The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science PDF/EPUB

The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science Beautiful, thoughtful exploration of scientific epistemology, based on case studies In particular, the question of where scientific models and concepts come from, presenting a challenge both to a the scientific orthodoxy that imagines an underlying stable physical reality to which scientific models hue everclosely through the scientific process, and b the critique coming from the sociology of science, that scientific theories merely reflect the social context in which they are created Beautiful, thoughtful exploration of scientific epistemology, based on case studies In particular, the question of where scientific models and concepts come from, presenting a challenge both to a the scientific orthodoxy that imagines an underlying stable physical reality to which scientific models hue everclosely through the scientific process, and b the critique coming from the sociology of science, that scientific theories merely reflect the social context in which they are created and that they are designed to serve Pickering argues that science is a kind of a partner dance between the physical world and the community of scientists, in which both exert influence on the outcome through a process of tuning adjusting dialectic of resistance and accommodation until the scientific and social objectives of the endeavor are met and this outcome is not determined ahead of time either by the physical world, challenging the scientific orthodoxy, or by the social world, challenging the sociological view , but emerges through the dance itself To me the most useful idea has been the way this calls attention to the simultaneous creative freedom and constraint by physicality of the scientist you are free to do whatever experiment create whatever conceptual model etc that you want, but the world usually won t cooperate Just a tiny few of the vast array of possible paths you take will work This everyday truth is somehow clarifying, beyond its due, in a lot of areas of theory about how the world works See for example the way Spatz uses it in What a Body Can Do to shed light on the problem of agency with regard to gender in leftist social theory I found Pickering s basic epistemological argument chapters 1 2 about the structure of scientific thought convincing When he applied it to math in chapter 4, as a mathematician I felt that he didn t press his theory fully perhaps he was worried about being called a nutty theorist Throughout, he draws on continental theory, particularly Latour and Actor Network Theory, but he is at pains to make sure you understand that he is saying down to earth clear concrete things that you can pin down, i.e that you don t mistake him for one of those intentionally obtuse French dudes The question at stake is, when the science in question is mathematics, who is the scientist s partner in the dance When the subject was physics, you could say the physical world, but with math you can t say that Pickering tries to give an account in which the partner is somehow the discipline of mathematics itself, but I thought this was weak His whole point is that the scientist is facing an external agent The discipline is insufficiently external I found an email I wrote a friend where I elaborate on all this, so I m including it below, slightly edited, in a PS.NB I read chapters 1, 2, and 4 I am curious about the later chapters, but got what I needed, and suspect that I am going to find Pickering s view in the later chapters less useful to me.PS Here s that email Forgive the lack of capitalization The Hamilton referred to is William Rowan Hamilton, the inventor of quaternions, which invention is the subject of chapter 4.i read ch 1 and 2 of pickering and started on ch 4 i decided i will read the rest of ch 4 and after that put the book down for now basically i find his main argument convincing regarding how scientific practice happens dialectic of resistance and accommodation interactive stabilization both human and material agency emergent in time etc i am not going to get to the part where he engages the metaphysics in particular i m curious about what he has to say about the problematic of realism , which somewhere in ch 1 he beautifully characterized as the nature of the purchase our knowledge has on the world and vice versa , where i feel like there will beroom for his solutions not to totally match my sensibilities, but there is one significant thing that happened in ch 4 where i see it differently from him.the question is, what is the substrate that the mathematician engages in the dialectic of resistance and accommodation pickering s answer is the discipline as in disciplinary agency , vs the material agency that happens when the physicists engage a material substrate when he first used the phrase disciplinary agency , i was excited, because he wants to draw a parallel between the mathematician s work and the physicist s engagement with something as obviously external and extrinsic to her control as the physical world however, when he actually elaborates what disciplinary agency is made of, to me it felt way too thin, both to capture my own experience but even really to support his own case once this happened, i realized that the word disciplinary agency is wrong anyway the discipline is not the partner in the dance of resistance and accommodation because it is not external and extrinsic to the scientist s control in the way that the material world is math has an equally extrinsic partner.the substrate of mathematics is not the discipline itself the discipline is a set of tools to probe a substrate external to it it is the same for all disciplines materiality is the wrong name for this substrate because math is not material mathematician educator paul lockhart calls it mathematical reality he wrote something like that s the thing about mathematical reality when we push on it, it pushes back , but to me this is too narrow because it separates it artificially from all the other substrates it is connected to such as the physical world to me the actual substrate is reality when lockhart says mathematical reality , all he means is that part of reality that we tend to perceive when we use the tools of the discipline of mathematics to probe it i feel like i sorta know why pickering made this mistake he s already sort of out on a limb with his talk of material agency, it s grouping him with the ANT people, who sometimes resort to everything is signs nothingness a propos of our earlier conversation about continental theorists and whether or not you re willing to stand behind your theory he s at pains to make sure nobody thinks he s talking about ghosts e.g he s like, look, material agency for sure, but i m not talking about material intentionality, are you crazy so it would be scary to him, and open up too much vulnerability, to try to impute the kind of substantiveness that is even capable of exerting agency on a mathematician to a reality that can t be located anywhere in the physical world.the problem is that without this, he s talking in circles a little bit on pp 142 143, he notes the centrality to his case of the idea that hamilton s transcriptions were forced moves which hamilton didn t have control over but he then immediately notes that hamilton exerted some discretion over which of the established conventions of disciplinary practice he was going to obey and which he was going to tweak i am all for the idea that the discipline itself is emergent in time, and i think that s really right but i feel that pickering has contradicted himself here if hamilton is able to select which established disciplinary practices he s going to consider himself beholden to, then it is not these disciplinary practices that force his hand he doesn t have to accommodate them so pickering has failed to locate hamilton s partner in the dance of resistance and accommodation the refusal to talk about reality apart from either material reality or the discipline itself has rendered the mathematician s actual dance partner invisible Provides an interesting theoretical bridge between physics and social science. This ambitious book by one of the most original and provocative thinkers in science studies offers a sophisticated new understanding of the nature of scientific, mathematical, and engineering practice and the production of scientific knowledgeAndrew Pickering offers a new approach to the unpredictable nature of change in science, taking into account the extraordinary number of factors social, technological, conceptual, and natural that interact to affect the creation of scientific knowledge In his view, machines, instruments, facts, theories, conceptual and mathematical structures, disciplined practices, and human beings are in constantly shifting relationships with one another mangled together in unforeseeable ways that are shaped by the contingencies of culture, time, and place Situating material as well as human agency in their larger cultural context, Pickering uses case studies to show how this picture of the open, changeable nature of science advances a richer understanding of scientific work both past and present Pickering examines in detail the building of the bubble chamber in particle physics, the search for the quark, the construction of the quarternion system in mathematics, and the introduction of computer controlled machine tools in industry He uses these examples to address the most basic elements of scientific practice the development of experimental apparatus, the production of facts, the development of theory, and the interrelation of machines and social organization


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