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  • Forays into the Trading Zone of Image and Logic
  • Davis Baird (bio) and Alfred Nordmann (bio)

Many critics of Peter Galison’s Image and Logic have made light of the fact that this is a heavy book, heavy not in the sense of portentous or dense, but heavy as in rich and voluminous. This heaviness places a considerable burden on its reader who is systematically overtaxed by it. Though it keeps its historical focus on the study of elementary particles from the use of cloud chambers to the development of electronic images in the 1980s, its more than 800 pages make for a multi-faceted book that draws on anthropology, linguistics, philosophy of science and experiment, the sociology of scientific knowledge, and histories of science, technology, politics, economics, and architecture. It thus creates and inhabits what Galison calls a trading zone, a place to meet and interact for members of the various academic subcultures that study science. People enter these trading zones with interests and interpretations of their own, seeking to find something that will suit their purposes. Almost inadvertently, however, their interactions in the trading zone stabilize practice and their coordinated action leads to the coordination of belief.

The following pages show members of diverse subcultures entering the Image and Logic-trading zone and returning from it with goods, booty, or gifts of their own. 1 If Galison’s interest in scientific images invites the art historian into the study of science, art theorist and historian James Elkins returns the favor by taking up Galison’s emphasis on “logic” and the ideal [End Page 147] of purely notational representations—even if all actual scientific representations turn out to be hybrids that satisfy the ideals of neither the image or logic tradition. Philosopher and historian of contemporary physics Kent Staley seeks to understand scientific reasoning and therefore engages Galison’s claim that the “image” and “logic” traditions of microphysics brought different standards of evidence to bear on the study of elementary particles. Interested in the social and intellectual dynamics of scientific development, Alfred Nordmann questions whether the co-ordination of action can lead to the co-ordination of belief from the ground up or requires an appreciation of the power of (materially situated) ideas of science. These three solitary excursions into the trading zone are joined by an interactive encounter. Mark Cohen, a research scientist at the forefront of medical imaging, meets Davis Baird, philosopher and historian of experimentation, and together they explore the economies of trading: What is exchanged for what when instrument makers deal with medical researchers and manufacturers with physicians in medical imaging?

How do these various interactions in the Image and Logic-trading zone stabilize practice and coordinate beliefs about science? If the single reader is overtaxed by Galison’s multi-faceted book, what emerges as a community of practitioners descends upon it? Here are three general features of Galison’s account that are implicitly affirmed by the practice of his critics in the following pages.

History of Particle Detectors in Twentieth-Century Physics

Galison tells the story of a particular set of instruments important for twentieth-century physics. As such, it is the story of two traditions, distinguishable by different genealogies of training, the employment of different techniques and a focus on different modes of demonstration. The image tradition focused on images of particle paths while the logic tradition focused on statistically counted particle events. While separate at the beginning of Galison’s story, Image and Logic also chronicles the coming together of these two traditions in the 1980s and 90s.

Galison’s story differs from other histories of twentieth-century physics in its focus on the instruments. He tracks their uses across scientific, industrial and national boundaries. In so doing he tells the story of a material culture of science not dependent on theory or experiment for its identity. This is a material culture in more than the sense that material instruments are the star players. Galison’s use of “material” also calls on its connections with Marx. Here is a story of the concrete means of knowledge production that are, at the same time, part of our social, even labor history. The varying...

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pp. 147-150
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