Princeton Workshop in the History of Science
Growing Explanations: Historical Perspectives on Recent Scientific Practice
M. Norton Wise, Organizer
- Saturday, 11 November 1996: Theory Transformed
- Saturday, 10 February 1996: Complexity: Histories and Varieties
- Saturday, 20 April 1996: Modes of Knowing and Showing
- Saturday and Sunday, 16-17 February 1997: Immunology and Artifical Life
Our theme concerns the sciences of complexity--non-linear dynamics, ecology, artificial life, cognitive science, fuzzy logic, computational mathematics, materials science, imaging science, molecular biology--and we want to focus on the modes of explanation that they employ. What are the histories of these explanatory strategies, how do their techniques and goals differ from preceding ones, what are the relations between them, and in what senses do they perhaps share in a post-modern ethos. Here are a few sets of issues.
Growing Things. Many of the sciences of complexity depend essentially on the capacities of high-speed computers to iterate codes, thereby to produce simulations of processes developing in time. This technology supports a rather obvious analogy, which is also a deep one historically, between complexity and biological development, between computer codes and genetic codes (even when the subject may be as apparently non-biological as the topological objects which "live" in the solution space of a partial differential equation). Thus computer technology, molecular biology, and contemporary culture more generally have conspired to produce a rather novel view of knowledge: "to explain" something now often means "to grow" it, sometimes with the attendant claim that no other form of explanation is possible or appropriate.
Shapes, Periods, Emergent Properties. The traditional goal of explaining complex things by reducing them to more elementary parts has been challenged from many sides, in fields as various as chemistry, economic, condensed-matter physics, ecology, and neurology. Molecular biologists, often portrayed as the modern reductionists, now talk happily of emergent properties, while even high energy physicists acknowledge that identifying elementary particles and their properties does not give one the capacity to build up, thereby to explain, more complex bodies like nuclei and atoms. In mathematical terms, non-reducibility is often associated with non-linearity of interactions, which gives rise to the entire range of phenomena made familiar in "chaos" theory. Attempts to characterize chaotic systems, and complex structures more generally, have led to renewed interest in the topological and temporal characteristics of entire systems, their morphology, regarded as fundamental. Thus "shape" and "periodicity" help to make "emergence" understandable.
Complexity and Diversity vs. Simplicity and Unity. Simplicity, unity, and universality seem to have less appeal today as ideals of scientific knowledge than they have had previously, which is a worry to some but a source of great relief to others, who find satisfaction in complexity, diversity, and contingency. As in post-modern architecture, the "principle of juxtaposition" may be replacing the "principle of unity." For example, the issue of Science for 21 October 1994 announced on its cover the theme of "Unity in Diversity" for the 1995 meeting of the AAAS, stressing diversity in everything from linguistics to materials to genetics. These are rather obvious political-social roots for the diversity movement in the 1960s, but how have the sciences participated in this movement and what is its significance for them?
Delocalization. Complexity in contemporary science does not end with explanatory strategies; it pervades also the structure of the sciences, as evidenced by increasingly common "centers" for cognitive science, evolutionary studies, non-linear dynamics, and even science studies. These centers for cross-disciplinary, problem-oriented studies are intellectually delocalizing in that they challenge the legitimacy of traditional departments defined in terms of a body of knowledge. Their development is also delocalizing physically in that they make the traditional architectural "boxing" of chemistry, biology, history, and other disciplinary units in separate buildings look anachronistic. Equally anachronistic, with increasing use of computer networks, maybe the geographical localization of research collaborations, whether for astronomical observations or for the human genome project. What implications do these changes in intellectual and social distribution have for the character of explanation?Procedures: Generally there will be three or four papers on related subjects, which will be precirculated to those who request them. The authors will not summarize their papers. Instead, they will take fifteen minutes to discuss their intentions in writing their paper and where it may be leading them. A short commentary by one of the participants will then initiate a discussion of about an hour for each paper. Our aim is to generate serious interaction between authors and participants which will produce more refined and sophisticated contributions to a published volume. So please bring your constructive critical faculties with you, remembering that lunch is free. Please call the Program Secretary at 609-258-6705 to request copies of papers or send her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact her also if you would like us to reserve overnight accommodations for you. We look forward to seeing you at the Workshop.
Workshop 1. Theory Transformed
The first workshop will take place on Saturday, 11 November 1995. The topic for the day is "Theory Transformed" with its elaborators listed below.9:30 (230 Dickinson Hall) Coffee and Something (muffin, bagel, danish) 10:00 (211 Dickinson Hall) David Aubin, Princeton University
"The Catastrophe Theory of Rene Thom: Topology, Morphology, and Structuralism" 11:25 (230 Dickinson Hall) Break 11:35 (211 Dickinson Hall) Timothy Lenoir,
Stanford University, "Visions of Theory: Biomedicine as Expert System" 1:00 McLean House Lunch provided 2:30 (211 Dickinson Hall) Peter Galison, Harvard University,
"Theory Bound and Unbound: Superstrings and Experiment" 4:00 The End of Theory
Workshop 2: Complexity: Histories and Varieties
The third workshop will take place on Saturday, 10 February 1996. The topic for the day is "Complexity: Histories and Varieties" with its elaborators listed below.9:30 (230 Dickinson Hall) Coffee and Something (muffin, bagel, danish?) 10:00 (211 Dickinson Hall) Ann Johnson, Princeton University
"Building Theories, Modeling Airframes" 11:25 (230 Dickinson Hall) Break 11:35 (211 Dickinson Hall) Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, University of Salzburg
"Experimental Complexity in Biology: Epistemological and Historical Remarks" 1:00 Maclean House Lunch provided 2:30 (211 Dickinson Hall) Evelyn Fox Keller, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
"Is there an Organism in this Text?" 4:00 The End of Complexity
Workshop 3: Modes of Knowing and Showing
The third workshop will take place on Saturday, 20 April 1996. The topic for the day is "Modes of Knowing and Showing" with its elaborators listed below.9:30 (230 Dickinson Hall) Coffee and Something (muffin, bagel, danish?) 10:00 (211 Dickinson Hall) Claude Rosental, CSI, Ecole des Mines
"Fuzzyfying the world. Social practices of "showing" the properties of fuzzy logic."
Commentator: Michelle Lamont, Princeton University 11:25 (230 Dickinson Hall) Break 11:35 (211 Dickinson Hall) David Brock and Norton Wise, Princeton University
"What is Postmodern Quantum Mechanics?"
Commentator: Nancy Cartwright, London School of Economics 1:00 Maclean House Lunch provided 2:30 (211 Dickinson Hall) Lily E. Kay, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
"A Book of Life? How a Genetic Code became a Language"
Commentator: Angela Creager, Princeton University 4:00 Refreshments
Workshop 4: Immunology and Artifical Life
The fourth workshop will take place on Saturday and Sunday, 15-16 February 1997.
The topics and elaborators are listed below.
Immunology and the Problematic Self 9:30 (230 Dickinson Hall) Coffee and Something (muffin, bagel, danish?) 10:00 (211 Dickinson Hall) Andrew Mendelsohn, Max Planck Institute for History of Science, Berlin
"The Model of War and the Problem of Peace in the Making of Immunology"
Commentator: Jean-Paul Gaudillere, INSERM 11:25 (230 Dickinson Hall) Break 11:35 (211 Dickinson Hall) Ilana Lowy, INSERM
"Immunology and AIDS: Growing Explanations and Developing Instruments "
Commentator: Martin Weigert, Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University 1:00 Maclean House Lunch provided 2:30 (211 Dickinson Hall) Alfred Tauber, Center for Philosophy & History of Science, Boston University
"Postmodern Historiography of Immunology"
Commentator: Emily Martin, Department of Anthropology 4:00 Refreshments
The end of Immunology Sunday, February 16
Artificial Life: Codes, Community and Implications 9:30 (230 Dickinson Hall) Coffee and Something (muffin, bagel, danish?) 10:00 (211 Dickinson Hall) Claus Emmeche, Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen
"Constructing and Explaining Emergence in Artificial Life"
Commentator: to be announced 11:25 (230 Dickinson Hall) Break 11:35 (211 Dickinson Hall) Stefan Helmreich, Center for Critical Analysis of Contemporary Cultures, Rutgers University
"The Artificial Life Experience: The Teaching of Complexity and a Yanqui Way of Knowledge "
Commentator: to be announced 1:00 Maclean House Lunch provided 2:30 (211 Dickinson Hall) Richard Doyle, Department of English, Pennsylvania State University
"Artifical Life Support"
Commentator: to be announced 4:00 Refreshments
The end of Artificial Life