restricted access “Knowledge Is Power,”or How to Capturethe Relationshipbetween Science andTechnoscience
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• 43 It is difficult, if not impossible, to judge the continuities or ruptures involved in a historical process of which oneself is a part. Historians are aware of the human tendency to view one’s own period as a turning point in history. Epochal breaks have been diagnosed galore, which we hardly remember anymore . Take the now almost forgotten “conference on security and cooperation in Europe,” which took place from 1973 to 1975 in Helsinki and Geneva and was considered at the time as a major turning point in the history of the second half of the twentieth century. But this event is now completely eclipsed by the changes inaugurated in 1989. However, it is not possible to dismiss all such historical claims indiscriminately; sometimes they are correct. Take Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s sentiment at the cannonade of Valmy in September 1792 that a new historical era had begun. He was right, after all, since the French Republican forces (consisting of volunteers) had proven able to hold out against professional Prussian troops. Goethe correctly recognized that this victory ensured the survival of the revolution and signaled the advent of a new era in world history—that is, an epochal break. Conversely, the famous, if contested , entry of “rien” (or “nothing”) that Louis XVI, King of France, wrote in his diary on July 14, 1789, referring to his lack of luck in the day’s hunting, “Knowledge Is Power,” or How to Capture the Relationship between Science and Technoscience MARTIN CARRIER 4 4 44 • martin carrier demonstrates that we may overlook grand-scale ruptures happening right in front of our eyes. 1. Three Claims Concerning Recent Breaks of Science with Its Past It needs to be stressed at the outset that all judgments about a contemporary historical break are highly uncertain and dubious. In matters of this sort, we run the risk of looking like fools in hindsight wisdom. Against the background of this captatio benevolentiae I wish to advance three claims regarding the changes science is presently undergoing: 1. The regime of technoscience that Alfred Nordmann views as a recent product of the postmodern “abandonment of the work of purification” (see his chapter in this collection) is in fact part of the scientific revolution. The seventeenth-century pioneers aimed for knowledge in the service of utility. In the modern era a scientific enterprise in the sense of a project of pure knowledge gain, untainted by practical objectives, has never existed. This observation also serves to undermine Gregor Schiemann’s attempt to shift the alleged break, or what comes close to it, to the nineteenth century (see Schiemann’s chapter in this edited volume). 2.A different sort of recent epochal break enjoys much more plausibility at first sight. It concerns the replacement of scientific understanding by technological skills. There are some indications to this effect, but this project has proven not viable and will no doubt come to a lusterless ending soon. My estimate is that this attempted reorientation of science will be unsuccessful and fail to make it to a break for this reason. 3. At the level of ontology, a technoscientific turn has transformed the objects of scientific scrutiny considerably. Recent natural science seldom addresses entities and processes that exist independently of human intervention. Rather, we mostly inquire into the effects and side-effects of products of our own hands. All three contentions deal with different versions of the technoscientific project. I surmise that there is continuity as regards the first item, an aborted break as to the second, and an important change (that is, something akin to a break) with respect to the third. 2. The Scientific Revolution as a Technoscientific Project The first suggestion to heed is Nordmann’s insistence that we need to assume a vantage point that supplies us with observations of the appropriate grain. That is, a too fine-grained account and a too coarse-grained description will equally “knowledge is power” • 45 miss the characteristics presently at issue. On the one hand, science has always embraced projects of a divergent character, while on the other hand science has always aimed to construct empirically adequate models. In his chapter Nordmann is quite right in demanding an appropriate “middle term.” The corresponding basic distinction concerns the “scientific enterprise” associated with the quest for “truth,” or the “determination” of reality, and with “revealing” nature—or with “understanding,” the term...


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