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History and Philosophy of Science / Histoire et philosophie des sciences

February 9, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

McGill University

History and Philosophy of Science / Histoire et philosophie des sciences

Just a reminder that next Sunday and Monday we are very happy to welcome Peter Galison, of Harvard, to Montreal. He will give two different talks, one (more informal) at the CCA on Sunday afternoon, the second the public lecture at McGill on Monday.  There is also a lunch event on Monday 15th. 

1) CCA Bookstore Talk / Causerie de la Librairie du CCA:

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)


As they are usually understood, "wasteland" and "wilderness" are opposites; when they merge on the sites of decommissioned weapons lands, when land is at the same time designated as a nature preserve and a toxic site, this circumstance is commonly seen as "paradoxical" or "ironic."  I argue here that the two categories are far more elusive than this simplistic dichotomy suggests–and that their newfound overlap undermines the historical opposition of of purity and corruption.  These territories provoke a questioning of what relation we will have to nature, land, wilderness, and waste.

2) Brown Bag Lunch

Members of the McGill HPS seminar community are invited to a brown bag lunch on Monday (12:30, Thomson House, 3650 McTavish), for which numbers are limited. Please let me know (nicholas.dew@mcgill.ca) if you are interested in coming to meet Prof. Galison and discuss either your work, his work, or both.

3) Monday, 15th February, 6pm

The Elizabeth B. McNab Lecture in the History of Science

Peter Galison (Harvard)

Building, Crashing, Thinking:

Ink Blots and Purposeful Circuits

Maxwell-Cohen Moot Court

McGill Faculty of Law Faculty

3544 Peel, Montreal

Contact: 514-398-4681

Open to all. Wine & Cheese reception to follow.

Ouvert à tou(te)s. Vin d’honneur à la suite.

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.


"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?

For more information on McGill History and Philosophy of Science talks, see


Nicholas Dew (History, McGill)

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