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Equal odds – heaven and earth in the salon of Louis XIV

Some claim the major importance of Newton’s mechanics is that it can be applied to the stars as well as to everything on earth. Speaking in terms of  a natural philosophy, perhaps the mechanics were offering a certain equality of heaven and earth. Nothing of this can be seen in two of the most decorative items of popular knowledge of the years 1680, the pair of globes fashioned by cosmographer Vincenzo Coronelli for a salon of Louis XIV.

2050 pathwaysFrom their conception on the globes were scientifically outdated, which certainly does not diminish their appeal to the eye. Following the tradition of the 16th century, Coronelli produced one globe presenting the sky and another presenting the earth. The pair of globes can currently be seen in an exhibition of the Bibliothèque Nationale « Les globes du Roi-Soleil ». The celestial globe is kept in a dreamy blue, showing the signs of the zodiac in a rather tidy manner.  Read on…

Big data – the clouds are gone, the sea begins

Big data are, when the internet is going down to earth and we are immersed in digital information. Looking at metaphors for what is “online”, we once had the spidernet, the lofty cloud, and now the deep ocean. That there are data structures to be found in this sea, defined and explicable, is a topic in fields as different as philosophy of information, innovation studies and marketing research.

2050 pathways

Two conferences in the second half of this month are asking for the right questions to address a world dissolved in flowing data. The rhodes social impact group is hosting “Big Data and Their Epistemological Challenge” on the 31 January. A nice introduction into questions about big data can be found in a video of Luciano Floridi, main speaker of this conference. Equally in Britain, Liverpool University is presenting “Live Data: Research in Real-Time” on the 24 January. Read on…

A pair of wings on our feet? Sustainable energy reconsidered

To Mr MacKay, the laws of physics won’t change, but our lifestyle will. The physicist, who is advising the British government, wants to be clear about the limits of offering sustainable energy. To this end he today hold a speech at the Institut Henri Poincaré, presenting his book, freely available on the net, « Sustainable energy without the hot air ». 2050 pathways Although the book is not about financial matters, its author wagers a bet that the price of renewables will fall significantly, compared to the looming effects of climate change. Partly, new technology will help humankind, like heat pumps installed in buildings offering a nearly lossless reversion of energy between hot and cold states. The largest influence will remain our lifestyle, says the Cambridge Professor.
In his function as an advisor to the British government, David MacKay is involved in the development of the free and open web tool 2050 pathway, Read on…

How to do social science

One of the most recent publications of the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales was presented during an evening talk monday this week. The audience heard about three volumes making up the set Faire des sciences socialesThe three-volume-box "Faire des sciences sociales" In this bundle, each book is dedicated to a central „mode of doing“ social science: critiquer, comparer, and généraliser. In the first volume, presented at the evening’s talk by Christophe Prochasson, a clear cut criticism is portrayed as a remedy against the wits of experts and their expertly knowledge. The second book deals with comparisons and their most basic requisite, according to Jean-Frédéric Schaub, who introduced this volume: altérité, otherness. Not to disavow otherness, but to retrace its mechanisms, this would be the task of the social sciences. Thirdly, Jocelyne Dakhlia used examples from her work on europe and islam to illustrate the topic of this book: generalisations. What can researchers do when they encounter a certain mutuality? In her Read on…

Climate as cultural memory

It is becoming quite fashionable to think of climate as a large scale cultural phenomenon. Our today’s discussions about greenhouse gases will probably go down in meteorological books of the future. A classical example is the almost simultaneous development of the price of wheat and the political climate of the french revolution. Read on…

Looking over the shoulder: How de we become individuals?

We consider ourselves as autonomous beings. At the same time we are actively reproducing us and we know that we are part of evolution. This is the basic opposition of human individuals, as the philosopher Frédéric Worms pointed out in a discussion today. He was holding a public talk together with the biologist Alain Prochiantz, about the topic: « Comment devenons-nous des individus ? »

Over the shoulder

Each discipline is shaped by its object under study, as Alain Prochiantz remarked. Perhaps this is the reason for different, but not necessarily opposing views of biology and philosophy on individuation. To Mr Prochiantz, humans are animals with a very special monstrosity, as he put it, the human brain. It is our human brain that enlarges our capacity to become individuals above the one of an ape or a bee. To Mr Worms, our human ability to mentally distinguish ourselves from our environment in an ongoing process, is central to individualisation. For him as a philosopher, extreme cases of individualisation are love and hatred.

Read on…

Medical imaging: Life after death

A thought provoking aspect of life was yesterday discussed in a meeting of health professionals and anthropologists at Sorbonne University: the impact of today’s medical imaging on the social dimension of death. The routine use of scanners to examine dead bodies is becoming more common. The scanning is usually assisted by radioactive injections into the cadaver.  Dogs ready to devour the remainings of a renaissance banquetIs this a new form of normalising and administrating life and death? Are health professionals stepping over a boundary when they routinely scan blue plastic bags containing the remains of fellow citizens? How can artifacts created by the scanning process be handled in an epistemically sound fashion? These were some of the questions raised by the speakers, often coming from Lausanne, where there will also soon be a workshop  (without registration fee) . Read on…

Hypothetical fish and evolutionary time

Glossopetrae: Minerals believed to be ancient teeth - taken from „The Birth and Development of the Geological Sciences“ p. 116

Glossopetrae: Minerals assumed to be teeth of an ancient fish – picture taken from „The Birth and Development of the Geological Sciences“ (Dover) p. 116

Do you think it’s right to assume a hypothetical fish to explain the existence of tooth-shaped minerals? Apparently, to some researchers in the early 17th century, this was just the thing to do. The tooth-shaped minerals called Glossopetrae where from these years on believed to be remainings from ancient fish. I found a lovely depiction of this explanation, when I looked yesterday in a history of geology book, a few minutes before I went to a public talk about time, history and evolution. To me this is one of the most myterious topics of history of science, so I was pleased to listen to the biologist Michel Morange (ENS) and the historian François Hartog (EHESS) talking about „Le temps de l’évolution, le temps de l’histoire“. Read on…

Clouds, Genes, LSD

“The farther you look inside of living nature, the more miraculous one experiences her. — Je tiefer man in die lebendige Natur hineinsieht, desto wunderbarer erlebt man sie.” Albert Hofmann, chemist and discoverer of LSD

Yesterday was a terrific Saturday, full of wonderous things such as clouds, genes and LSD. The festival for scientific documentaries “Pariscience” was up und running in the Jardin de Plantes in Paris. Among yesterday’s movies were a documentary on the Himalaya Mountains “Un nuage sur le toit du monde” and a film about the scientist who discovered LSD: “The Substance – Albert Hofmann’s LSD“. After the screening of The Substance, there was a small question & answer session with the sociologist François Beck and the pharmacologist Nicolas Bonnet, who are both working on drug usage. Read on…

The researcher’s night – la nuit des chercheurs

The researcher's night - booths of the research teams

This night the place before the Tower of Montparnasse belonged to  researchers who showed some of their work. Biologists and medical researchers explained their progress in producing artificial blood. Starting with stem cells, they are able to create red blood cells which one day could be a valuable contribution to safe blood transfusion.  Today, the transfusion liquid containing artificial blood cells costs roughly one million Euro per milliliter. More advanced production technology could lower the price in the future. Read on…

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