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

Science Was Born Cyborg III – Scientists as Instruments

«A tool must be calibrated, and so must the subject; the laboratory must be made fit for replicability, and so must the subject; the device must be transparent in its operations, and so must the subject; and his judgment must be trained, adjusted, tuned: the formed scientist is part of the scientific apparatus. We are no longer just asking to what extent human bodies were becoming machines. We must also ask wh@ is handling, manipulating and managing wh@?»

This text is divided in four parts: -I. Foucault’s Path to Discipline (on which I had already written when discussing interdisciplinarity), II. The Production of Scientists, III. Scientists as Instruments and IV. The Values of Cyborg Instruments.

I usually post stuff about what I have been thinking about, so it’s likely that you find some ideas here that I had already posted.

scientists as instruments

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 serving machines as much as they serve us, that we are now as much their instruments as they are ours?

In the nineteenth century, kantian freedom was being accomplished en masse; 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. But this was happening at the cost of Kant’s distinction 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.»[1] Machinery was already doing that.


That modern science was born cyborg is something that can be recognized as much at the level of the anonymous masses as at that of the grand figures of its time: Justus von Liebig’s (1803-1873) first teaching 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;[2]  Franz Neumann’s (1798-1895) Ausbildung, that stressed the importance of the skillful manipulation of precise measuring apparatuses;[3] Alexander Von Humboldt’s (1769-1859) care for his instruments and for the ‘assembly of techniques’, and the 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.[4] Lissa Roberts’ inspired reading of the death of the sensuous chemist allows us to go back to the eighteenth-century, and end our enumeration with such an illustrious figure as Lavoisier. Following his methods, there were occasions on which chemists had to nullify their bodies from the experiment, while in others 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.»[5]


In a much cited 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.»[6] 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. Leaving behind the questions they once rose, abjuring their complexity, withdrawing their agency, scientific objects can become fossils, their ‘momentum being absorbed into technology.’ This is how technology comes to life, and how objects die; instruments are dead scientific entities.

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? And what to do with Rheinberger’s perspective on technological apparatuses when humans have made themselves into a scientific object? There are two conclusions to be drawn. The first, that scientists are dead natural philosophers. The second, that scientists are scientific instruments.

A tool must be calibrated, and so must the subject; the laboratory must be made fit for replicability, and so must the subject; the device must be transparent in its operations, and so must the subject; and his judgment must be trained, adjusted, tuned: the formed scientist is part of the scientific apparatus. We are no longer just asking to what extent human bodies were becoming 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 its own?

the body-object relation

By their absence or presence, by the constant relation with other machinery, by manipulating/being manipulated by it, by producing standardized results – the human body and the mechanical one are being drawn closer and closer together, their frontiers becoming indistinct, their natures merging.

Adaptation, as a process, goes both ways. Machines are constructed and calibrated to better serve their purpose and their user. But scientists must also adapt to the idiosyncrasies, to the subjectivities  of their instruments. The observatory managers François Arago and George Bidell Airy used the personal equation to «directly calibrate the disciplined performance of the observer» who, in his turn, «was part of the “instrument” to be calibrated.»[7] Humboldt had no doubt about it: «making good measurements means knowing and adjusting to an instrument’s particularities.»[8]


Foucault, whose work was anthropocentric despite being critical of humanism, barely addressed the question of instrumentality, remitting it to a plane of context rather than one of relevant agency. But even doing so, he could not have bypassed the importance of the body-object relation:

 «Discipline defines each of the relations that the body must have with the object that it manipulates. .. Over the whole surface of contact between the body and the object it handles, power is introduced, fastening them to one another. It constitutes a body-weapon, body-tool, body-machine complex.»[9]

Scientists are symbiotic techno-bodies: their survival as scientists depends on the relation human-instrument, now entrenched at both a material and a conceptual level.

the agency of power

The synthesizing nature of discipline drives us away from seeing scientists as being maimed humans, alienated from their whole-nature – the marxist perspective. «The modernist era stressed the power of technology .. as a crucial element in the assemblage of industrialization .. Marxism and its socialist Humanism taught us that objectification is indeed a humiliating and demeaning experience for humans in that it denies their full humanity.»[10]

Foucault, however, recognizes in the instrumental coding of the body a process of synthesis rather than the sundering of the Gattungswesen:

«The regulation imposed by power is at the same time the law of construction of the operation. Thus disciplinary power appears to have the function not so much of deduction as of synthesis, not so much of exploitation of the product as of coercive link with the apparatus of production.»[11]

Discipline as a technology of power is shown to operate at levels that go beyond the economic and the social; but that doesn’t mean refusing those levels. A posthuman reading of discipline does not need to give up class struggle; it might just to prefer to think, as Lenin once did, of communism as electrified soviet power.[12]

[1] Tresch, 2010,p.258.

[2] Holmes, 1989,pp.121–164. Golinski, 2005, pp.73-74.


[4] Tresch, 2010, pp.255,269-270.

[5] Roberts, 1995,pp.506- 507.

[6] Rheinberger, 1992.

[7] Schaffer,1988,p.118.

[8] Tresch, 2010,p.271.

[9] DP,pp.152-153

[10] Braidotti, 2013,p.106.

[11] DP,pp.152-153

[12] «Communism is Soviet power plus .. electrification» Lenin, 1920.  


2 comments on “Science Was Born Cyborg III – Scientists as Instruments

  1. henriquemlgil

    Ena, já no iii, vou ver. Mas olha que deve haver um erro no link…

    This is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it? It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching can help


  2. Pingback: Science Was Born Cyborg IV -The Values of Cyborg Instruments | MODO DE VOLAR

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on 10/02/2016 by in ENG, Sem categoria and tagged , , , , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: