2009-2010 lectures

Lectures

The Elizabeth McNab and D. Lorne Gales Lectures in the History of Science, supported by the Mossman foundation of McGill University, are given by leading scholars in the field of history of science and science studies. Recent lecturers have included Donna Haraway (University of California, Santa Cruz), Simon Schaffer (University of Cambridge), and Isabelle Stengers (Université Libre de Bruxelles). Details of this year's lectures are below.

Winter 2010

March

Date: Thursday, March 11, 6pm

Speaker: Cornelius Borck (Professor and Director, Institute for the History of Medicine and Science Studies, University of Lübeck, Germany)

Location: Leacock Building, Room 232, McGill University

Title: Mind the Gap: The Neurosciences and Their Determination to Explain the Human

Open to all. A cheese and wine reception to follow. / Ouvert à tous. Vin d'honneur à la suite.

This event is part four of a five-part national lecture series on "Trust in the new sciences" presented by the "Situating Science" Strategic Knowledge Cluster and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs. For more information, see: http://www.ccepa.ca/ and http://www.situsci.ca/

Cornelius Borck is Professor and Director of the Institute for the History of Medicine and Science Studies at the University of Lübeck, Germany. He formerly held a Canada Research Chair in Philosophy and Language of Medicine at McGill University, with a joint appointment in Social Studies of Medicine and Art History and Communication Studies, and he remains an Adjunct Professor in the department of Art History and Communication Studies. Among his many publications are the monographs Hirnströme: Eine Kulturgeschichte der Elektroenzephalographie (Brainwaves: a cultural history of electro-encephalography, Göttingen, 2005), Anatomien medizinischen Wissens (Anatomies of medical knowledge, Frankfurt, 1996), and the edited collections Psychographien (Psychographies, 2006), and Maß und Eigensinn: Studien im Anschluß an Georges Canguilhem (Measure and Will: studies on Georges Canguilhem, München, 2005).

Abstract: Understanding the brain and the biological basis of mind, consciousness and behavior is the ultimate challenge. It stimulates researchers to look into the brain with ever more sophisticated technology such as functional neuroimaging. This colorful visualization of mental processes in the living human brain enthralls scientists and the public alike.

The neurosciences have made enormous progress over the last decades and provide ever more fascinating insights into our cognitive as well as emotional and social operations. While some hail this as the imminent advent of a definitive understanding of our mental apparatus and conclude we should align our social institutions with coming neuroscientific evidence, others warn against a brave new world of thought control, mind reading and manipulation.

Rather than debating the value of particular insights from the neurosciences, this talk will look at the incredible dynamics of pushing our theorizing about the mind in new directions while opening more ways for intervening into the brain. Currently, nature and culture coalesce in this field of research without reducing one to the other. Are we witness to the opening of a new chapter in the human evolution?

 

February

The Mossman Endowment at McGill University presents the Elizabeth McNab Lecture in the History of Science

Date: Monday, February 15, 2010, 6pm

Speaker: Peter Galison (Joseph Pellegrino University Professor of the History of Science and of Physics, Harvard University)

Location: Moot Court, Faculty of Law, McGill University

Title: Building, Crashing, Thinking

Contact: 514-398-4681; www.mcgill.ca/hpsc/lectures/
Reception to follow. All welcome.

Peter Galison is the Joseph Pellegrino University Professor of the History of Science and of Physics at Harvard University. Among his many publications are Image and Logic (1997), Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps (2003), and, with Lorraine Daston, Objectivity (2007), as well as several edited volumes, including The Architecture of Science (1999) and Picturing Science, Producing Art (1998). With Robb Moss, he made the award-winning documentary film, Secrecy (2008). Among other distinctions, he has been a MacArthur Fellow (1997-2002), a winner of the Max Planck Prize (1999), and a Guggenheim Fellow (2009-10). He is currently writing and filming about nuclear waste sites and the far future of land.

Abstract: "Building Crashing Thinking" is a project about the ways in which technical-scientific objects presuppose certain specifically historical configurations of the self--and then, reciprocally, how those objects train us up, so to speak, in one form the self rather than another. In this presentation, I will illustrate this back and forth with two examples: ink blots and cybernetic circuits. Long before Rorschach, ink blots were a training device for the imagination, a parlor game where people could share with each other all that they saw in the mysterious prints. By the late 19th century, the blots had become a specific test of the faculty of the imagination-the way the recollection of number series tested for the faculty of memory. Hermann Rorschach changed that, transforming the prints into a probe of the unconscious ways we perceive the world. Two questions: what had to be assumed about the self for this test to take the form it did? And, conversely, once the test became one of the great master metaphors of our time, how did it shape the way we understand ourselves? The talk then takes up Norbert Wiener's electro-mechanical feedback-designed anti-aircraft gun to probe the origins of cybernetics and to explore the nature of the self demanded by the objects of this new science. What is "intention"? -- it appears to be the very fabric of the will-based self that for so long dominated "das Ich"? How did Wiener come to see the replacement of intentionality with machinic loops? Please note that in addition to the McNab lecture, Prof. Galison will also give an author's talk in the bookstore of the CCA (Centre canadien d'architecture, 1920 Baile St, Montreal), entitled: Waste / Wilderness, on Sunday 14 February, at 3pm. (For directions, see http://www.cca.qc.ca/en/visit)

February

The Mossman Endowment at McGill University presents the Elizabeth McNab Lecture in the History of Science

Date: Monday, February 15, 2010, 6pm

Speaker: Peter Galison (Joseph Pellegrino University Professor of the History of Science and of Physics, Harvard University)

Location: Moot Court, Faculty of Law, McGill University

Title: Building, Crashing, Thinking

Contact: 514-398-4681; www.mcgill.ca/hpsc/lectures/
Reception to follow. All welcome.

Fall 2009

December 4

D. Lorne Gales Lecture in the History of Science
Mario Biagioli (Harvard University)

Environmentalism and the Rethinking of Intellectual Property

Mario Biagioli is Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of the books Galileo, Courtier (Chicago, 1992), Galileo's Instruments of Credit (Chicago, 2006), as well as numerous journal articles, and has co-edited The Science Studies Reader (Routledge, 1999), and (with Peter Galison) Scientific Authorship: Credit and Intellectual Property in Science (Routledge, 2002).

Abstract: The image of the commons (knowledge commons, science commons, creative commons, etc. ) has been extraordinarily important in the development of "cultural environmentalism"--perhaps the most important progressive discourse about intellectual property today. Cultural environmentalists champion collaborative modes of knowledge production and the defense of the public domain against the increasingly intensive and extensive privatization of knowledge.

Although a strong supporter of the political goals of that movement, I have grown concerned about some problems stemming from the use of environmental imagery to reconceptualize intellectual property. Moving from critiques of the nature/society dichotomy put forward by historians of science and science studies practitioners, I argue that the proponents of the "knowledge commons" start with a well-intentioned critique of intellectual property, but end up reinforcing its logic. Because the image of the "commons" and other environmental metaphors do not question the nature/society divide at the roots of intellectual property law (the divide between human products that can become property and nature that cannot), they actually end up reinforcing that which they are meant to question. It is more productive, I argue, to shift from a "critical" to a more "deconstructive" approach to IP and its foundational dichotomies, such as the one between nature and society.

I begin to sketch out that approach by showing how one of the foundational texts of copyright law--Edward Young's 1759 Conjectures on Original Composition--cannot maintain the very dichotomy it sets out to establish between nature and society, and ends up casting the author, literally, as a vegetable.