UniBg - The Epistemic Functions of Vision in Science : Introduction

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CCSE - CISAlpino Institute for Comparative Studies in Europe

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The Epistemic Functions of Vision in Science
Bergamo - October 2018, 10th - 12th

Giulia Giannini and Matteo Valleriani
Università degli Studi di Bergamo
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin


The meeting wants to explore continuity and ruptures in the historical use of images in science, while also considering more recent developments which attest for an unprecedented importance of visualizations in science, be these video recordings, animations, simulations, graphs, or enhanced reality.

The function of visual material is defined according to three major epistemic categories: exploration, transformation, and transmission of knowledge.

As a means of exploration, the process of visualizing has been used in the context of scientific discovery. Visualizations allow to develop new research perspectives and ideas, especially in the framework of modern science, as this is characterized by a strong mathematical approach.

Visualization, moreover, has also been a means to transform and re-shape knowledge. It allows the adaption of knowledge to our methodological, institutional, and, generally, cultural expectations, and enables the integration of practical and tacit knowledge.

Finally, visual material is the preferred means for the transmission of knowledge due to its highly synthetic character and the apparent ease with which knowledge is perceived and re-worked by its recipients. The Visual codification of knowledge can therefore be seen as a historical phenomenon that emerged in consequence of an increase in knowledge resources, of processes of knowledge accumulation, and of the demand for scientific knowledge. The use of visual material in science always had the effect of lowering the threshold toward the access to knowledge and therefore became a preferred means for education.

Such epistemic functions of visual scientific material, moreover, should be analyzed in their cultural, social and technological context. The historical actors' opinions and judgements concerning the use of visual material and technological innovations in the media of knowledge transmission -be these clay, paper, or processors- influenced and were influenced by the process of visual codification of scientific knowledge.

By considering the epistemic functions and their interplay with the material aspects, the conference wants to collect case studies that show the functions of such visual material in the science of the past, ideally from antiquity until now and ranging through all possible cultures.