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MAY 11-12
Lorraine Daston, Director, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

Time, Observation, and the Scientific Self
MONDAY, May 11 / Humanities 210 / 3:30 PM

Observation creates time. Observation also fills time. In medieval Latin and in early modern European vernaculars, the words “observation” and “observance” are etymologically intertwined. One observes lunar eclipses and one observes the holy days of the church. In the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, observation was transformed from an activity chiefly pursued by illiterate peasants and sailors into a prestigious form of learned experience. Observation became a refined scientific logic that discovered new phenomena and generated new hypotheses about them. But despite the genuine novelty and significance of these developments in early modern science, the bonds between observation and time and between observation and observance were never severed.

The Persistent Dream of the Blank Screen
TUESDAY, May 12 / Humanities 210 / 4 PM

Click here to download a copy of the seminar reading.

The mechanism of projection, in which psychological states are “thrown upon” other human beings or nature, has become so familiar since the early nineteenth century that its rather odd assumptions about the object of projection have gone largely unexamined. Oddest of all these assumptions is the illusion of a receptive blank screen that receives the projection, a remnant of the original metaphor of optical projection. Despite volumes of countervailing evidence that neither humans nor animals nor nature in general resemble blank screens, the illusion persists. The history of the illusion turns out to have ancient roots, which connect ideals of sexual and epistemological fidelity.

Lorraine Daston is Director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and Visiting Professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. Her recent publications include the co-authored Objectivity (Zone, 2007) and Wunder, Beweise und Tatsachen: Zur Geschichte der Rationalität (2001); the co-edited Thinking with Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism (Columbia, 2005); The Moral Authority of Nature (Chicago, 2004); and the co-authored Wonders and the Order of Nature: 1150 – 1750 (Zone, 1998), among others.

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Last modified: December 11, 2008
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