Autobiography and Science 2012 : The éthos, the autobiographical memory of the scientist
Call For Papers
Castello Guevara Bovino (Foggia-Italy) 1-5 August 2012
L’Osservatorio scientifico della memoria scritta, orale, filmica, e del patrimonio autobiografico (the scientific Observatory of the written, oral and filmic memory and of the autobiographical patrimony) proposes the eleventh symposium on the following topic:
The èthos: the autobiographical memory of the scientist
The scientists’ autobiographies express often the need to create a link among their work, the weltanschauung and their private life. Their autobiographies tend to explain their engagement in activities that are difficult to understand for most of the common people. This narrating themselves reveals us the ethos. The scientific results have to face, today as in the past, a favorable or unfavorable public opinion. As an example, the research in the nuclear or staminal cell fields is observed from antagonistic point of views, often in contrast with the common systems of values and the common sense. All these different factors are mirrored on the scientist’s thoughts about his own life, his role and responsibility and they contribute to shape his ethos.
According to the rhetoric, the èthos corresponds to the very image of himself the speaker gives through his talk. In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle states that the true science must be contemplative: he assumes then a specific role for the scientist as the one dealing with eternal matters, whose main function becomes recognizing.
The Humanism imposes a different point of view: man is a demiurge, who has no more a constrained relation with the transcendental, who does not deny but ignores. Leonardo’s Homo Vitruviano, inscribed in the perfects circumference and square, represents very well the new view of the Humanism. Nevertheless Aristotle still imposes his rules.
During the Roman Inquisition period and the processes involving Galileo Galilei, the Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition refused to watch in the scientist’s telescope barricading themselves behind the ipse dixit and defending blindly Aristotle’s theory. Nevertheless Galileo, although living a post-renaissance period and having inherited the principle considering men at the center of the universe, although being the creator of new research methodologies, never claims this role for himself: he never considers himself as the propeller of the extraordinary scientific revolution he had began, but he rather claims just to be reading what has already been written in the large book of nature.
In this period the Self of the scientist is still far from the XIX and XX centuries’ conception that will impose the idea of genius and the role of the intuition as key players in the history of science, contributing to the definition of the ideal scientist.
Memoirs, biographical and autobiographical genres flourish under the typical individualism of the Romantic period. In order to emphasize the uniqueness of the scientist’s figure, the tendency is to prune the number of causes allowing scientific discoveries, which in the reality are almost always made possible by a cooperative work.
Pierre Bourdieu describes this in the section «La lutte reglée» (in Id., Science de la science et réflexivité, Cours du Collège de France 2001, Paris, Raison d’agir Éditions, 2001), and mentions as exemples of collective subjects Newton and Einstein, i.e. as integral part of a team work. Moreover, it is historically well known as several scientists have achieved the same results at different times, even though the idea of primogeniture exists and in some cases has good reasons to exist.
Which are the scientist’s reflections about this problem? Which one his éthos? Nikola Tesla, to cite an example, refuses the Noble prize because Marconi had already been candidate for the same research field. The idea to be first is more and more of importance starting from the XIX century. (My inventions – Nikola Tesla’s Autobiography
It is clear that we step from a maieutic approach typical of the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (published in 1632) in which Galileo’s Self is translated into Filippo Salviati, to the ‘more and more unhappy evolution of consciousness’, as Hegel defines in his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) the contradiction among the subject and the external terms of references which appear to be continuously denied to him. The individual self consciousness appears to be proportional to the role assumed solipsistically by the subject. Among others one can cite the sense of responsibility and the weight hanging on Bernard Russel, as they emerge from his autobiography (The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, 3 vols., London: George Allen & Unwin, 1967–1969).
Sociology of science has studied the different formulations of the scientific exposure, and has highlighted the different methodologies used to transmit and narrate which reveal in their turn the idea that the scientist has about himself: idea which transpires as well in the way he communicates his achievements. The results of these studies have often led to remove the secular aura which characterized the autobiographical and biographical construction of the scientists’ lives. The competitiveness in the laboratories, the distance from the direct observation of the natural phenomena [ «A science of life without nature?» (cfr: K. Knorr-Cetrina, Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 138] are factors which contribute to make very difficult the scientist’s position within the society, and to fade away the concept of invention.
Mirko Grmek investigates longtime about the definition of a scientific finding. A concept that allowed building up the figure of the scientist, of this unique solitary genius who reaches his finding through his intuition: figure that generated moreover several extra-literary interpretations. « A scrupulous historian of science could not satisfy the jury of a TV quiz» (Mirko Grmek, Claude Bernard et la méthode expérimentale, Paris, Éd. Payot, 1991, p. 13. 1° ed. Genêve 1973).
Sociology of science worked out theories about the formalities for the concept and communication of scientific findings as well as about the textual rhetoric, highlighting the different conversational strategies making the most of the truth-effect:
1) Popper and Kuhn expressed controversial positions about the processes of scientific creations, which impact the idea the scientist has about himself (Popper, The logic of scientific resolutions (1962); Kuhn «Historical structure of scientific discovery» (1962). Simplifying as much as possible, Popper believes that scientists always try to subvert the existing affirmed theories; on the other hand Kuhn asserts that the science progresses by paradigms, i.e. based on regulated foundations. These two theories outline two different concept of scientist.
2) David Bloor, Knowledge and Social Imagery (Routledge, 1976; 2nd edition Chicago University Press, 1991) thinks that scientific findings are legitimated by reasons of different nature (personal authority, reliability, style of presentation, citizenship); Bloor, recovering partly Greimas semiotics, considers as key aspects of the legitimizing process both human and material or relational factors. Each elements (instrumentation, funding, connections) plays as an actor and the scientists as the director of the overall set.
3) The concept of text (how scientific procedures are translated into a text, how the choice of the text is legitimated in the academic and extra-academic environments) plays a central role. Science is also narrating and several studies explain the structure of the scientific expounding. Pierre Bourdieu mentions G. Nigel Gilbert e Michael Mulkay’s studies in the volume cited above: Opening Pandora's box: A sociological analysis of ‘scientists' discourse, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984; the authors state that, depending on the context, the scientific expounding can result completely asymmetrical. Bourdieu reports: « The ‘empiristic repertoire’ is characterized by formal relations of experimental research that are dictated accordingly to the empiristic representation of the scientific action: the style has to be impersonal and has to minimize any reference to the social actors and their beliefs in order to appear as objective as possible [...] While the ‘contingent repertoire’ coexists with the former one: while talking informally scientists insist on the dependence upon the ‘intuitive sense of the scientific research’» (Bourdieu, op. cit., p. 49).
What is the scope of the 2012 symposium?
Our scientific committee is historically constituted by experts in autobiographical texts, historians, common people talk’s analysts. As for the 2012 symposium the committee will be extended to expert in scientific field. The main goal of the symposium is the study of the rhetoric in the autobiographical text, the èthos from a mainly linguistic and narrative point of view. It is not about analyzing the truthfulness of the texts, but principally analyzing the way the subject communicates the vision he has of himself, the circumstances of his findings, the relations with the society in a broad sense; which autobiographical covenant are established by the subject (Philippe Lejeune, Le pacte autobiographique, Paris, Seuil, 1975).
Proposals concerning the biographical genre and/or analysis of movies and documentaries will be accepted even though in a definitely reduced number. A film festival will be proposed to accompany 2012 symposium.
Anybody can use his own language. A simultaneous translation service will not be provided; nevertheless in case of understanding issues consecutive translations will be done.
The contributions will be peer reviewed and accepted papers will be published in special symposium proceedings: Mnemosyne o la costruzione del senso edited by Presses Universitaires de Louvain.
The abstract should contain maximum 250 words and has to be submitted along with a CV. The abstract submittal closes on the 28th of February 2012.
Beatrice Barbalato, Director of the Journal Mnemosyne, o la costruzione del senso, PUL,
Université catholique de Louvain
Fabio Cismondi, Fusion for Energy, European Union.
Albert Mingelgrün, Université Libre de Bruxelles
Edgar Radtke, Universität Heidelberg
Irene Meliciani, secretary of the organization, asbl Mediapolis.Europa
Michele Lenoci, Comune di Bovino
Giulia Pelillo, Universität Heidelberg
SIPARIO, Società cooperativa Bovino