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The Blind Spot

Science and the Crisis of Uncertainty

William Byers

In today's unpredictable and chaotic world, we look to science to provide certainty and answers--and often blame it when things go wrong. The Blind Spot reveals why our faith in scientific certainty is a dangerous illusion, and how only by embracing science's inherent ambiguities and paradoxes can we truly appreciate its beauty and harness its potential.

Crackling with insights into our most perplexing contemporary dilemmas, from climate change to the global financial meltdown, this book challenges our most sacredly held beliefs about science, technology, and progress. At the same time, it shows how the secret to better science can be found where we least expect it--in the uncertain, the ambiguous, and the inevitably unpredictable. William Byers explains why the subjective element in scientific inquiry is in fact what makes it so dynamic, and deftly balances the need for certainty and rigor in science with the equally important need for creativity, freedom, and downright wonder. Drawing on an array of fascinating examples--from Wall Street's overreliance on algorithms to provide certainty in uncertain markets, to undecidable problems in mathematics and computer science, to Georg Cantor's paradoxical but true assertion about infinity--Byers demonstrates how we can and must learn from the existence of blind spots in our scientific and mathematical understanding.

The Blind Spot offers an entirely new way of thinking about science, one that highlights its strengths and limitations, its unrealized promise, and, above all, its unavoidable ambiguity. It also points to a more sophisticated approach to the most intractable problems of our time.

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Blip, Ping, and Buzz

Making Sense of Radar and Sonar

Mark Denny

Have you ever wondered how stealth planes achieve "invisibility," how sunken ships are found, or how fishermen track schools of fish in vast expanses of ocean? Radar and sonar echolocation—a simple matter of sending, receiving, and processing signals. Weaving history with simple science, Mark Denny deftly reveals the world of radar and sonar to the curious reader, technology buff, and expert alike. He begins with an early history of the Chain Home radar system used during World War II and then provides accessible and engaging explanations of the physics that make signal processing possible. Basic diagrams and formulas show how electromagnetic and sound waves are transmitted, received, and converted into images, allowing you to literally see in the dark. A section on bioacoustic echolocation, with a focus on the superior sonar systems of bats and whales and a discussion of the advanced technology of next-generation airborne signal processors, opens the imagination to fascinating possibilities for the future.

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Bruno Latour in Pieces

An Intellectual Biography

Henning Schmidgen, Translated by Gloria Custance

Bruno Latour stirs things up. Latour began as a lover of science and technology, co-founder of actor-network theory, and philosopher of a modernity that had “never been modern.” In the meantime he is regarded not just as one of the most intelligent—and also popular—exponents of science studies, but also as a major innovator of the social sciences, an exemplary wanderer who walks the line between the sciences and the humanities._x000B__x000B_This book provides the first comprehensive overview of the Latourian oeuvre, from his early anthropological studies in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), to influential books like Laboratory Life and Science in Action, and his most recent reflections on an empirical metaphysics of “modes of existence.” In the course of this enquiry it becomes clear that the basic problem to which Latour’s work responds is that of social tradition, the transmission of experience and knowledge. What this empirical philosopher constantly grapples with is the complex relationship of knowledge, time, and culture._x000B_

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Challenges of Ivan Illich, The

A Collective Reflection

This unique collection examines the man Utne Reader has called “the greatest social critic of the twentieth century.” The essays—all by people Illich has influenced personally—discuss how his life and thought have affected conceptualization, study, and practice of psychotherapy, notions about education, ideas concerning the historical development of the text, perceptions of technology, as well as other topics. All of Illich’s books are discussed and his ideas on education, theology, technology, anarchism, and society are examined in relationship to those of René Girard, Karl Polanyi, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jacques Ellul. Illich’s previously unpublished paper offering a new view of conspiracy in European history is included.

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Charles S. Peirce and the Philosophy of Science

Papers from the Harvard Sesquicentennial Congress

Interest in Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) is today worldwide. Ernest Nagel of Columbia University wrote in 1959 that "there is a fair consensus among historians of ideas that Charles Sanders Peirce remains the most original, versatile, and comprehensive philosophical mind this country has yet produced." The breadth of topics discussed in the present volume suggests that this is as true today as it was in 1959.

Papers concerning Peirce's philosophy of science were given at the Harvard Congress by representatives from Italy, France, Sweden, Finland, Korea, India, Denmark, Greece, Brazil, Belgium, Spain, Germany, and the United States. The Charles S. Peirce Sesquicentennial International Congress opened at Harvard University on September 5, 1989, and concluded on the 10th—Peirce's birthday. The Congress was host to approximately 450 scholars from 26 different nations. The present volume is a compilation of selected papers presented at that Congress.

The philosophy of science and its logic are themes in the work of Charles Peirce that have been of greatest interest to scholars. Peirce was himself a physical scientist. He worked as an assistant at the Harvard Astronomical Observatory from 1869 to 1872 and made a series of astronomical observations there from 1872 to 1875. Solon I. Bailey says of these observations, "The first attempt at the Harvard Observatory to determine the form of the Milky Way, or the galactic system, was made by Charles S. Peirce....The investigation was of a pioneer nature, founded on scant data."

Peirce also made major contributions in fields as diverse as mathematical logic and psychology. C. I. Lewis has remarked that "the head and font of mathematical logic are found in the calculus of propositional functions as developed by Peirce and Schroeder." Peirce subsequently invented, almost from whole cloth, semiotics - the science of the meaning of signs. Ogden and Richards, the British critics, say that "by far the most elaborate and determined attempt to give an account of signs and their meanings is that of the American logician C. S. Peirce, from whom William James took the idea and the term Pragmatism, and whose Algebra of Dyadic Relations was developed by Schroeder."

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Chinese Modernity and Global Biopolitics

by Sheldon H. Lu

This ambitious work is a multimedia, interdisciplinary study of Chinese modernity in the context of globalization from the late nineteenth century to the present. Sheldon Lu draws on Chinese literature, film, art, photography, and video to broadly map the emergence of modern China in relation to the capitalist world-system in the economic, social, and political realms. Central to his study is the investigation of biopower and body politics, namely, the experience of globalization on a personal level. Lu first outlines the trajectory of the body in modern Chinese literature by focusing on the adventures, pleasures, and sufferings of the male (and female) body in the writings of selected authors. He then turns to avant-garde and performance art, tackling the physical self more directly through a consideration of work that takes the body as its very theme, material, and medium. In an exploration of mass visual culture, Lu analyzes artistic reactions to the multiple, uneven effects of globalization and modernization on both the physical landscape of China and the interior psyche of its citizens. This is followed by an inquiry into contemporary Chinese urban space in popular cinema and experimental photography and art. Examples are offered that capture the daily lives of contemporary Chinese as they struggle to make the transition from the vanishing space of the socialist lifestyle to the new capitalist economy of commodities. Lu reexamines the history and implications of China’s belated integration into the capitalist world system before closing with a postscript that traces the genealogy of the term "postsocialism" and points to the real relevance of the idea for the investigation of everyday life in China in the twenty-first century.

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Cognitive Models of Science

Ronald Giere

Cognitive Models of Science resulted from a workshop on the implications of the cognitive sciences for the philosophy of science held in October 1989 under the auspices of the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science. The workshop’s theme was that the cognitive sciences—identified for the purposes of this project with three disciplinary clusters: artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, and cognitive neuroscience—have reached sufficient maturity that they are now a valuable resource for philosophers of science who are developing general theories of science as a human activity.

The emergence of cognitive science has by no means escaped the notice of philosophers or philosophers of science. Within the philosophy of science one can detect an emerging specialty, the philosophy of cognitive science, which would be parallel to such specialties as the philosophy of physics or the philosophy of biology. But the reverse is also happening; that is, the cognitive sciences are beginning to have a considerable impact on the content and methods of philosophy, particularly the philosophy of language and the philosophy of mind, but also an epistemology. The underlying hope is that the cognitive sciences might now come to play the sort of role within the philosophy of science that formal logic played for logical empiricism or that the history of science played for the historical school. This development might permit the philosophy of science as a whole finally to move beyond the opposition between “logical” and “historical” approaches that has characterized the field since the 1960s. 

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The Commodification of Academic Research

Science and the Modern University

Edited by Hans Radder

Selling science has become a common practice in contemporary universities. This commodification of academia pervades many aspects of higher education, including research, teaching, and administration. As such, it raises significant philosophical, political, and moral challenges. This volume offers the first book-length analysis of this disturbing trend from a philosophical perspective and presents views by scholars of philosophy of science, social and political philosophy, and research ethics. The epistemic and moral responsibilities of universities, whether for-profit or nonprofit, are examined from several philosophical standpoints. The contributors discuss the pertinent epistemological and methodological questions, the sociopolitical issues of the organization of science, the tensions between commodified practices and the ideal of “science for the public good,” and the role of governmental regulation and personal ethical behavior. In order to counter coercive and corruptive influences of academic commodification, the contributors consider alternatives to commodified research and offer practical recommendations for establishing appropriate research standards, methodologies and institutional arrangements, and a corresponding normative ethos.

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Concepts of Mass in Contemporary Physics and Philosophy

Max Jammer

The concept of mass is one of the most fundamental notions in physics, comparable in importance only to those of space and time. But in contrast to the latter, which are the subject of innumerable physical and philosophical studies, the concept of mass has been but rarely investigated. Here Max Jammer, a leading philosopher and historian of physics, provides a concise but comprehensive, coherent, and self-contained study of the concept of mass as it is defined, interpreted, and applied in contemporary physics and as it is critically examined in the modern philosophy of science. With its focus on theories proposed after the mid-1950s, the book is the first of its kind, covering the most recent experimental and theoretical investigations into the nature of mass and its role in modern physics, from the realm of elementary particles to the cosmology of galaxies.

The book begins with an analysis of the persistent difficulties of defining inertial mass in a noncircular manner and discusses the related question of whether mass is an observational or a theoretical concept. It then studies the notion of mass in special relativity and the delicate problem of whether the relativistic rest mass is the only legitimate notion of mass and whether it is identical with the classical (Newtonian) mass. This is followed by a critical analysis of the different derivations of the famous mass-energy relationship E = mc2 and its conflicting interpretations. Jammer then devotes a chapter to the distinction between inertial and gravitational mass and to the various versions of the so-called equivalence principle with which Newton initiated his Principia but which also became the starting point of Einstein's general relativity, which supersedes Newtonian physics. The book concludes with a presentation of recently proposed global and local dynamical theories of the origin and nature of mass.

Destined to become a much-consulted reference for philosophers and physicists, this book is also written for the nonprofessional general reader interested in the foundations of physics.

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Concepts of Simultaneity

From Antiquity to Einstein and Beyond

Max Jammer

Max Jammer's Concepts of Simultaneity presents a comprehensive, accessible account of the historical development of an important and controversial concept—which played a critical role in initiating modern theoretical physics—from the days of Egyptian hieroglyphs through to Einstein's work in 1905, and beyond. Beginning with the use of the concept of simultaneity in ancient Egypt and in the Bible, the study discusses its role in Greek and medieval philosophy as well as its significance in Newtonian physics and in the ideas of Leibniz, Kant, and other classical philosophers. The central theme of Jammer's presentation is a critical analysis of the use of this concept by philosophers of science, like Poincaré, and its significant role in inaugurating modern theoretical physics in Einstein's special theory of relativity. Particular attention is paid to the philosophical problem of whether the notion of distant simultaneity presents a factual reality or only a hypothetical convention. The study concludes with an analysis of simultaneity's importance in general relativity and quantum mechanics.

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