Archive for the Science Category

Hands full with Leroi-Gourhan

Posted in Exteriorization, Hands, KL, Leroi-Gourhan, Memory, Science, Tech, theory on March 17, 2008 by untimelymediations

hands.jpg

After completing Andre Leroi-Gourhan’s Gesture and Speech, I admit that I do not know where to begin with all fascinating archeological, technological, and sociolinguistic information he presented.  Therefore, I’ve decided to break this post up into small, bite-sized chunks to discuss what I find most applicable to my research that I have taken from this text.

Extending the body with the development of hands

What I immediately find most fascinating in Leroi-Gourhan’s work is his early argument that Homo sapiens’ hands developed as aides in speech, rather than as tools with which to eat.  By quoting the Treatise on the Creation of Man, Leroi-Gourhan argues that, “Yet it is above all for the sake of speech that nature has added hands to our body.  If man had been deprived of hands, his facial parts, like those of the quadrupeds, would have been fashioned to enable him to feed himself” (35).  After reading Darwin’s Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals a few years back, I would never have made this connection, as it is my understanding that Darwin instead argues that our faces and the expressions on them become the vessels of speech.  The similar, sometimes even identical, affective responses amongst all mammals indicate that our hands are not the sources for speech or expression, but rather our faces.  As a hardcore Darwinian, I have a difficult time straying away from his argument in Expression to believe Leroi-Gourhan’s argument in this week’s text.  However, after I continued reading Gesture and Speech I found myself more convinced with his argument that the development of hands is not limited to speech, but is indicative of technological advances to expand the body.   To speak and function by utilizing various extensions of our bodies is precisely his argument when discussing the development of the hands.

Extending the brain with the development of exteriorization

Today, we are dramatically externalized, so much so that our physical memories are under worked and reliant upon outside sources.  However, Leroi-Grourhan views externalization as a “logical stage of evolution,” as noted in the following:

“These machines […] reflect a logical stage in human evolution.  As with hand
tools the process whereby all implements came gradually to be concentrated outside the human body is again perfectly clear: Actions of the teeth shift to the hand, which handles the portable tool; then the tool shifts still further away, and a part of the gesture is transferred from the arm to the hand-operated machine” (245).

By looking at Leroi-Gourhan’s argument for extending our bodies, it appears that technologies have always encouraged the expanding of the brain in one fashion or another (his hand stand – ark ark ark – clearly illustrates the desire to expand the body).  Currently, we are experiencing the ability to “store” our brains: “evolution has entered a new stage, that of the exteriorization of the brain, and from a strictly technological point of view the mutation has already been achieved” (252).  Compared to the reformation of the skull to hold our physical brains, this mutation of which he speaks occurred rather immediately.  Consequently, we are externalizing the self with more frequency and relying upon a stored, technologized memory.  It should be noted that while Leroi-Gourhan refers to encyclopedias and punch-card indexes, he was indeed able to see where externalization is heading.

One might argue that with the prevalence of externalized memory, a collective memory is replacing our individual memory.  However, I believe that it is the reverse that is occurring: because a collective memory is no longer necessary, our memory is strictly individualized. Real memory of specific, collective, survival behaviors that were passed on through a group are no longer necessary for the species to endure.  We simply store the information that we need and seek out only what we deem important.  Perhaps, then, the next step in externalized evolution is maintaining a certain technical savvy-ness—if one does not have the means (economic, knowledge or otherwise) to externalize, you will not evolve.

invention of wha?

Posted in MM, rhetoric, Science, Stengers on February 18, 2008 by untimelymediations

I have not been quiet about my own frustration with Stengers, so I see no need to rehearse those complaints here.  I do cite them, however, as a pre-emptive rationale for the stunning lack of insight in what follows.

The only strategy that made this book work for me (on an admittedly narrow level) was to think of this as an exercise for my planned “Dictionaries” syllabus.  As such, the task was something like this: “Read a text outside your discipline or normal area of research.  Find three words that are pertinent to your discipline and then respond to how they’re used in this text.”  So, at the very least, I might make some pedagogical project out of an otherwise aggressively difficult text.

Here’s at least one of the words, with some superficial commentary appended to it:

“Invention.”  It is hard not to notice Stengers’ interest in invention (the title is a dead clue), so I traced this word with some interest.  For Stengers, invention repeats in multiple levels: as the establishment of truth as a scientific ideal (30), the situating of the scientist as the unassailable speaker of reason  (22), science’s own terms of intelligibility (23), and, later in the text, the invention of experimental apparatuses that make science “work.”

So, what does a rhetorician learn from this?  First: Invention is more than just the words and phrases put to page.  Rather, we can think invention in a broader scope; rather than insisting for the kairotic moment to insist upon the time and need for speech, we might look to Stenger’s work and see that–as science invented its own terms of efficacy–we might do so to for rhetorical action (a lesson also learned from the situationists).  Second: invention is a pedagogical practice; as we invent, so do we also show others the constraints of allowable invention.   And. . .that’s all I’ve got so far.  I’m hoping to return to this post in future after we’ve talked through this text.  It’s kicking my butt.

Invention of Invention

Posted in Ambiguity, KL, Science, sophists, Stengers, Why/how on February 18, 2008 by untimelymediations

(Side note: I agree with Mike’s concern last week about feeling like I need a bit more background for this text.  I had a difficult time grounding it in any sense.  Maybe it’s just me – and I’m not trying to make excuses for my superficial post – but I just feel like I’m scratching the surface with Stengers, and I’m missing something really important.  Are there some specific texts that overview Science and Rhetoric?  I would be interested to read something that would help me ‘get’ this.)

This week’s reading was a bit complicated and confusing for me, so I had to read it through the lens of my favorite, confusing-as-hell addiction: Lost.  Like fans of any given television show, I obsess—completely. I should add that this obsession is not limited merely to ‘water-cooler discussions,’ but I have downloaded the Lost podcasts, read the message boards, and have even read the articles (not surprisingly, there are many scholarly ones out there).  We rabid fans are in search of two things – the why and the how (w/h) of the plot. Before Stengers, these are two qualities for which I did not realize I was searching.  In most other shows, we get the w/h.  We know why Jack Bauer is getting his ass kicked for his country.  We know how and why Dexter Morgan is killing his victims.  But on the island, no one knows either, and we are left to fend for ourselves in weekly battle of he-said/she-said.  And this is why I believe Stengers is so applicable to Lost: as shown in every episode, each character is inventing her/his own, new truth by fictionalizing the self and denying who s/he was before the plane crash.

For Stengers, truth and fiction are inseparable, and ultimately these modes invent

“an antidote to the belief that makes us so formidable, the belief that defines truth and fiction in terms of an opposition, in terms of the power that makes the first destroy the second, a belief older than the invention of the modern sciences, but whose invention constituted a ‘recommencement’” (164-5).

Inventions and interest are two crucial terms for Stengers, and she maintains throughout her text that truths are initially invented fictions.  On the island, and arguably for the Sophists as well, one cannot distinguish between what is real (truth) and simply what is flattery (fiction).  They are not in opposition, but instead become so blurred that they are essentially both creations of each other.  The characters on Lost exemplify this creation, as no one truly knows who the other survivors were before the crash.  All we see are the new identities as created through necessity.  Truth and fiction are therefore inventions in which individual interest is taken. Science, as “performed” in labs, is thus the result of an individual’s interest in “making” an idea come true.  People, then, are more ‘interested’ in interest as opposed to truth since the former is what actually unifies:

“It is precisely because interest, as opposed to ‘truth,’ does not claim the power to create unanimity, but lends itself to proliferation and association with other disparate interests, that it can bring together authors for whom the event poses the problem of history” (Stengers 96).

Finally, Stengers claims that there cannot be “a single historical process that is applicable to the history of philosophy, art, and science, for each of these enterprises is defined by a specific relationship with its own past” (41). Therefore, in terms of truth and fiction, we cannot separate them as they develop, nor with Lost can we watch the show without knowing each of the characters’ pre-island pasts.