Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bruno Latour: What Is the Style of Matters of Concern? (2008)

This little booklet has been lying around the office here at Oude Turfmarkt since I moved in here, and since I love Bruno Latour, I thought I should have a look at it some time. Today was as good a day as any.

The booklet consists of two lectures that Latour delivered in Amsterdam as the Spinoza lectures of 2005. I have so far only read the first one. The upshot of the lecture is that he wants science and science studies to create knowledge without splitting up the world in the a cold realm of nature-in-itself and a comfy but scientifically irrelevant world of nature-for-us.

Two Heroes Going With the Flow
Latours argument is driven by a central metaphor: Instead of coping with the gap between language and world by building a bridge from one bank to the other, he wants us to "go with the flow" down the river that separates the two realms (pp. 14-15). In this way, he hopes that we will be able to overcome the "bifurcation of nature" (a phrase he borrows from Whitehead) into primary and secondary qualities.

In order to meet this challenge, he invokes another one of his heroes, the French 19th-century sociologist Gabriel Tarde. Tarde was very explicit about employing a methodology "almost the exact opposite of [...] Monsieur Durkheim's" (quoted on page 19). That is, instead of privileging the bird's-eye, whole-sale view of a society or aggregate, he privileges the view from the inside, the meaningful detail.

Fleshy Signals in Biology and Computer Science
I wonder whether all of this might have an application to the philosophy of information. Latour, with Tarde, hints at some consequences that this new thinking might have on evolutionary thought (pp. 16-17): The "information" reproduced in a particular shift of generations is under a constant pressure to produce difference, that is, decide on a content/form distinction.

This might be elaborated into a more general theory in which the metaphysical conception of pure, abstract information yields to some kind of contextual or naturalized conception of "content" or "meaning," perhaps akin to that of biosemiotics.

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