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On Being the Right Size: Science, Technology and Scale [workshop]

A one-day workshop taking place at UCL, 29 April 2015.


[Deadline for submission has passed]

On Being the Right Size: Science, Technology and Scale

Scholars in the Science and Technology Studies community, broadly construed, have had much to say about specific kinds of scale. For example, we have asked how measurement scales are built, how science travels from local to global and back again, how laboratories transform microcosm and macrocosm, how models stand for the world, and how big science differs from table-top experiment. Likewise history, sociology and philosophy of technology have yet adequately to bring scale and scaling into view. But what can we say about scaling in general? What do models, games, photographs, maps, instruments, units, inscriptions, amplifiers and laboratories have in common?

We want to ask: how is scale in science governed? Can, or should, big science ever become small again? What scales should STS and HPS study? Is there more to scale than the local and the global? What are the relationships between materiality and scale? Are technologies always implicated in changing scale? Is the human scale the best scale for science?

We are particularly interested in fresh thinking about scale that is integrative, bold, playful and not afraid to challenge sacred cows, big or small.

The workshop will involve short papers from speakers, invited and found through an open call, with plenty of time for discussion. We are planning a mix of historical, philosophical and sociological perspectives.

More information on the STS department can be found here.


Vittorio Gallese on Experimental Aesthetics [lecture] · 11 Feb 2015 · London

“The Body, the Brain, Symbolic Expression and Its Experience: An Experimental Aesthetics Perspective”


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Wed Feb 11th 6pm & Feb 18th 6pm.
Chandaria Lectures, Senate House (London WC1), Room 349, third floor


Cognitive neuroscience can shed new light – from its own methodological reductionist perspective – on the aesthetic quality of human nature and its natural creative inclination. By exploiting the neurocognitive approach, viewed as a sort of ‘cognitive archeology’, we can empirically investigate the neurophysiological brain-body mechanisms that make our interactions with the world possible, detect possible functional antecedents of our cognitive skills and measure the socio-cultural influence exerted by human cultural evolution onto the very same cognitive skills. We can now look at the aesthetic-symbolic dimension of human existence not only from a semiotic-hermeneutic perspective, but starting from the dimension of bodily presence. In so doing we can deconstruct some of the concepts we normally use when referring to intersubjectivity or to aesthetics and art, as well as when referring to the experience we make of them.

This approach, which I’ll designate as ‘experimental aesthetics’, can enrich our understanding of symbolic expression and its reception, by studying their neural and bodily components. The definition of art and the way we appreciate it are  both historically and socio-culturally determined. However, while acknowledging that aesthetic experience is multilayered, the cognitive primacy of our reactions to the outcomes of symbolic expression can be challenged. In the course of the three lectures ’ll review empirical work on the aesthetic experience of static and moving images like paintings,  and movies. I will posit that the aesthetic experience of the outcomes of human symbolic expression can be grounded on the variety of embodied simulation mechanisms they evoke in beholders.

I will show that the symbolic processes characterizing our species, in spite of their progressive abstraction and externalization from the body, keep their bodily ties intact. Symbolic expression is tied to the body not only because the body is the symbol-making instrument, but also because it is the main medium allowing symbols experience.

It will be concluded that cognitive neuroscience can surrender us from the forced choice between the totalizing relativism of social constructivism, which doesn’t leave any room to the constitutive role of the brain-body in cognition, and the deterministic scientism of some quarters of evolutionary psychology, which aims at explaining art exclusively in terms of adaptation and modularity.

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Borges y el tiempo

Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.

Thanks to Ubu Web, it is possible not only to read Borges, but to hear him also. Here Borges’ complete NortonLectures, at Harvard University (1967-1968)

Time in Quantum Gravity [conference] · San Diego · 13-14 March 2015

Seminar on the Philosophical Foundations of Quantum Gravity

13-14 March 2015 – University of California, San Diego

Invited Speakers:

Alyssa Ney (Rochester)
Daniele Oriti (MPI for Gravitational Physics, Golm)
Amanda W Peet (Toronto)
David Rideout (UCSD)
Christian Wüthrich (UCSD)

Building on the Seminar on the Philosophical Foundations of Quantum Gravity, which took place in Chicago in September 2013, this meeting will bring together people with research agendas in quantum gravity, to present their work and develop some common understanding of philosophical topics, questions, approaches, and solutions – with a focus on the role of time in quantum gravity. Both established scholars and new and recent PhDs are encouraged to attend, to share their work or learn.

Funding up to $200 is available for a small number of qualified PhD students wishing to attend. Applicants should send requests to accompanied by a CV, one paragraph statement explaining the relevance of the meeting to their research, and a short letter of endorsement from an academic supervisor. Deadline February 13th; decisions by February 16th.

Contributed presentations: Newshaw Bahreyni (Kenyon), John Dougherty (UCSD), Kevin Knuth (Albany), Keizo Matsubara (Western), Ioan Muntean (Notre Dame and UNC Asheville), Joshua Norton (UIC), Thomas Pashby (USC), Oliver Pooley (Oxford), Mark Shumelda (Yukon), Tiziana Vistarini (UIC), James Lyons Walsh (Albany), Ken Wharton (SJSU).

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Learning How: Training Bodies, Producing Knowledge [workshop] · Berlin, 5-6 Feb 2015

The focus of this workshop will be on processes of learning in relation to material production: how a less-knowing body becomes more-knowing; how mastery is understood by both “masters” and others; what provisions and resources might be available, and to whom, in a particular time and place. Finding words to analyze knowledge of material processes is often a contested project, but whatever terms scholars choose — regenerating/ acquiring/ emulating/ developing knowledge — we propose there is a common set of questions to explore and a rich conversation to be had.

The tools of the project “Histories of Planning” are particularly adept at opening and analyzing processes of knowledge production and regeneration: “making material things work” highlights both the intentions of actors engaged in perpetuating material techniques, and the improvisations and insights produced in artisanal encounters over generations, within communities, across boundaries, between bodies and minds. The rubric demands situating types of knowledge specifically — in particular materialities, workplaces, workshops, kinship groups, classrooms, laboratories, markets, structures of power etc. – yet seeking methodological and comparative points of commonality and conversation.

Focal questions for this workshop will be:

  • What are the structures, from apprenticeships to classrooms, to pay scales to inheritance, within which learning is envisioned? How rigid or flexible are the rules, plans, boundaries?
  • How is “learning” understood by the people involved? Who is expected to become knowledgeable, and about which materials and processes?
  • How do we go about studying and articulating human learning processes, familiar or unfamiliar, historical or contemporary? When can we assume a common neurological being or when should we emphasize the contingent cultural constructions of knowing?
  • Similarly, when can we assume continuities of specific materialities — “stone”, “wood”, “metal”, etc — and when do apparently obvious continuities turn out to be materially incommensurate?
  • How do various cultures, societies, or communities define and value modes of knowing, and how do these differences shape the questions we can ask?

Against this topical background the workshop invites discussions about how anthropologists, historians, sociologists, archaeologists, scientists and others can know, investigate, and write about the nonverbal, the veiled and the embodied. We seek to interrogate and explore the different forms of knowledge produced by different disciplinary methods (e.g. interviews, archival research, participant observation, quantitative sampling etc.) and how such data may be used to generate and inform novel understandings of the subjects under scrutiny.

Dep. III, Artefacts, Action and Knowledge, Max-Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Germany

Thursday, February 5, 2015 – 09:00 to Friday, February 6, 2015 – 17:00

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