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Michel Morange “Genetics, Life and Death”

December 5, 2014 Leave a comment

Morange, Michel 2007. Genetics, Life and Death: Genetics as providing a definition. – Anne Fagot-Largeault; Shahid Rahman; Juan Manuel Torres (eds). The Influence of Genetics on Contemporary Thinking. Dordrecht: Springer, 51-62.

Among the different contemporary definitions of life which are given by biologists, one of the most frequent is that what characterizes organisms is their capacity to „reproduce imperfectly”. This definition includes two components, both essential: the power to reproduce, characteristic of life; and the fact that this reproduction is sufficiently faithful to allow a correct functioning of the progeny, but not perfect, not preventing the appearance of slightly different forms of organisms, likely to be better adapted to their environment. Imperfect reproduction is the condition required for the action of natural selection, and the historical development of life. (54)

Because genetic mechanisms are the main mechanisms of heredity to have been progressively forged and retained by natural selection, they are fundamental in this Darwinian definition of life. As sophisticated as they are – with the very precise copy at each generation of the long protein sequences –, they perfectly provide the basis on which natural selection can efficiently play its role. (55)

Despite its apparent success, such a vision of genes controlling the duration of life – and death – was rapidly challenged both by cell biologists and population geneticists. The former showed the existence of a specific form of cell death – by apoptosis –, totally different from the form of cell death which results from the absence of nutrients and oxygen occurring when the organisms die. During apoptosis, cells play an active role in their own death – whence its name of programmed cell death. (56)

The first observations of apoptosis did not question the existence of a genetic program of death or its link with a developmental program, since they were made on the massive cell death process that accompanies metamorphosis, a specific phase of development for insects and amphibians (Lockshin and Williams, 1964, 1965). But as findings accumulated on this specific form of death, it appeared less and less linked with the program of development and more and more related to the capacities of organisms to adapt to changing environments. It is the absence of cell death, not its occurrence, which in most cases constitutes a threat to the organism. (56-57)

The present model proposed by population geneticists is that the duration of life (and the occurrence of death) is not actively controlled by genes, but that specific forms of genes have been progressively introduced by chance during evolution and can affect the duration of life, and increase the probability of death simply because they do not sufficiently affect fitness to be eliminated by the action of natural selection. Two slightly different possibilities remain: these mutations affect the organisms too late, at a time when, in natural conditions, most have already succumbed by accident; or their negative effect is balanced by the positive effect they have on reproduction (antagonistic pleiotropism). A later modification has been made to the evolutionary theory of aging and to the “antagonistic pleiotropism” model by appealing to the “disposable soma” theory (Kirkwood and Rose, 1991): the organism differentially allocates a fixed number of resources to reproduction and maintenance. (57)

Human genome sequencing – and the discovery of the low number of human genes – was clearly a blow to the idea that human higher activities are directly reflected in the complexity of the genome, whereas the isolation of master genes controlling behavior has frequently been disappointing, and has lost its attraction – possibly with the exception of thefruitlessgene ofDrosophila(Manoli et al., 2005). Gene variations can have a dramatic effect on behavior, but this does not mean that the genes that are involved are behavioral genes. However, the possibility that the human mind consists of cognitive modules that evolved through the pressure of natural selection still leaves a place for the genes in the construction of the mind (Buller, 2005). (58)

Categories: bio-, Michel Morange, teadus

Charles Lenay “Hérédité et Mort: La question de l’Acquis”

August 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Lenay, Charles 2007. Hérédité et Mort: La question de l’Acquis. Bulletin d’histoire et d’épistémologie de sciences de la vie, 14(2) : 187-202.

Il présenta la première ébauche de sa solution à Salzbourg, en 1881 (Weismann 1882 ; 1883a). Une durée de la vie naturellement limitée dans chaque espèce était un fait qui pour Weismann ne faisait aucun doute. Bien sûr, la mort peut toujours être causée par des accidents dus aux circonstances extérieures, mais il y a un maximum ultime indépassable. Or, un des grands acquis théoriques de Weismann fut de remarquer que la mort de vieillesse n’avait pas de nécessité intrinsèque dans le vivant. En multipliant les exemples dans l’immense variété des espèces il réfutait tous les arguments tentant de lier la mort « naturelle » à l’organisation interne de l’être vivant. Bien qu’un animal plus grand mette plus de temps à arriver à l’âge de sa maturité reproductrice, on n’observe pas de relation constante entre durée de croissance et durée de vie. (192)

Weismann concluait que si l’on ne pouvait trouver de cause à la mort dans la vie elle-même, on devait donc lui chercher une nécessité « externe » sous la forme d’un caractère héréditaire défini par une adaptation à l’environnement. (193)

Mais que faut-il entendre ici par « adaptation » ? Il ne peut plus s’agir de l’adaptation d’un organisme individuel à son environnement. Le caractère « durée de vie » n’est pas un caractère comme l’œil du hibou ou la bosse du chameau. Il ne donne pas un avantage direct à l’individu qui le possède. Ici, l’adaptation peut seulement se comprendre au niveau de l’espèce. Or, l’essentiel pour l’espèce c’est sa conservation, c’est-à-dire le renouvellement par la reproduction des individus enlevés par la mort. Une fois sa mission reproductrice accomplie, l’individu devenu inutile meurt, sauf s’il doit encore protéger ou éduquer les petits. : « Aussitôt que l’individu a fourni sa quote-part dans ce remplacement, il cesse d’avoir de la valeur pour l’espèce : il peut se reposer, il a fait son devoir. » (Weismann 1882 : 8) (193)

La durée de vie ne peut être qu’un caractère héréditaire dont les variations au hasard auraient été soumises à l’action de la sélection naturelle. Le hasard signifie ici, non pas que ces variations soient dénuées de causes matérielles, mais plutôt, qu’elles se produisent dans un premier temps, avant et indépendamment de l’avantage qu’elles pourront avoir quand, dans un deuxième temps, elles seront soumises à la sélection. (194)

La durée de la vie est celle de l’espèce elle-même. (194)

Il ressort donc clairement que l’hérédité d’un caractère comme la mort de vieillesse doit être autre chose que le résultat d’une simple prolongation de la croissance. Il faut renverser cette conception et imaginer que l’hérédité précède le développement. La cause de la mort précède la mort et cette cause doit se maintenir constante d’une génération à l’autre. La cause héréditaire de la limitation de la durée de la vie détermine ce caractère tout en se conservant inchangée pour être transmise à la descendance. (194)

Il y a une différence de nature entre cause et effet, entre la substance immortelle qui se transmet, et les caractères qu’elle détermine dans l’organisme mortel. (195)

Tant que les cellules germinatives se divisent en deux parties strictement égales (à la façon des unicellulaires), elles conservent toutes leurs propriétés et en particulier cette faculté de division à l’infini. Tout comme dans l’ancienne théorie, c’est une continuité matérielle qui est à la source des phénomènes de l’hérédité. Mais il y a maintenant une différence importante : les cellules germinatives sont aussi capables d’une division inégale qui donne naissance à des cellules somatiques dont le nombre de divisions est limité. (195)

Weismann allait rapidement généraliser ce rejet de l’hérédité de l’acquis : l’ensemble des caractères héréditaires serait déterminé par la substance des cellules germinatives (le « plasma germinatif ») qui se maintient identique de génération en génération (Weismann 1883b). (196)

Medawar se demande tout d’abord, sur quelle base affirmer que la présence de vieux est désavantageuse pour le groupe ? Ceci ne peut être vrai que si l’on a déjà admis qu’il y avait une sénilité dans la vieillesse, phénomène qu’il faudrait d’abord expliquer. Pourquoi, si l’on reconnaît que les unicellulaires sont capables de se diviser à l’infini, ne pourrait-on pas imaginer que le corps soit aussi capable de réparation à l’infini et surtout, pourquoi ne maintiendrait-il pas constante sa capacité de reproduction ? (197)

C’est dans les conditions très artificielles d’un laboratoire que l’on peut observer la mort « naturelle ». Laissé dans la nature l’animal aurait probablement été éliminé depuis longtemps. Dans cette mesure, la mort de vieillesse n’est en fait qu’un « artefact de laboratoire ». Dès lors, le caractère durée de vie ne peut plus être considéré comme un caractère indépendant subissant une sélection particulière. Le fait de la mort de vieillesse ne peut donc se comprendre qu’en corrélation avec d’autres caractères. (197)

Un grand résultat de la réflexion de Weismann qui s’est maintenu ensuite, a été de proclamer que la mort de vieillesse n’était en rien une nécessité intrinsèque au vivant. La mort dites « naturelle » n’a rien d’essentiel. Elle est un effet de l’hérédité, même si comme le montre Medawar, ce n’est pas un caractère héréditaire indépendant. Le fait absolument général et essentiel au vivant, c’est plutôt la mort accidentelle : tout ce qui est vivant est par définition mortel. La mort n’est pas nécessaire, elle est « seulement » inéluctable. C’est la forme la plus brutale de la finitude. La mort de vieillesse n’en est que la conséquence. Dans la mesure ou la mort n’est plus une détermination intrinsèque à la vie, la lutte est possible. On peut imaginer que la médecine continuera le combat repoussant toujours plus loin la survie individuelle. Mais dans la mesure ou la vie porte essentiellement la possibilité de ma mort accidentelle, on sait que cette lutte ne pourra jamais s’achever. (199)

Categories: ajalugu, bio-, finitude, teadus

Edwin Sayes “Actor-Network Theory and Methodology”

March 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Sayes, Edwin 2014. Actor-Network Theory and Methodology: Just what Does it Mean to Say that Nonhumans Have Agency? Social Studies of Science 44(1): 134-149.

In the first instance, the term ‘nonhuman’ is intended to signal dissatisfaction with the philosophical tradition in which an object is automatically placed opposite a subject, and the two are treated as radically different. (136)
More systemically, we can say that the term is used to denote entities as diverse as animals (such as scallops – Callon, 1986), natural phenomena (such as reefs – Law, 1987), tools and technical artifacts (such as mass spectrometers – Latour and Woolgar, 1986 [1979]), material structures (such as sewerage networks – Latour and Hermant, 1998), transportation devices (such as planes – Law and Callon, 1992), texts (such as scientific accounts – Callon et al., 1986), and economic goods (such as commodities – Callon, 1999). What is excluded from the circumference of the term are humans, entities that are entirely symbolic in nature (Latour, 1993: 101), entities that are supernatural (Latour, 1992), and entities that exist at such a scale that they are literally composed of humans and nonhumans (Latour, 1993: 121, 1998). (136)
Nonhumans (I): nonhumans as a condition for the possibility of human society
More specifically, it is the actions and capacities of nonhumans that are seen as a condition for the possibility of the formation of human society (Latour, 1993: 111, 1996b: 238). Indexicality, to deploy the language of ethnomethodology, is seen as temporality objectified through the mobilization of nonhumans. Leviathan becomes possible only when more than purely social ties are involved, when certain ties can be sufficiently stabilized, or placed in a black box. (137)
Nonhumans (II): nonhumans as mediators
In a now canonical article, Callon (1991) stresses an important distinction between intermediaries and mediators. While an intermediary is a placeholder in the sense in which it merely does what anything else in its position would do (Latour, 1992: 229), a mediator is something morethan this. Conceived only as a neutral placeholder, it is easy to consider a nonhuman as merelyan intermediary: it is merelythe sum of its constitutive parts, or its constitutive relations, and it merelydoes what anything in its place would do. However, conceived as mediator, a nonhuman is necessarily seen as adding something to a chain of interaction or an association. In classifying nonhumans as mediators rather than intermediaries, it becomes impossible to treat nonhumans as simple substitutes for human actors. Nonhumans, like anything else that is placed between two actors, are understood as continually modifying relations between actors (Latour, 1999, 2002a). (138)
Nonhumans (III): nonhumans as members of moral and political associations
We see, here [in the case of a seatbelt that won’t let you start your car unless tightened], the potential for a truly categorical imperative – a norm that is truly objective. With the help of a new type of moral or political actor, the texture of morality and politics has changed. The form of dissent is slowly narrowed and, in the final two scenarios, eliminated. It is, we might easily quip, far easier to make docile nonhumans than to make self-disciplining actors. As Callon (1991: 157, n. 28) writes in a particularly evocative phrase, ‘[t]he telephone creates a common space that integrates just as much as Durkheim’s religion or Bourdieu’s habitus’. The suggestion is incredibly powerful: that our collectives have, in effect, outsourced some of their regulating principles, some of their politics, some of their morality. (139)
[…] we should not be concerned with whether nonhumans are understood to possess the ability to make moral or immoral decisions – this is not suggested. Rather, what is elided and made impossible is the question of responsibility – of which individuals and groups should be held accountable for our moral and political associations. (140)
Nonhumans (IV): nonhumans as gatherings
The relevant point for current purposes is that morality and politics should not be linked to nonhumans separatedfrom all other actors, but to associations. This does not mean, to be sure, that nonhumans are divorced from the question of morality or politics. Rather, it means only that when one considers the relationship between a nonhuman and morality or politics, one must consider the associations of which it is a part. This is a point that is, in general terms, elementary for ANT, and develops into foregrounding the ways in which nonhumans are gatherings. (140)
What does it mean to say that nonhumans have agency?
ANT, in fact, attempts to pluralize what it means to speak of agency. As has already been noted, agency is decoupled from criteria of intentionality, subjectivity, and freewill. At first sight, it may look like this decoupling actually amounts to an amputated and restricted vantage-point (see, for example, Amsterdamska, 1990: 499). However, such a view would seem to be premature. Indeed, while intentional action is still recognized as a typeof action, this is not to the exclusion of all other forms of agency (Latour, 2005: 71). At the same time, ANT invokes not causal agency in the strictest of senses, but something ‘more’ (Latour, 2005: 70). What is this ‘more’? The best answer seems to be the following: ‘there might exist many metaphysical shades between full causality and sheer in-existence: things might authorize, allow, afford, encourage, permit, suggest, influence, block, render possible, forbid, and so on’ (Latour, 2004b: 226; see also Latour, 2005: 72). (141)
Latour (2005: 71) maintains that one need only ask of an entity ‘[d]oes it make a difference in the course of some other agent’s action or not? Is there some trial that allows someone to detect this difference?’ If we can answer yes to these two questions, then we have an actor that isexercising agency – whether this actor is nonhuman or otherwise. […] the ‘standard measure’ of agency becomes dehumanized: the ability to make a difference. (141)
The primacy of methodology in ANT
For ANT, a theoretical statement could never determine the extent to which nonhumans act and the nature of this agency.This is, and remains definitively so for the perspective, an empirical question. Latour (1998) is explicit in this regard: ANT has no general theory of agency. Thus, claims concerning the agency of nonhumans are part of the conceptual infralanguage of the position. (142)
Conclusion
Simply put, nonhumans do not have agency by themselves, if only because they are neverby themselves. (144)
By foregrounding the role of methodology, we better understand what it means to say that nonhumans have agency. For instance, this foregrounding allows us to understand that the term ‘agency’ is almost empty of meaning for ANT. Indeed, it lacks specificity – referring instead to a collection of possible modes of relating to other entities while not requiring any of them. (144)

 

Joanna Latimer “Rewriting Bodies, Portraiting Persons?”

January 6, 2014 Leave a comment

Latimer, Joanna 2013. Rewriting Bodies, Portraiting Persons? The New Genetics, the Clinic and the Figure of the Human. Body & Society 19(4): 3-31.

By suggesting how bodies are not, as previously understood, bounded, contained, homogeneous, fixed and integrated entities, the individual whole persons of humanist thought, made up of substance that is uniquely them, emergent understandings from the biosciences have the possibility of changing perceptions of the body, and thereby of the existence of human beings. That is, contemporary discoveries in molecular biology seem to trouble the self/not-self division that is the defining feature performed by the figure of the individual body. (7)

The new genetics thus puts into play an idea that ‘[w]ithin ‘‘us’’ is the most threatening other – the propagules, whose phenotype we temporarily are’ (Haraway, 1991: 217). Second, breakthroughs made possible because of new genetic techno-science offer ways of rethinking body-persons as made up of substance from a much wider gene pool, and of the body as the temporary and partial expression of a genotype. Within this perspective it is the DNA that is immortal, and the genes that are the ‘time travellers’, while the body or soma is just the transport vehicle, the hired car, the temporary and dispensable host for their reproduction (Olshansky and Carnes, 2001). (7)

Medical textbooks are full of such images. These portraits are classic depictions of a human figure in a specific pose, such as Londe’s portrait of hysteria (Figure 1). The figure is taken not so much to represent him- or herself, but as representing the disease category to which they are being assigned: the figure is being read as signifying the pathology. But engaging with clinical pictures as forms of portraiture is also important because, as Jordanova suggests (2000, 2003), portraits are mobile objects that circulate culturally and socially specific ideas about body–self relations and personhood. For example, Albert Londe’s portrait shows that the effects of hysteria are totalizing, so that the woman embodies the illness. But the form of the portrait also individuates, not just hysteria, but the body-self and personhood. (11)

Clinicians draw upon these clinical methods of assemblage and juxtaposition to differentiate when what is abnormal or unusual about bodies, parts, persons and even families, represents a phenotype. This is because for the most part, there is no genetic technology (molecular test) that can make anomalies visible at the molecular level (see also Reardon and Donnai, 2007). (13)

The relation that gets implied in how dysmorphologists construct their clinical pictures is between the particular features of a syndrome, the notion of a phenotype, and, as such, perhaps the expression of an atypical, aberrant genotype. At moments, it is this relation, the syndrome–genotype, that dysmorphology’s portraits evoke. The aberrations may be as tiny as a single gene defect. For example, where, to use the expression of one expert, ‘a bit of chromosome has fallen off and landed in the wrong place’. The suggestion implied by how geneticists assemble their clinical pictures, then, is that how people and their bodies look and function (the phenotype) may not just be evidence of a syndrome but also that the syndrome is the effect of a specific aberrant (but as yet invisible) genotype, a syndrome–genotype relation. (14)

The portrait in dysmorphology does not always reduce to the figure of an individual, rather the figure of a syndrome–genotype relation emerges in the partial connection between the assemblage and juxtaposition of materials deriving from different bodies. In the clinic the portrait makes a (temporary) space that cannot (yet) settle all the division and connections between all the parts across different bodies. And it is this that is the defining feature of some of dysmorphology’s portraits. The complexity and heterogeneity of the defining features of a syndrome need to be distributedfor them to stand as a phenotype, and the visible expression of the syndrome–genotype relation. Critically, what is implicit in these juxtapositions and dysmorphologists’ readings of them, is that there is something about the substance of the bodies of individuals that is not unique to them, but is shared, or at least held in common, to use Strathern’s term. What is exceptional is being able to make the portraits show that it is not simply a disease that is shared, rather it is the common genetic substance, the genotype, that is pathological, and that the syndrome is the expression, or phenotype, of this common genotype, distributed across different bodies. (18)

Rather, what dysmorphology’s portraits perform is that it is the syndrome–genotype that is made of fragments, not persons. (19)

At the same time, then, as the face of a child may be effaced (Bauman, 1990) by the genetic, the actors responsible for them – the clinicians, the parents – are not effacing their humanity even as they constitute their abnormality. It is the syndrome–genotype that does that. This means that at the same time as clinicians draw upon a notion that the child’s condition is biologically determined rather than socially or culturally conditioned, they hold to an idea that there is an essence to persons, that people have a real nature, that a child is unique and essentially human, despite abnormalities of appearances, appearances on the surface and in the depths of the body. In these ways the integral, discrete body is what helps to create the figure of the individual, but the individual, to be truly human, and transcend their bodiedness, must be able to ‘disembody’. (21)

The relation between the integral, contained, corporeal body and that of the autonomous individual helps perform the figure of the human. This figure of the human isthe cultural icon that underpins most contemporary forms of social organization in the West, including sociological theory itself (Skeggs, 2004, 2011; Strathern, 2006). But alongside this idea of the individuated body-self, runs the paradoxical and parallel seam of western thought that detaches rationality from the body: the individual, at moments of choice and autonomous decision-making, to be rational, must have knowledge from a singular, undivided perspective, a perspective that stands outside the plane of personal (that is bodily) action (Latimer, 2007a; Strathern, 1992). (22)

Against notions of the integral, contained body, individuals, to be fully human, also have to demonstrate a capacity for detachment. To attain the singular perspective of rationality, ‘man’ must be able to disembody. (22)

Paradoxically it is the figure of the person as integral body and a unique discrete consciousness that helps to portray the individual as human. To be fully human, and transcend their bodiedness, the individual must be able to detach rather than simply ‘disembody’, as many have read Descartes (Foucault, 1979). (22)

The human, once distinguished by this detachment of consciousness, is thus able to settle into a complex whole. Curiously it is not the envelope of the body, its form that can be caught in paint or a photograph, so much as it is this signing of a detachment of consciousness from bodily experiences that defines the individual. Yes, representations of the corporeal body must take up most of the painting, photograph or sculpture, but it is the capture of the character (the eyes, stance and gesture) that enliven the flesh and make these more than a representation of a corpse. To be seen as human, persons must exhibit characteristics, such as willpower, desire, vulnerability or moral strength. (23)

The figure of the individual is thus performed as a distinctive person who is much more than the sum of their bodily parts. This doubling of figures is one of the paradoxes of dominant body–self relations. (23)

Ilya Prigogine & Isabelle Stengers “Dynamics from Leibniz to Lucretius”

January 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Prigogine, Ilya; Isabelle Stengers 1982. Postface: Dynamics from Leibniz to Lucretius. – Serres, Michel. Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy. Baltimore; London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 135-158

Newtonian  physics  posits  a  body  assumed  to  be  isolated, endowed with a rectilinear and uniform inertial movement, and calculates the modifications of this movement as determined by the action of forces. For Leibniz,  the forces  are  not “given”  and  are  in no way  the real  causes of the  modification  of a  movement  but rather are  local properties within a  dynamic  system:  at  every  point,  they  characterize  a  momentary  state belonging to a series regulated  by a law. (141)

The  optimal point of view on  a system,  the  best  choice  of variables,  is therefore the one that cancels out the potential energy redefined in terms of  these  variables.  And  dynamic  theory  tells  us  that  every  integrable system  can  be  represented  in  this  way -can  be  redefined  as  a  set  of “units”  evolving in  a  pseudo-inertial  movement,  without any interaction among the “units.” Each “monadic unit” is no longer determined in each of its movements by interactions with the aggregate ; each deploys its own law for  itself,  alone  in  a system  which  it reflects intrinsically, because  its very definition supposes and translates this system in every detail. There is full passage between the local  and  the  global. (144)

Quantum mechanics thus presents a reversal of perspective relative to classical  style.  It  is  no  longer  a  question  of looking  for  simplicity  at  the level  of  elementary  behavior.  Dynamic  simplicity,  as  reflected  by  the possibility  of  a  completely  monadic  represen tation,  belongs,  in  fact,  to the macroscopic world, to  the world on our scale. Our  physics is a science created by macroscopic  beings,  created  with conceptual  tools and instruments  that  belong  to  the  macroscopic  world.  It  is  from  that  position, when  we  question  the  world  of  quanta,  that  we  must  choose  what  will allow  us  to  express  matters  in  terms  of  measurable,  reproducible,  and communicable properties. We can no  longer allow ourselves, as far as the physical  world  is  concerned ,  the  privileged  point  of  view  which,  when pushed  to  its limit, we once could  have iden tified as that of God. (147)

We  can  see  how unfortunate  was the widespread assumption that quantum mechanics “discovered”  that the process of measurement disturbs the system nwasured. Uncontrollably modifying; the values of certain parameters in order to ascertain the value of others. Such an assumption in fact implies that only an arbitrary positivistic prohibition pn’vt’nts us from speaking; of “hidden variables,” that is to say, pr(‘vents us from affirming; that the system  in question is, at every moment, defilwd by tht, St’t of physical parameters, even if all of them cannot be known simultaneously. The actual situation is entirely different. The real discovery of quantum mechanics, as it is expressed by the inseparable character of reversible (‘volution and irreversible reduction, is not that tht, process of measurement disturbs, but rather that it participates in the definition of, the measured parameter, so that this parameter cannot be attributed to the quantum system “in itself” and one cannot speak of “hidden variables.” As Niels Bohr repeatedly said, quantum  mechanics  discovered  the  necessity of choic(‘, choosing; what question to ask,  in other  words, choosing; both  the  instrumental  framework  of the  question  and one of the complementary descriptions articulated among; themselves by formalism but irreducible to a single description. (147 – footnote)

“The world as it is is not the product of my  representation ;  my  knowledge,  on  the  contrary,  is a  product  of the world  in  the  process  of becoming.  Things  themselves  choose,  exclude, meet, and give rise to one  another.” (151 – Serres „Hermes IV“, 157-158)

An  unstable  system,  on  the  other  hand,  is  a  system  in  which  the initial  conditions  determining  various  qualitatively  distinct  behaviors are not  clearly  separated  but are,  on  the  contrary,  as close  as one  might wish. We are all familiar with this sort of intimate mixture -it is described by  number  theory: every  rational  number  is  surrounded  by  irrationals, and every irrational by rationals. Similarly, whatever the neighborhood defined for an  initial  state, one always finds at least one other state giving rise  to  a  qualitatively different behavior,  just as  oscillation  and rotation are qualitatively different. (151)

Under  these  conditions,  in  order  to  predict  deterministically  the  type of behavior  the  system  will  adopt,  one  would  need  infinite precision.  It is of no use  to  increase  the  level  of precision  or even to make  it tend toward infinity;  uncertainty  always  remains  complete -it  does  not  diminish  as precision  increases.  That  means  that  divine  knowledge  is  no  longer implied in human knowledge as its limit,  as that toward which one might tend with increasing precision ; it is something other, separated by a gap. (152)

It is not  a  question  of recognizing  that we  are  incapable  of calculating  such  traj ectories;  rather,  it is  a  question of  realizing  that  the  trajectory  is  not  an  adequate  physical  concept  for these  systems.  Henceforth  the  field  of  dynamics  will  appear  larger systems  described  in  terms  of  trajectories  with  their  determinist  and reversible properties are only a particular class within that field. (152)

Creative  chaos is illegality itself, for its description dissolves the distinction between the macroscopic state  and  the microscopic fluctuation ; correlations can appear among distant events; local deviations echo throughout the  system -the matrix-state  in  which  fluctuations are  amplified and from  which things  are born. (153-154)

And  thus  Serres  is  correct:  the question  is  reversed.  It  is  no  longer necessary to ask where the clinamen comes from or how one might justify the  disturbing  of  laws.  All  laminar  flows  can  become  unstable  past  a certain  threshold of velocity,  and  that  was  known  just as  the  productive nature  of  organized  forms,  of  bifurcating  evolution,  of  what  we  call dissipative  structures,  was  known.  One  must  ask  how  an  abstraction  of this  knowledge  could  have  been  made  to  describe  the  world  in  order, subject to a universal law. We already know one answer given by Serres. Classical science is a science of engineers who knew, of course, that their flows were never perfectly laminar, but who made  the theory of laminar flow perfectly controllable and directable, the only flow for which knowing is controlling. (154)

Christopher Norris “Epistemology”

December 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Norris, Christopher 2005. Epistemology. Key Concepts in Philosophy. London; New York: Continuum.

Realism, Reference and Possible Worlds

Hence Frege’s cardinal dictum that ’sense determines reference’, i.e., that in so far as such proper names refer it must be in virtue of our grasping the relevant descriptive criteria. On the contrary, Kripke maintains: the reference of gold was fixed by an inaugural ’baptism’ or act of naming, and has since held firm despite and across all subsequent changes in our knowledge concerning its nature, identifying features, physical properties, microstructural constitution, or whatever. (43)

In this respect […] such names are ’truth-tracking’ or ’sensitive to future discovery’. That is to say, their usage at any given time might always turn out (now as in the past) to be based on a limited or partial knowledge of just what it is – scientifically speaking – that constitutes the kind in question. (45)

For if reference is fixed independently of any descriptive criteria that happen to apply from one to another paradigm then we can perfectly well explain how a term like ’electron’, once introduced through the inaugural act of naming, continued to pick out the same referent despite some otherwise radical revisions to its range of defining properties or imputed characteristics. (46)

Thus philosophy of science can be saved from its own sceptical devices by acknowledging (1) that descriptive attributes don’t go all the way down, (2) that early usages are ’sensitive to future discovery’, and (3) that in the case of genuine (as opposed to empty or fallacious) object-terms their reference is preserved across even the most revolutionary episodes of theory-change. (47)

For the moment what chiefly concerns us – to repeat – is the distinction between ontology and epistemology, along with the necessity of drawing it in such a way as to render compatible two (as it might seem) conflicting or contradictory claims. These are, first, that the truth-value of our statements, theories, hypothesis, etc., is fixed objectively by the way things stand quite apart from our best state of knowledge concerning them; and second, that veridical knowledge can yet be achieved through the kinds of reliably truth-conducive method and procedure developed  by the various sciences. (60)

[Realism] is the claim that there exists a real-world domain of physical objects, events, structures, properties, causal powers and so forth which decide the truth-value of our various statements or theories and which cannot be treated as in any sense dependent on our current-best or even future-best-attainable state of knowledge concerning them. (61)

[Transcendental Realism]: What is crucial here is the complex dialectical relationship between, on the one hand, those ’transfactually efficacious’ laws of nature that depend not at all on our various kinds of controlled observation, experimental set-up, manipulative technique, etc., and on the other those non-naturally occurring (but equally law-governed) entities that show up under just such specialized, e.g., laboratory conditions. (61)

Thus one chief sense of the term ’transcendental’ in critical-realist parlance is the sense: ’pertaining to an order of objective reality and a range of likewise objective truth-values that may always in principle transcend or surpass the limits of human knowledge’. To this extent TR comes out firmly opposed to any positivist, empiricist, instrumentalist or other epistemic approach that would reject the idea of verification-transcendent truths […] (61)

[Transcendental realism] critiques Kant’s critique by maintaining (along with the alethic realist) that truth might always – now as heretofore – transcend or surpass our utmost epistemic powers while nonetheless holding this itself to be a matter of knowledge borne out by the history of science to date and by our grasp of the complex dialectical process through which science progressively converges on truth under various determinate […] conditions. (64)

On this view TR entails the downright contradictory pair of propositions (1) that every well-formed (truth-apt) statement has its truth-value fixed quite apart from our best knowledge concerning it, and (2) that veridical knowledge is yet within our cognitive grasp – perhaps at the ideal limit – through various well-tried methods of enquiry. (66)

Michael Nicholson “The Scientific Analysis of Social Behavior”

December 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Nicholson, Michael 1983. The Scientific Analysis of Social Behavior: A Defence of Empiricism in Social Science. London: Pinter.

 

The Nature of Scientific Statements

Thus our theories are not in the mind alone but also in what we presume to be an external reality, which is perceived by our senses. […] Clearly from one point of view this makes the position of science precarious in that all our theories are dependent on the conceptual framework. (37)

In talking of accepted body of theory, I shall not, unless specifically drawing attention to it, be merely making a comment about what most people working in a particular area happen to believe. I shall mean a body of theory which is highly confirmed by observation and is regarded as true, subject to the validity of the conceptual framework in which the concepts are interpreted. (38)

However, language is not a totally circular system but has contacts with the real world and some things have to be defined outside the language itself. Thus, some concepts must be defined ostensively, that is, by directly connecting the words of the language with objects or events. (38-39)

The propositions of the theory, then, consist of statements whose terms (in theories expressed in natural language, ‘words’) are understood by the readers and writers, having been defined ostensively or nominally from earlier ostensive definitions (ultimately ostensive definitions, that is they need not necessarily be ostensive within the specific scientific enquiry). (39)

A theory is a set of laws, which are general statements that purport to be about the world. To see whether a law does in fact conform with the world we cannot of course observe the law, which is a meaningless phrase, but only instances of it. (40)

A statement which is about the world asserts not only that something is true but also asserts (by implication) that other things are false. (41)

Popper complains of being misunderstood on this point but I can find no clear statement of how it is that a failed test is not a refutation and how a test can be a test if it is not possible to fail it. If these two propositions are correct, then I reiterate that testing and refutation are formally the same. (42)

No form of direct observation whatever is possible in the case of the centre of gravity, not because of any limitation in the observational tools but because of the nature of the concept itself. It is inherently not observable. Its ‘existence’ is determined only by the role it plays in a set of deductions which have observable consequences, but its meaning comes only from its position in this deductive framework. (45)

The concept is ‘invented’ rather than ‘discovered’. Something is discovered if a set of observations indicates that it exists. Its existence might well have been predicted by a theory but it could (in principle) have been discovered without the theory. However, the theoretical term is invented as a means of organizing observations, that is, as a part of a theory without which the concept is meaningless and hence ‘undiscoverable’. (46)

 

Goals and Theoretical Terms in the Explanation of Social Behavior

The goal of an action is the end which the actor intends it to produce. At some point there must have been some act of choice (conscious or unconscious) so that some alternative goal would have been possible. We can use an alternative vocabulary and talk about action being motivated. A motive is a desire to achieve a goal and on these definitions anything which is said about motivation implies some parallel statement about goals. I shall confine myself to using ‘goal’. Goals can be conscious or unconscious; from the point of view of the analysis here it is not very important. (65)

It is the goal-seeking activity which is the theoretical term. […] Thus the goal-seeking formulation of the problem can be seen as a theoretical form. By this I mean that any statement couched in this form is necessarily a theoretical statement whose meaning and definitions lie solely in the deductions which can be made from a system in which it plays part. […] The theory is derived from a set of postulates which underlie the goal of maximization of utility. Now utility, like the centre of gravity, is definable only in terms of the theory and the maximization of utility is a useful concept only because it permits deductions to be made which themselves do not contain the term. (70)

Propositions asserting goal-directed behavior are theoretical propositions. They do not themselves have empirical reference and are testable only inasmuch as they form a part of a theory which has testable lower-level propositions. Thus the concern felt over their possibly dubious position in a supposedly empirical science is for the most part misplaced. They are propositions which are of a different form from normal causal propositions, but they fit perfectly happily within a deductive system, yielding testable propositions in normal causal form. (71)

Thus, it is the decision to try to achieve the goal, and to select a particular procedure for doing so which causes the acts and not the goal itself. (73)

Three different senses of ‘unrealism’:

1) idealization. The criterion of a theory’s adequacy requires that the discrepancy between a deduction made within the theory and the corresponding statement about the world is sufficiently small for whatever purpose is in hand. The permissible degree of discrepancy is something which is given external to the theory itself and depends on its application to some problem. (75)

2) limited domain. If a model is to be useful then its domain has to be specified. The as if  procedure is no good if it is not clear what problems the assumption applies to. […] How much it matters whether an assumption is unrealistic or not depends on how wide or interesting the domain is and whether it is clear what elements are unambiguously within it. (76)

3) verbal unrealism. It is a form of unrealism which raises problems in the social sciences only in goal directed models, though on analysis the problems can be seen to be entirely trivial. An actor in a situation frequently does not use the same concepts in formulating his conduct as the analyst who describes his behavior. This is, of course, not surprising when the actor is not using goal-seeking terms. It might appear to be unrealistic when the actor’s descriptions of the situation are phrased in goal-seeking terms, but different terms to those used by the analyst. There is then an apparent conflict between the analyst and actor. (77)

There are two completely different forms of statements covered by an as if proposition. The first are the theoretical propositions which it is meaningless to test directly. The second form of as if statements are those which are actually incorrect, such as the mathematical billiards player discussed above. Within the relevant domain it might be perfectly predictive but it is false, can be directly tested, and further outside the domain will yield incorrect deductions. (78)

An organization has a procedure for taking decisions which may be formally or informally devised. Whichever it is, the organization has a decision-making structure, which the crowd has not. This means that I can avoid the problem of analyzing the concepts involved in such phrases as the ‘crowd has decided’. (80)

The issue is to what extent the behavior of the organization as a unit within its own higher-level social system can be understood without reference to the events within the subsystem. […] Another issue which is raised in systems where groups are the unit, is whether the group chosen is the ‘proper’ unit of analysis. (81)

A social unit is a model, an abstraction with a limited domain, and can be used for answering questions only within its domain. (82)

 

Artificial Worlds

It is an abstract world which exists purely in linguistic or mathematical form but where the statements involved in the model are simpler, either in their complexity or number, but similar, to statements which are presumed to be true of the real world. (108)

A theory is a set of propositions which, if it is a correct theory, are propositions about the real world and hence are facts. They can properly be tested against the real world. There are no clear criteria for the construction of such models and a good model is just one that ‘looks good’. (112)

A simulation is a physical system (this includes human systems) which is investigated not for its own sake but for some presumed parallelism between it and a primary system one wishes to investigate. (117)