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The Department of Science and Technology Studies, UCL is an interdisciplinary centre for the integrated study of science's history, philosophy, sociology, communication and policy, located in the heart of London. Founded in 1921. Award winning teaching and research. Rated as outstanding by students at every level.
Medical students: integrated BSc
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Art and Science in the 20th Century
I have been working on the fascinating relation between artistic and scientific representations in the 20th century since my years as a postgraduate student. My PhD thesis “Iconicity and Network Thinking in Picasso’s Guernica: A Study of Creativity Across the Boundaries” is an interdisciplinary effort to explore the influence of science and technology on Pablo Picasso’s 1937 masterpiece, Guernica. (Click here if you want to know more about my academic background)
My current research on art and science in the 20th century builds substantially on the historical and philosophical approach to representations that I developed in my PhD thesis. I am writing a book entitled “Beyond Resemblance: A Philosophical History of Representative Practices 1880-1914”, which will appear in 2012 in the new Peter Lang Series “Nature Science and the Arts”.
Charles Sanders Peirce, semiotics and the contemporary debate on representation
Peirce is a much neglected figure in contemporary philosophical thought, and yet his writings address problems that are at the core of contemporary debates in philosophy of science, philosophy of language and philosophy of mind. A goal of my research is to cast new light on the ways in which Peirce's philosophy might offer new perspectives for a philosophical study of representations in art and science.
Medicine and Visual Culture
I have recently extended my research on representations to the visual history of medicine. This is a field that well exemplifies the connections between observation, representation and action, which inform my account of representative practices. Together with my colleague Brendan Clarke, and in collaboration with the UCL Art Collections, I am working on an exciting project on Sir Charles Bell’s anatomical images, and in particular on four watercolours he produced during his time at UCL.
Throughout the past three years, my research greatly benefited from the academic activities pursued within the HPS (Integrated History and Philosophy of Science) community in England and the United States. The ultimate goal of my research is to bring Peirce at the heart of the HPS enterprise, in a move that was anticipated by the pioneering work of Norwood Russell Hanson, and sadly abandoned after his death. My research is a genuine effort to produce an integrated HPS account of representative practices in art and science. In referring to “representative practices”, I stress the pragmatic aspect of representations, considered as ways of understanding the world and intervening upon it. This is intimately connected to Peirce’s pragmati(ci)st account of representations, their crucial role in the process of inquiry, and his methodological quest for ways of improving science while practicing it.
My interest in scientific pluralism is among the most significant and rewarding outcomes of my activities within the HPS community. I address the issue from several viewpoints, all compatible with my academic research. For one thing, my work on visual history and representations in art and science naturally leans toward adopting a pluralistic approach to representative practices, considered as diverse and yet all epistemically valuable ways of picking out aspects of reality, which are relevant to specific goals in specific contexts. On a more philosophical level, I believe that it is possible to flesh out a pluralistic approach to the role of representations in scientific inquiry from Peirce’s philosophy, and in particular from an articulation of his concept of “resistance”. Thus construed, Peirce’s pluralism does not degenerate into relativism, nor does it require abandoning realism. Yet, it tones down the monistic – and ultimately detrimental – aspects of realism by making a moderate commitment to the existence of a complex metaphysical reality, the exploration of which is constrained exclusively by the pragmatic maxim “do not block the path of inquiry”.
Philosophy of Science in Practice
My research on representative practices owes much to the activities of the Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice, of which I am a member. Peirce’s pragmatism has much to offer to the philosophy of science in practice. First and foremost, Peirce approached the history and philosophy of science as a practicing scientist, and this resulted in crucial differences between his “pragmaticism” and James and Dewey’s pragmatism. Secondly, his theory of inquiry hinges on representations in explaining the passage from a state of doubt to a state of belief. I am articulating Peirce’s pragmaticism as a crucial component of my concept of representative practices. In particular, my work is an effort to shift the focus from a normative approach to representations conceived exclusively in terms of their formal constituents to what artists and scientists do with representations. This does not deprive representations of their epistemic import; on the contrary, it enriches them with novel and practical implications that extend to their use as ways of understanding the world and intervening upon it.
My work on representations and my recent interest in pluralism were particularly helpful in directing my thoughts on scientific objectivity and “accurate representations” in novel directions. I am currently looking at the work of Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison on scientific objectivity, which I discuss in the (forthcoming) paper "Objectivity and Representative Practices across Artistic and Scientific Visualization" (please see my list of publications for further details). Building on Daston and Galison's narrative, I explore how artists participated in the history of objectivity and contributed to shape its course, mainly by vocalizing their objections to it.
Page last modified on 29 aug 12 17:28 by Chiara Ambrosio
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