual eyes, or 5 senses decreases, the amount that we rely on "instrumentation" increases, and that this, should in turn foster questions about the reliability or accuracy of the tools we use in lieu of eyes or ears etc.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Reading Latour

During both this week's readings and last weeks, I was interested to learn about the concept of "blackboxing" in Sciece in Action, as a way to describe the process by which certain technologies, ideas, or methods, are eventually cited as fact. Furthermore, it was interesting to learn about how the citation of supposed facts beget such black boxes, and how difficult it can be for a dissenter to "move upstream" from the semi-solidified and much safer positions which are constantly argued in the socio-political arena. Just as with politics, many scientists have the need to support their positions via consensus gaining techniques, which would consist of persuading the widest audience possible in order to establish a credible standing in their field of study.

Another interesting point that Latour makes, is that scientists need to be better at selling their findings, and in some way make people interested in what is being discussed, however, through the process of claims-making, they tend to make inroads towards alienating dissenters by making it extremely difficult to refute or participate in any kind of dialogue, as their findings are communicated as already settled disputes. The ensuing battle to take arguements upstream is seen as both difficult and daunting, which makes the critical inquirer much less likely to continue on the path of uncovering real truths devoid of human interference.

Near the end of the chapter, Latour figuratively takes us into a laboratory, where he outlines a situation where the dissenter must eventually see the facts for himself, instead of blindly accepting papers and following citations which can both be so easily crafted with regard to political bent or social leanings, or in one particular case, the need to derive the "N ray" (which was later proven to be a fabrication unbeknownst to the researcher)--the dissenter has to question each and every individual process or "instrument" which supposedly make measurements accurate, but themselves represent black boxes.

Latour seems to show that refuting scientific claims can either be extremely difficult, or made very easy, depending on which "black boxes" in the chain of logic are found to be innaccurate.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bryce's Blog Transforms into School Tool.

If anyone is actually paying attention to this blog... you may either want to start paying MORE attention, or stop paying attention, as I will be solely commentating on readings for a school project for the next couple of months.

Fair warning.

But I don't think many of you will mind.