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  • Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics *
  • Robert P. Crease (bio)
Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics. By Peter Galison. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997. Pp. xxv+955; figures, notes, bibliography, index. $90 (cloth); $34.95 (paper).

Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics is a study of the instruments of modern physics, the diverse subcultures they have engendered, and the relations between these subcultures. One physicist-reviewer of this dense, 900-page book admitted to liking it but asked what its proper audience was. Readers of Technology and Culture will have no problem here. This book is for us.

The machines of modern physics embody “strategies of demonstration, work relationships in the laboratory, and material and symbolic connections to the outside cultures in which these machines have roots” (p. 2). Galison writes: “I am after not so much a transtemporal philosophy of machines as a historically specific philosophy in machines” (p. 26). To develop this philosophy, which he describes as a “material culture,” he outlines two experimental traditions, one focused on image-making devices and the other on logic devices. These traditions each involve “pedagogical continuity,” “technical continuity,” and “demonstrative or epistemic continuity” (characteristic forms of argumentation). Galison’s description of these two traditions is a skeleton that supports the meat of the book: a series of case studies in the detectors, sites, and methods of high-energy physics. The demands of building, operating, and using the ever bigger and more complicated instruments inevitably create ever more numerous and diverse subcultures among those who work on them, which “coordinate with one another without homogenization” (p. 782). Throughout the book, Galison emphasizes divisions, not only among instruments (image and logic) but also among kinds of theories and theoretical techniques (quantum field theory, S-matrix theory, Monte Carlo methods), and in the communities of people who use them. Galison claims that the resulting diversity, far from vitiating science, is vital to it and to the evolution of experimentation. “It is the disorder of the scientific community—the laminated, finite, partially independent strata supporting one another; it is the disunification of science—the intercalcation of different patterns of argument—that is responsible for its strength and coherence” (p. 844).

In a remarkable concluding chapter, Galison analyzes what holds the diverse subcultures of science together. He does so with the aid of anthropological [End Page 924] tools forged by those who have studied the interactions between culturally dissimilar trading partners, for “trading partners can hammer out a local coordination despite vast global differences” (p. 783). In places like Room 4–133 of the M.I.T. Rad Lab, for instance—the “germ cell” where diverse subcultures interacted in the development of microwave radar during World War II—a “trading zone” develops, which is characterized by the use of special languages (akin to “pidgins” and “creoles”), and which constitutes “the social, material, and intellectual mortar binding together the disunified traditions of experimenting, theorizing, and instrument building” (p. 803). “The physicists and engineers of Room 4–133 are not engaging in translation as they piece together their microwave circuits, and they are not producing ‘neutral’ observation sentences: they are working out a powerful, locally understood language to coordinate their actions” (p. 833).

Image and Logic abounds with historical, sociological, and anthropological insights. Its one weakness lies in its claim to philosophical originality. Galison is right to claim that his work challenges the assumptions of the logical positivist and antipositivist traditions, which are unable to provide accounts of science adequate to laboratory experience. But to restrict the universe of philosophy to these essentially Anglo-American traditions is not only arbitrary, but unjustifiably overlooks the possibilities of the phenomenological-hermeneutical tradition inspired by Continental authors. (For a recent review of the contributions of this tradition to the philosophy of science see P. A. Heelan, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 29 [1998]: 273–98.) This tradition begins with the assumption that human beings are culturally and historically situated in a world they have inherited and are always in the process of recreating and reconstructing this world, and it is at home with the idea that there is neither...

Additional Information

ISSN
1097-3729
Print ISSN
0040-165X
Pages
pp. 924-925
Launched on MUSE
1999-10-01
Open Access
No
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