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Picturing Knowledge

Picturing Knowledge: Historical and Philosophical Problems Concerning the Use of Art in Science

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    Picturing Knowledge
    Book Description:

    The traditional concept of scientific knowledge places a premium on thinking, not visualizing. Scientific illustrations are still generally regarded as devices that serve as heuristic aids when reasoning breaks down. When scientific illustration is not used in this disparaging sense as a linguistic aid, it is most often employed as a metaphor with no special visual content. What distinguishes pictorial devices as resources for doing science, and the special problems that are raised by the mere presence of visual elements in scientific treatises, tends to be overlooked.

    The contributors to this volume examine the historical and philosophical issues concerning the role that scientific illustration plays in the creation of scientific knowledge. They regard both text and picture as resources that scientists employ in their practical activities, their value as scientific resources deriving from their ability to convey information.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7847-7
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-2)

    This volume engages a cluster of historical and philosophical problems concerning the use of art in science. These issues criss-cross the borders of a number of disciplines – history of art, science, and technology; philosophy of art, science, and technology; cultural studies; medieval studies; anthropology; and the sociology of science. Though the contributors are drawn from a wide range of academic disciplines, each paper focuses on one particular issue that stamps these various problems with significance and connects them one to another – viz., the role that scientific illustration plays in the creation of scientific knowledge.

    An appreciation of the...

  5. 1. The Didactic and the Elegant: Some Thoughts on Scientific and Technological Illustrations in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
    (pp. 3-39)

    The problems of early illustrations portraying scientific and technological topics remain among the more intractable aspects of the history of science and technology.¹ This is true despite some useful and suggestive publications dealing with early scientific and technical illustrations (Topper 1990a, 1990b; Ashworth 1984, 1987). We still lack clear-cut conceptual maps where illustrations are concerned. We don’t really quite know what we are lookingforas we lookatthe pictures, sketches, diagrams, and prints that make up the raw materials for discussion. For the most part, images remain an unusual subject, peripheral to the mainstream of investigations and still...

  6. 2. Temples of the Body and Temples of the Cosmos: Vision and Visualization in the Vesalian and Copernican Revolutions
    (pp. 40-85)

    The conjunction of the rise of the printed book as a prime means of transmitting information and the Renaissance reformulation of the means of visual representation was clearly an integral part of what we call the Scientific Revolution. On one level, it seems perfectly obvious that to be able to represent (say) a plant in a convincingly naturalistic manner in a printed botanical treatise would serve to provide straightforward instruction and to transmit checkable information to students of the natural world. Indeed, the polemic in favour of illustration by Leonhart Fuchs, introducing his great book of botanical science in 1542,...

  7. 3. Descartes’s Scientific Illustrations and ‘la grande mécanique de la nature’
    (pp. 86-134)

    Descartes’s expressed reservations about visualization, at least on the face of it, are intimately connected to his overall project to demonstrate the capacity of the unaided reason to deduce the composition of nature from first principles that are plain to the attentive mind.¹ Visualization involves the fabrication of mental images, which are then exhibited by means of pictorial devices. Since the contemplation of these mental images seems to involve perception, visualization (and its associated false beliefs and prejudices) is targeted by Descartes as a potential source of error in science.²

    What, then, are we to make of the many illustrations...

  8. 4. Illustrating Chemistry
    (pp. 135-163)

    Anybody who delights in the forms and colours of plants and animals will enjoy the pictures in works of natural history. In older books, they will look often curious to our eyes, as Dürer’s rhinoceros does; and changes in the interests and theories of natural historians, as they mostly evolved into biologists, zoologists, and botanists, led to changes in the way they depicted species. In general, plates have become more austere from the layman’s point of view: there is a tension between the needs of science and the demands of aesthetics, but at all times there have been artists for...

  9. 5. Representations of the Natural System in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 164-183)

    The Natural System – the idea of the order in living diversity – is one of the great theoretical conceptions in the history of science. Although systematists – those who study the Natural System – have not always been able to agree upon ’what is meant’ by this conception, they generally have agreed that the results of systematic research are best presented diagrammatically. In proposing his ’map-making’ approach to systematics, for example, the British naturalist Hugh Edwin Strickland (1811–53) observed that

    the true order of affinities can only be exhibited (if at all) by a pictorial representation on a...

  10. 6. Visual Representation in Archaeology: Depicting the Missing-Link in Human Origins
    (pp. 184-214)

    Archaeology is an explicitly visual science. As with disciplines such as geology and palaeontology, prehistoric archaeology has from its very beginnings developed a distinctive visual language that it has used to communicate theories, technical principles, and data (Moser 1992, 1993). In this paper, I would like to show how one type of archaeological illustration functions within the discipline, and in doing so outline some aspects of how ideas are visually represented in archaeology. The type of illustration I will discuss is the pictorial reconstruction of prehistoric life. This type of visual display, in which our hominid ancestors are seen engaged...

  11. 7. Towards an Epistemology of Scientific Illustration
    (pp. 215-249)

    For several decades, art historians, psychologists, philosophers, and other theorists have been directing much effort towards understanding the nature of visual imagery. Nevertheless, a reading of this literature reveals that little has been directed towards the study of scientific illustration. As the art historian Samuel Y. Edgerton, Jr (1985, p. 168) puts it, ’few scholars have ever sensed that it [i.e., scientific illustration] has any historical interest. Most art historians have disdained it’; except, of course, when an illustration comes from the hand of a genius, such as Leonardo da Vinci. ’Historians of science have shown a little more curiosity,...

  12. 8. Illustration and Inference
    (pp. 250-268)

    Diagrams play an underappreciated role in the sciences. In mathematics their role is especially curious. The following diagram (see fig. 8.1) accompanies the proof of the Pythagorean theorem in Euclid’sElements. We can stare at it for days and still not see that the theorem is true; we need a proof – a traditional proof.

    The common view of diagrams in mathematics is this: they provide a heuristic aid, a help to the imagination when following a proof. But they are commonly thought of as no more than this. In particular, diagrams cannot justify; they are not to be confused...

  13. 9. Visual Models and Scientific Judgment
    (pp. 269-302)

    When reading scientific papers or watching presentations by scientists, nothing is more obvious than the use ofvisualmodes of presentation for both theory and data. This not a new phenomenon, although it has been emphasized recently by the development of computer graphics. One finds a widespread use of various visual devices going back to the Scientific Revolution. Newton’sPrincipia, for example, is full of diagrams used in his geometrical demonstrations. But why should anyone be particularly interested in the use of pictures and diagrams in science? Specifically, why should aphilosopher of sciencebe interested in this particular aspect...

  14. 10. Are Pictures Really Necessary? The Case of Sewall Wright’s ‘Adaptive Landscapes’
    (pp. 303-338)

    Biologists are remarkably visual people. I have before me a flyer from a major publisher, promoting the new edition of an (apparently) highly successful college text in cell biology, co-authored by (among others) the Nobel laureate David Baltimore (Darnell, Lodish, and Baltimore 1990). The 1,105 pages include no less than 1,050 illustrations; the people asked to flack the book harp on the virtues of the pictures (‘I appreciate the use of data and actual micrographs. The artwork, and especially the use of color, is outstanding’);¹ and instructors adopting the book as a text get a free set of overhead transparencies,...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 339-372)
  16. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 373-376)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 377-389)