And He was asking him, "What is your name?" And he said to Him, "My name is Multitude; for we are many."

scientists as instruments -II

«What to make of the idea that instruments are dead scientific entities when Man has made Himself into a scientific object? Scientists «increasingly subordinated their bodies to the material technology of their laboratories» – how to articulate this with discipline? There are two conclusions to be drawn. The first, that scientists are dead natural philosophers. The second, that scientists are scientific instruments.

[excerpts from an essay, under construction, on the origins of science in XIXth century europe – following the article the production of scientists]



Are humans becoming pieces of mechanical system? Are we now gears of bigger machinery? For centuries we had machines at our service; mechanisms that we used as means, that we manipulated as instruments. May it be the case that we are now the ones serving the machines, that we are now their instruments?

Félicien_Rops pornocrates blind naked woman being led by a pig_001

What is certain is that Kant would have found the oxymoronic materialization of his philosophy. On the one hand, Kantian freedom was massively been accomplished, for for him «a will that chooses to follow its duty by behaving .. as if under the compulsion of a universal law possesses autonomy; this obedience to the law that one gives oneself is for Kant synonymous with freedom»  and this is the exact same principle that defines a self-governed, disciplined body, a human automaton. On the other hand, the developments that lead to this conjecture undermine Kant’s notion of instrumentality that grounds his demarcation between machines and living beings: it is only in an organism that its parts, its organs, “must be producing the other parts – each, consequently, reciprocally producing the others.»


That modern science was born cyborg is something that can be verified as much at the level of the anonymous masses as at that of the grand figures of its time: Justus von Liebig’s reputed Laboratory in which his panoptical eye surveilled the strict division and regulation of the students’ and researchers’ time, their weekly examinations, and the rigour with which they applied the meticulous chemical analysis developed by Liebig;  Franz Neumann’s Ausbildung, that stressed the importance of the skillful manipulation of precise measuring apparatuses; Alexander Von Humboldt’s care for his instruments and the ‘assembly of techniques’, and the research circuits «for galvanic electricity in which different metals, chemical solutions, and frogs had equal status as instruments», as had, more than often, his own body. Lissa Roberts’ inspired reading on the death of the sensuous chemist allows us to finish our enumeration with such an early and illustrious figure as Lavoisier. Following his methods, occasions were in which chemists had to nullify their bodies from the experiment, others when they «were advised literally to transform their bodies into appendages of a machine;» the new chemists «had to master new experimental techniques that required them to subordinate and discipline their own bodies in the service of machines» and «the deployment of [their] bodily senses was subordinately tied, almost to the point of invisibility.»

In a well-acknowledged article, Rheinberger identifies «the experimental system as the smallest functional unit of science» and as «a device to materialize questions; it cogenerates, so to speak, the phenomena or material entities and the concepts they embody.» That given, within an experimental system the difference between a scientific object and a technological object is merely functional: their places might be commutable in a specific conjecture: «sufficiently stabilized scientific objects may become transformed into constitutive moments of the experimental arrangement,» i.e. technological objects. It is in this way that «the momentum of science» can get absorbed into technology. Other words could be use to make this point: instruments are dead scientific entities.

What to do with Rheinberger’s perspective on technological apparatuses when Man has made Himself into a scientific object? And what to make of Robert’s claim that «chemists increasingly subordinated their bodies to the material technology of their laboratories» when generalized by foucauldian discipline? There are two conclusions to be drawn. The first, that scientists are dead natural philosophers. The second, that scientists are scientific instruments.

We are no long just asking to what extent human bodies were becoming /part of/ machines. We must also ask wh@ is handling, manipulating and managing wh@? Might it be that historical agency does not belong to bodies? Can power have an agency of itself?




2 comments on “scientists as instruments -II

  1. Pingback: the production of scientists | MODO DE VOLAR

  2. Pingback: ‘God is Dead, Man is Dead, and I’m not feeling too good myself’ – Rosi Braidotti | MODO DE VOLAR

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This entry was posted on 19/11/2015 by in Sem categoria.
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