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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The Universe: A Convergence of Art, Music, and Science edited by Jay Belloli, essays by Denis Cosgrove, Michelle Deziel Con, Meher McArthur and Cornelius Schnauber and others (Reaktion) is a five-month exhibition at the Huntington Library and Art Galleries, the Norton Simon Museum and 6 other venues in Southern California (2000-2001), which explores over 12 centuries of humanity's artistic and scientific description of the universe. Featuring a wide range of material, from illuminated manuscripts to astronomical photographs to specially commissioned music, the exhibition (of which this book is the catalog) weaves together the disciplines of science, music, and the visual arts.

Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Interpreting Visual Objects by Gillian Rose (Sage) At a time when the analysis of visual culture in all of its forms is expanding at an exponential rate, employing ever more complex theoretical and methodological tools, Gillian Rose has provided a welcome overview of the state of the field. Visual Methodologies succeeds both as an introductory text, certain to be widely adopted in the classroom, and as a sophisticated refresher course for those who have followed the rapid maturation of this remarkable interdisciplinary discourse.

Visual Methodologies is a critical introduction to the study and interpretation of visual culture. Written especially for the undergraduate or researcher who wants to learn more about working with visual materials, this book outlines which methods of interpretation are available and explains how to use them.

The introduction contextualises recent debates about visual culture (situating the visual in social and cultural context); while each subsequent chapter reviews a different method for interpreting visual images. The methods explained are: compositional interpretation, contents analysis, semiology, psychoanalysis, types of discourse analysis, and the study of audiences. Each method is assessed in relation to an appropriate case study and in relation to the wider issues defined in the introduction; the conclusion demonstrates how different methods can be used in conjunction with each other.

A comprehensive and integrated primer in applied methods ‑ including discussion boxes, media specific bibliographies and notes for further reading ‑ Visual Methodologies will be an essential reference for the study of visual culture in the social sciences.

Gillian Rose is Senior Lecturer at the Social Sciences Faculty, The Open University.


edited by Alfred Tauber

Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science

Kluwer Academic Publishers

$153.00, hardcover, 319 pages, notes, bibliography, indexes, color plates


This collection of essays ranges from phenomenological descriptions of the beautiful in science to analytical explorations of the philosophical conjunction of the aesthetic and the scientific. The book is organized around two central tenets. The first is that scientific experience is laden with an emotive content of the beautiful, which is manifest in the conceptualization of raw data, both in the particulars of presenting and experiencing the phenomenon under investigation, and in the broader theoretical formulation that binds the facts into unitary wholes. The second major theme acknowledges that there may be deeply shared philosophical foundations underlying science and aesthetics, but in the twentieth century such commonality has become increasingly difficult to discern. The problem accounts in large measure for the recurrent debate on how to link Science and Beauty, and the latent tension inherent in the effort to tentatively explore what is oftentimes only their intuited synthesis.

The tension between art and science may be traced back to the Greeks. What became "natural philosophy" and later "science" has traditionally been posed as a fundamental alternative to poetry and art. It is a theme that has commanded central attention in Western thought, as it captures the ancient conflict of Apollo and Dionysus over what deserves to order our thought and serve as the aspiration of our cultural efforts. The modern schism between art and science was again clearly articulated in the Romantic period and seemingly grew to a crescendo fifty years ago as a result of the debate concerning atomic power. The discussion has not abated in the physical sciences, and in fact has dramatically expanded most prominently into the domains of ecology and medicine. Issues concerning the role of science in modern society, although heavily political, must be regarded at heart as deeply embedded in our cultural values. Although each generation addresses them anew, the philosophical problems which lay at the foundation of these fundamental concerns always appear fresh and difficult.

This anthology of original essays considers how science might have a greater commonality with art than was perhaps realized in a more positivist era. The contributors are concerned with how the aesthetic participates in science, both as a factor in constructing theory and influencing practice. The collection is thus no less than a spectrum of how Beauty and Science might be regarded through the same prism. Because of its eclectic nature, these essays will appeal to a wide audience troubled by the causes and consequences of our Two Cultures. Philosophers of science and aesthetics, as well as practicing artists and scientists, will hopefully find these essays useful.

This group of essays ranges from what I would call the phenomenological description of the beautiful in science, to analytical exploration of the conjunction of the aesthetic and the scientific. There is enormous diversity as to how the contributors to this volume regarded this task. Part of the eclecticism is reflected by the various disciplines represented: art history, biology, philosophy, physics, mathematics, history of science, and sociology. But I suspect that the issue draws upon much more variegated opinions of how to explore such a complex issue, reflections that override the particular academic perspective of the writer. This collection is no less than a spectrum of how art/beauty/aesthetics and science might be regarded through the same prism, and the refracted images are startling for their diversity. But there is some order to the project and we might broadly schematize the major themes.

The book is organized around two central tenets: The first is that scientific experience is laden with aesthetic content of the beautiful, which is manifest both in the particulars of presenting and experiencing the phenomenon under investigation, and in the broader theoretical formulation that binds the facts into unitary wholes. This orientation is what I refer to as the shared ethos of the project, but coupled to it is the more prominent sense of separation, a schism between the two domains. Thus the second major theme acknowledges that there may be deeply shared philosophical foundations grounding science and aesthetics, but in the twentieth century such commonality has become increasingly difficult to discern. This problem accounts in large measure for the recurrent attempts to address how science and aesthetics are linked, and the tension inherent in the effort to explore oftentimes only an intuited elusive synthesis. These essays therefore are diverse in the sense of approaching the topic from several points of view, and in their relative emphasis on either the synthetic or divisive character of the art-science relation.

David Kohn adroitly dissects the aesthetic influences on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Kohn carefully traces how two governing metaphors in On the Origin of Species the "wedging" metaphor (the action of natural selection as a powerful force) and the "entangled back" (to express the interrelatedness of nature) - operated in a particular aesthetic categorical framework - to emerge in a profound scientific theory. These are two themes developed here. The first is that Darwin was subject to profound emotional reactions on his Beagle voyage which provided the substantive foundation of Origin of Species, written more than 20 years later. For Darwin, the sublime and the beautiful not only were distinct emotions, but psychologically resided in tense balance, if not opposition: the peace of the former, the ecstasy of the latter. It was their tension that later framed the critical Darwinian theme, and their essential reconciliation was forged in the two striking metaphors of wedge and entangled bank. The second theme then shows how in an aesthetic construction, these metaphors arose from Darwin's youthful and highly emotional experience on the Beagle. In tracing the origin of the wedge and the entangled bank, Kohn discerns how nature's balance of life and death in natural selection began for Darwin with the depiction of natural landscapes in terms of a Romantic aesthetic. The metaphors are shown to play important cognitive (and emotional) roles in the transition between Darwin's appreciation of natural phenomena and his logically structured scientific expression of that understanding. Kohn's persuasive and original thesis is that the long struggle to develop the theory of natural selection found its expression in large measure in the reconciliation of the sublime and the beautiful in the critical organizing force of these two striking metaphors, and so Kohn thereby offers a lucid and carefully crafted portrait of scientific creativity.

The fulcrum of creativity is used by Robert Root-Bernstein to attack the popular view of a two cultures society. The distinction between science and art is based on an unacceptable distinction between thought and emotion, analysis and feeling. Yet, as many renowned scientists have argued, the work of science is both driven and sustained by an appreciation of beauty and a feeling of awe (e.g. Einstein, Dirac, Schrodinger). Analysis, emotion and sensibility are integral components of both the scientific and the artistic process. The three levels of aesthetic experience - sensual, emotional/imaginative and analytical - are common to the experience and process of science and art. The same applies for such elements as the play of tension and relief, realization of expectations, and surprise upon the encounter of unexpected connections of meanings. These aesthetic elements can be found in a scientific discovery, just as they can be found in a good novel or a fine symphony. The understanding of an essential and deep affinity between (great) science and (great) art is supported by the claims of many scientists, who submit that an aesthetic drive underlies science. Root-Bernstein has assembled a large and diverse testament for that opinion. He cites some scientists who even insist that an aesthetic sensibility is a prerequisite for first class scientific research.

He also adduces that the majority of scientists who were intellectual creators in their fields were also active in one or more of the arts. Moreover there are many examples of extremely fruitful interactions between artistic and scientific ways of thinking, so that he concludes that the claim of science and art embodying different approaches does not hold up to scrutiny.

An example of such a fusion is offered by Larry Holmes, who examines the classic Meselson-Stahl experiment, which has been characterized by many as "beautiful". By looking at this particular study, Holmes attempts to address the question of what informs the judgment of beauty of an experiment. Does the judgment refer to a historically specific expression of an experiment or to a protocol? Is the beauty in the actual experiment or in its description? The Meselson-Stahl paper reported how DNA replicates, providing a decisive answer to an important problem in one stroke; as Meselson himself characterized it, it was "clean as a whistle", and others described the study as "beautiful", "elegant" and "wonderful". The cleanliness of the data, along with the striking simplicity and symmetry of the visual representation of the results (included in the original paper and found in standard biological textbooks) seem to have struck scientists as qualities of beauty. Also the pedagogical value of the experiment is apparently connected with its aesthetic properties of simplicity and elegance. The features of simplicity and immediacy of the experimental results are present despite the fact that the knowledge presuppositions for carrying out and understanding the experiment are highly complex. The simplicity and symmetry of the findings are regarded as criteria of beauty, a theme that appears in several other papers.

Scientists obviously have described certain scientific insights and experiments as beautiful, but beyond such appraisals they might also consciously employ artistic design and license to depict their data. Michael Lynch and Samuel Edgerton visited astronomers, who were constructing visual images from raw mathematically represented stellar data, and found that the scientists deliberately attempted to aestheticize their presentation. This case study reverses the common notion of science playing a major role in defining the aesthetic of its culture (as discussed later in this book by Faxon), and shows how scientists inbred in their cultural milieu absorb an artistic temper, or orientation, and use the vocabularies and aesthetic judgments in composing images for analysis and publication. After briefly reviewing some historical connections between art and science, Lynch and Edgerton discuss the particular aesthetic factors invoked in digital image processing in astronomy. The technical site of image production - the image processing laboratory - has become a place where astronomers and their technical staff produce and reproduce images that are designed to appeal to various specialized and popular audiences. Choosing among an endless array of possibilities for turning "raw data" into processed images, allows the information to be "read" and displayed in various ways, reflecting the scientists "sense" of the visual depiction. Composed and recomposed to reveal "structure", images of a comet, for instance, might be highly varied and individualized. Thus the comet as a visual object is translated from raw electromagnetic data into multivarious visual images that in fact reflect an aestheticization process. Lynch and Edgerton offer some examples of how astronomers draw upon contemporary aesthetic sensibilities that were established decades ago by artists and later by mass media. There is a self-conscious limit to the artistic foray however, for the images addressed to a scientific audience, are in a sense, conservative; whereas color embellishes the dramatic effects used for popular audiences, journal articles and professional presentation largely eschew such bold images, and less dramatic monochromatic pictures are used. In any case, there are distinctive features of digital images that link them stylistically to "non-objective" paintings. Broadly, two basic areas of correspondence are identified: 1 ) a "play" between images, and sensitivity to motion and energy rather than surface and static form, and 2) the field of representation is flattened and composed of color patches, which have merged graphic, iconic or semiotic features within its frame. This represents one pole, the postmodern aesthetic, whereas other more "natural" styles are invoked by some astronomers, who edit our "artifact" and "humanize" their images. Irrespective of the artistic style, an aesthetic judgment is made in relation to the interpretation of the data, invoking an artistic translation to define a world far removed from direct visual perception. Art thus mediates science into human experience.

Aesthetic principles may also guide research programs as discussed by Scott Gilbert and Marion Faber. They maintain that embryology is unique among the subfields of biology in that an aesthetic perspective has always been central to it. As holists, embryologists have conceptualized their research aesthetically. Harrison, for instance, looked for the order of development of different parts of the body and established rules of laterality and mirror-image duplications. By identifying rules of order and symmetry, he approached the parts as working harmoniously to form a coherent whole. Many embryologists of the early twentieth century chose to study embryos while recognizing that the field of genetics promised more successful careers. The aesthetics of embryology was central to their choice. Historically, there has been a tension between embryology and genetics. Gilbert and Faber suggest that a difference of aesthetic attitude seems to loom at the center of this tension. Geneticists have labeled embryologists "mystics", who believe developmental problems are too complex to be solved by science. On the other hand, embryologists have been repelled by the reductionist attitude of geneticists who would cast all embryonic development in terms of gene action. The holism of embryology is expressed in a philosophy of organicism. (Organicism views the whole as functionally prior to the parts.) It is an approach through which embryologists attempted to formulate an alternative ground between vitalism and reductionism. While genetics emphasized uniformity, reductionism, preformation and simplicity, embryologists celebrated diversity, organicism, epigenesis and complexity. Recently genetics and embryology are coming closer together, which Gilbert and Faber regard as a challenge to the embryological aesthetic - the uniqueness of development of each species and to the philosophy of holism.

Sahotra Sarkar has offered a provocative argument of how an aesthetic choice, namely formalism, has governed certain scientific disciplines in the twentieth century. He describes how, in the beginning of the twentieth century, European art discovered the power of formalism, already practiced widely in so-called primitive culture. Formalism, the pursuit of forms for their own sake, takes on different meanings in various art forms. In painting, sculpture and photography, the form becomes the subject; in architecture, form dominates function. Forms are to be manipulated during construction of a work of art, they are directly (i.e. sensually) appreciated, yet they may also serve as symbols. Abstraction thus must precede construction, however, and this is an important caveat, the search for "meaning" or "truth" is eschewed. The formalist's art is "non-representational because its subjects are the forms that are, in a sense, within-itself". After briefly tracing the significance of formalism in art and architecture, Sarkar turns to address how formalism in both the physical and biological sciences, similarly functions to confer the "fundamentalist" character to a theory, and how such "forms" are aesthetically chosen. He maintains that the choice of the physics of elementary particles rather than of middle-sized objects as fundamental is largely an aesthetic choice. For instance, in particle physics, the usual defense of its fundamental importance is based on the argument that all other bodies in the universe are "composed of" these fundamental entities. But in the nether world of indistinguishable particles and transient resonances, the notion of "composed of" is highly problematic. To say that a proton is "composed of" undemonstrated quarks is quite different from the analogy of saying an organism is "composed of" certain organs. He suggests that the models which particle physicists construct are the result of a process akin to the method of analysis in formalist art. With this, and other examples from physics, Sarkar has endeavored to show that aesthetic considerations, along with evidential ones, are important in the way scientists choose their priorities. Sarkar applies the same argument to biology, where he examines how an erroneous deciphering of the genetic code (the so-called comma less code) involved a formalist approach. It was widely appealing until the experimental test proved it wrong. He notes that it was the aesthetic qualities of this comma-free code, with its appeal to mathematical manipulation, that captured the fancy of early molecular biologists. But more current, and perhaps more important, Sarkar cites the current sequencing of the human genome as another drive towards some ideal formalism. He has grave doubts of its brave promises, and believes its scientific appeal is based on its perceived aesthetic qualities.

Sarkar would draw our attention to an interesting postulate: the same pattern of choice apparent in the pursuit of the arts has also been manifest in the sciences. Formalism in the arts is mimicked by the pursuit of the smallest particles in physics, with the unproven hope that the principles found at that level will help explain phenomena at all other levels of organization. Similarly, a formal universalism of the genetic code is pursued at the expense of more complex biology. The similarities go even further. In the arts or in the sciences, the skills generally required by the formalist do not completely coincide with those that are required by those pursuing diversity and complexity. The skills of the formalist are often technical, and if abstraction is pursued for its own sake, the attention to technique can become of paramount importance. Note, formalism is only one mode of artistic practice. Physics might pursue everyday objects and processes, and biology could focus on exploring the diversity and complexity of organic life. What is of cultural interest is that instead, formalistic pursuits have caught our fancy.

The related issue of how aesthetic principles might govern scientific thinking in a broad venue of theory construction is pursued by Joseph Margolis and James McAllister, who each begin with a critique of Thomas Kuhn's assessment of aesthetic factors in the natural history of scientific theories. In assessing theories, scientists rely upon empirical criteria such as internal consistency, predictive accuracy and explanatory power. However besides empirical matters, aesthetic concerns are also operative, which cannot be defined in terms of a fixed set of properties, since what is considered attractive or beautiful has been different at different times and in different disciplines. In general, however, beauty in science (as in art) is identified as those features (whatever they may be) which convey an impression of aptness - they are appropriate, fitting or seemly. McAllister's paper contends that aesthetic criteria are as central to the scientist's acceptance of a theory as are empirical considerations. While a distinction can be drawn between empirical and aesthetic criteria, the latter are not merely "extra-scientific" (as they are sometimes judged), but an integral part of scientific development and change. The aesthetic canon is constructed by the aesthetic features of all past theories - an inductive mechanism which ensures that the aesthetic canon is conservative. What compels scientists to accept a new paradigm is that it is empirically better performing. Allegiance to the aesthetic canon must be suspended to accept a new theory. Indeed, for some the rupture is too deep and they hang on to the established aesthetic paradigm, that is, to the conservative aesthetic criteria. McAllister illustrates his view with an historical change, which (in contrast to the transition from the Ptolemaic to the Copernican system) was a revolution: Kepler's theory of planetary orbits as elliptical. This view violated a deeply rooted demand that the orbits be circular and uniform in motion. However, Kepler's theory was extremely powerful, effecting the conversion of scientists who were aesthetically repelled by it.

McAllister's paper argues that aesthetic factors are on the side of the conservative trend in the choice between theories, while empirical factors compel scientists toward innovation and radical breaks with established views. Joseph Margolis rejects the very basis of Kuhn's arguments regarding the role of aesthetics in scientific revolution as a "great muddle". Margolis is dissatisfied with Kuhn's attempt to examine the interface of scientific theory with aesthetics, since he maintains there are no useful definitions for such an exploration, nor can one establish an epistemic disjunction between "objective" and "subjective" as their respective grounding. Because there is no standard conceptual basis given in terms of "aesthetics" for pursuing any comparison between the sciences and the arts, the entire enterprise "has proved a complete shambles". Having thus summarily dismissed the very basis of our Elusive Synthesis, Margolis does, however, admit a certain nagging connection between science and art for consideration. Once he discards the need to secure scientific method, objectivity or rationality in a firm definition (in order to seek the influence of the aesthetic), and he further rejects any settled distinction between aesthetic and nonaesthetic, he is now prepared to offer another avenue to seek conceptual linkages between science and art. He argues that there is in fact a common "reason" they both share: professional taste/reason in the sciences, as in the arts, is a function of historical practice. What is "good" explanatory theory (or of painting) is what accords with practice. Reason then, in this view, is "an artifact of historical life" and the aesthetic is a convenient "catchall term for the informality with which the most formal criteria can be legitimated". In short, Margolis posits consensual practices broadly grounding scientific praxis and aesthetic taste to some common practical reason governing both. In this scheme, there can be no meaningful distinction between "objective" and "subjective", but at the same time there is no principled difference between what counts as objectivity in the arts and the sciences. And in this commonality, Margolis discerns that science does not "borrow" from the aesthetic, but rather the aesthetic is "essential to what we mean by objectivity in the sciences".

The basis of shared experience between the "separate domains" of science and art is fruitfully explored in a less nihilistic sense by Leon Chernyak and David Kazhdan, who propose that mathematics is the true theoretical counterpart of poetry. They employ Kant's aesthetic-expressive understanding of mathematics to argue their case. The conception of aesthetic experience changed radically with Kant's philosophy. Prior to Kant, aesthetic experience was identified as encountering self-expressive, authentic being; aesthetics was captured in the mystery of that encounter. After Kant, Nature was no longer conceived as self-expressive. Rather the subordination of Nature to a text became Reason's accomplishment. In finding itself having to 'speak for' the Other, or for non-Reason, Reason encountered its own limits - what Kant called the "finitude of human Reason". Poetry and mathematics are alike in that both seek ways to transcend the radical finitude of Reason. The Romantic tradition -- continued in this century by Heidegger and Gadamer -- is unable to discern anything more than a fascination with "calculating reason" in Kant's veneration of mathematics. By according mathematics a special place, however, Chernyak and Kazhdan contend that Kant identifies aesthetic experience as a fundamental, constituent component of human rationality. In their interpretation, aesthetic experience underpins Reason's activities. Reason depends upon the aesthetic faculty of judgment to give articulate form to the nature of human expressiveness. In effect, they understand poetry as the leap across the radical Finitude of Reason: the connection between the Other and Reason is achieved in the power of language. Because mathematics accomplishes this same leap, it may be viewed as a kind of poetry. With this thesis, Chernyak and Kazhdan attempt to provide an epistemological alternative to the fact that non-Reason (the Other or Nature), is neither constructed by Reason (an erroneous interpretation of Kant in their view) nor mirrored by Reason (the Enlightenment conception).

Kant also serves as the beginning of Catherine Chevalley's comparison of physics and art. Three lines of thought are interwoven: Kant and Cassirer on the notion of 'symbol' and the nature of human knowledge; Panofsky's analysis of the shift to linear perspective in art, and his understanding of symbolic forms in different fields as shaping specific "styles of art" in historical periods; and finally, the idea of physics-like-art in the context of quantum theory in the 1920s. She argues that Kant's view supported a deep division between science and art (schematic versus symbolic knowledge). This view would become troubled, however, if a language replete with analogies were used in science, or if scientific knowledge were obtained for objects not directly available to intuition. Both of these developments were heralded with quantum theory. In this case scientific knowledge would itself be symbolic. This was precisely Cassirer's claim. His position required a radical shift away from Kant's theory of knowledge, toward a unified view of all forms of knowing, including science and art. On another front, Panofsky's work in the 1920s raised the question of why linear perspective emerged when it did. He viewed it as an "interpretation" of space in art, rather than a "natural" representation. He showed that linear perspective emerged in connection with developments in the science of optics, analytic geometry and the coordinate-system conception of objects in space. In philosophy, linear perspective was connected to a conception of a separation between subject and object, with the knowing subject as objective spectator who represents the world. The striking affinities between developments in art, science and philosophy led Panofsky to formulate his idea of "styles of art" as constitutive of the entire Weltanschaunng of a period. The connection between science and art was also accentuated by Panofsky in the idea that techniques of representation effected development in both.

In German physics of the 1920's these influences from philosophy and Panofsky's work are seen in Bohr's and Heisenberg's explication of quantum mechanics. Their interpretation of quantum theory engaged a comparison between physics and art. Bohr's view was influenced by the "symbolic turn" in that he rejected all mechanical models of the movement of electrons in the atom. He pronounced "the failure of all spatio-temporal models" at this level and the need for recourse to symbolic analogies. Especially after 1924 he used the notion of symbolic representation regularly, by which he meant all elements of a physical theory with no correlate in intuition. A more sophisticated - i.e. symbolic - language was required. Heisenberg claimed that physical theories were like styles of art. He noted that the conceptual systems of physics (for instance, Newtonian and quantum) differ not only because their objects differ, but also because they create different groups of relations. As styles of art emerge through a set of formal rules so do symbolic idealizations underlying conceptual systems of physics. Contemporary science, according to Heisenberg, is changing the entire view of classical physics and modern philosophy, introducing (like a style of art) new presuppositions about the nature of reality. Heisenberg underscored the cognate tendencies toward abstraction in physics, mathematics and non-objective painting in the 20th century. Thus, both Bohr and Heisenberg broke ties with a Kantian epistemology dividing science and art, and with a Cartesian view of a distinction between subject and object.

This postmodern perspective is pursued by Alicia Faxon, who reviews these matters from the perspective of an art historian. She grapples with how the traditional intersection between science and painting is blurred in a postmodern aesthetic, and examines the notion of "aesthetics" in the postmodern world that has revolted against the rigid modernist view of any value as universal and ahistorical. If one regards modernism as resting on a narrow Western aesthetic masquerading as universal, the alternative postmodern aesthetic celebrates a multicultural vision, the availability of choices, and the effacement of boundaries between high culture and popular culture; in a word, postmodernism celebrates pluralism. It Reconstructs such notions as originality and the work of art as an autonomous object. The dangers of the postmodern conception are a loss of criteria of aesthetic value, widespread mediocrity and a domination by consumerism and the commodification of art. According to Faxon, the intersection of art and science occurs especially in the creation of aesthetic standards by which to form a canon or rule to achieve correct proportions of beauty, symmetry and harmony. In certain eras this canon has been sought explicitly. For instance, in classical antiquity mathematically determined proportions were applied to architecture and sculpture; or in the Renaissance, newly discovered anatomic facts of the human body were applied, as illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci's Proportions of the Human Figure. How might a postmodern application of scientific measurement of proportion and mathematical formulas differ from past applications? There can be no one set of measurements for a "perfect" human figure in the postmodern aesthetic. What role the traditional intersection of art and science might be in color theory, space and even time remains highly problematic, as Chevalley so clearly illustrated in the preceding essay. This leaves the current role of how science might influence aesthetics to be defined and expressed. Whatever that function might be, according to Faxon, the possibilities must be mutable, non-hierarchic, and permeable in order to echo change, multiculturalism and an attitude of inclusiveness.

Perhaps one of the more interesting pots in which to mix science and art is in a science museum. Hilde Hein explores the complex dynamics invoked in depicting science to the public, exposing the conceptual and social biases of such exhibits. Like Faxon, Hein is sensitive to postmodernism effects beyond the nature of the subject material, to include curatorial motives and the scientific education of the viewer. Science museums, like other museums, are essentially designed to engage and satisfy their audience, and thus aesthetic factors are instrumental in this design. Like museums devoted to other areas, science museums aestheticize their contents by decontextualizing and recontextualizing them, or as she says, "an object must die and be reborn in order to enter into a exhibition", and in this sense each exhibit is a work of art in being newly minted for aesthetic contemplation. In such presentation, particular orientations and messages are converged that may convey hidden agendas. After surveying the types of science museums and describing now history and purpose have affected their exhibited strategy, Hein turns to the role aesthetic factors have played in formulating the curatorial message. Without attempting to summarize the rich historical examples offered in this essay, simply note that the modern science museum, although still offering dioramas and other viewer-separated exhibits, has moved increasingly towards participatory experience. New technologies seek to actively transform the passive spectator into an engaged active one. Visitors easily access into film and video displays, holography, computer simulations and manipulable objects of various sorts, but Hein questions whether genuine cognitive interaction is produced. Are the limits imposed in the design of choices restrictive of the learning experience and does the viewer remain passive? The theatricality that shifts the viewer from the "objective" depiction of an older style to a "phenomenological" veridicality may be only an aesthetic choice, although this change has purported advantages: the static mausoleum in which objects are torn from their natural context and coldly (viz. fully) analyzed, may now be regarded in a more complete sensory setting, where sensuous interaction strengthens the viewing experience. Aesthetics are a crucial element in the effective lesson, but "the didacticism of such coercion is hidden by its aesthetic form". Hein reminds us that the problem of which reality to present remains unresolved. The isolated object has now been contextualized, imbued with meaning from complex interaction with other parts of the exhibit as well as the active participation of the viewer. But beyond the perceptive manipulation, there are conceptual social issues bestowing particular significance to the contextualization, the point of view and the construction of reality by perception. In response to this challenge, some recent exhibits have been designed to confront visitors with a profusion of data and invite them to create their own exhibition, or others have asked audiences to choose among alternative interpretations. The aesthetic dimension remains crucial to the success of an exhibit, and although there are various criteria, the invitation to engage the visitor to ask questions and ponder problems seems foundational to a gratifying experience: The museum must speak to its public, who then become participants in a dialogue. The insight that museum exhibits are fulfilling their historical role reflecting a changing postmodern ethos, suggests that they not only continue to serve as responsive public educational institutions, but also offer us insightful visions of ourselves.

Tauber’s contribution views the elusive merger of science and the aesthetic as essentially a philosophical problem. By examining Goethe as an exemplary case of the scientist-artist/artist-scientist, whose scientific venture is guided by an aesthetic holism, a sense that all aspects of experience must be included to describe phenomena, and that sole reliance on reductive characterization was doomed to falsifying our observation and stripping nature of its full meaning. Goethe as a scientist employed abstraction in seeing primal essences and was a proto-positivist in vigorously maintaining a strict separation of observing subject from his inquiry. But he included a third element, an aesthetic concern for the whole that would employ all the intellectual and intuitive faculties to place the "facts" in their broadest theory. He was highly sensitive to value-laden facts and the tyranny of scientific opinion, and sought to incorporate his own personal vision into the broadest conceptual framework, which included history and psychology as active agents on the scientific stage. For this eclecticism he was vilified. The nineteenth century witnessed the complete schism of science and the arts, and by examining the case of Nietzsche, I have chosen to show how radical aestheticization of experience was the extreme response to an objectified science totally divorced from the personal. I could just as pertinently have assumed the other side and shown the philosophic practice of a severely positivist scientist. The case I argue is simply that science as aesthetic is not a generally acknowledged category of judgment, yet in large measure science assumes a personalized (viz. meaningful) dimension when the phenomenon or theory is appreciated aesthetically.

Tauber believes our true predicament is captured by Husserl's dismay that a universal rationality could not encompass both science and art. This anthology has been designed to highlight points at which an elusive synthesis might begin. Notwithstanding the protestations of each of these essays, we complain of a Two Culture society. It is this intuition that lies at the foundation of Faxon's puzzlement of what will constitute a postmodern aesthetic. It is the same sentiment that drives Chevalley, Chernyak, and Kazhdan to seek a philosophical foundation for both science and art. It is the same orientation from which Margolis, McAllister, and Sarkar seek to expose aesthetic principles underlying scientific theory, and finally it is the psychological unity of experience that propels the observation of Root-Bernstein, Gilbert, Faber, Kohn, Lynch and Edgerton to cite aesthetic experience as underlying scientific insight, or in the case of Hein, education. These essays each claim an intersection, at some level, between science and art. Their respective syntheses would mend a fracture, a mistrust in a unifying knowledge. The drive toward objective contemplation logical analysis, scientific classification cuts us off from what existential phenomenologists refer to as being in the world. Always to scrutinize is to divorce ourselves from personal meaning. The dissection of the world yields a kind of knowledge which must still be integrated meaningfully. The scientific object may reside seemingly separate - "out there" - the focus of an inquiry of what it is - in itself - (ignoring the philosophical difficulties of that expectation), but the issue is to integrate that object to its observing subject in both, rational and emotional domains. The search for this common ground is the elusive synthesis of our very selves in a world ever more objectified from us. No wonder the "problem" of aesthetics and science remains - a beguiling reminder of the lingering fault of our very being.


On Constructions, Reality, and Social Knowledge

by Sergio Sismondo

SUNY Press, State University of New York Press

$14.95, paper, 199 pages, notes, bibliography, index



By looking at science as a social and political activity, researchers have created novel accounts of scientific practice and rationality, accounts that largely contradict the dominant ideologies of science. Science without Myth is a philosophical introduction to and discussion of these social and political studies of science—a discussion of the social construction of scientific knowledge as a product of communities and societies marked by the circumstances of its production. Sismondo deals with a very central and current problem in the philosophy and sociology of science, the problem of truth and representation, especially for theoretical entities and constructs. In this clear and concise exposition, the author succeeds in making a very difficult and often technical controversy very accessible.

The book argues that there are a number of important and interesting ways in which scientific knowledge can be a social construction but that it often is knowledge of the material world; therefore, this book is an essay on mediation or the mediatory roles of scientists between nature and knowledge. By identifying and separating different senses of the "construction" metaphor, this book displays senses in which scientists construct knowledge, phenomena, and even worlds. It shows science as made up of thoroughly social processes and that those processes create representations of a preexisting material world. SCIENCE WITHOUT MYTH’s argument provides a counterbalance to skeptical tendencies of constructivist studies of science and technology by showing that skepticism cannot cut so deeply as to deny the possibility of knowledge and representation.

Preface and Acknowledgments
1. Introduction
2. The Grounds for Truth in Science: An Empiricist/Realist Dialogue
3. Epistemology by Other Means
4. Exploring Metaphors of "Social Construction"
5. Neo-Kantian Constructions
6. The Structures Thirty Years Later
7. Creeping Realism: Bruno Latour's Heterogeneous Constructivism
8. Metaphors and Representation
9. Power and Knowledge
Work Cited

Sergio Sismondo is William Webster Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Queen’s University, Canada.


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