Heuristics of Technosciences

Philosophical Framing in the Case of Nanotechnology

by Tomasz Stępień (Author)
Monographs 384 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Heuristic approach in the case of (nano) technosciences. Introductive remarks
  • Part A. Technosciences: Approaches and models
  • 1. Constructing technosciences
  • 1.1 The meaning of the terms: ‘science’ and ‘technoscience’
  • 1.2 Technoscientific ponderabilities and dilemmas
  • 1.3 Epistemic and practical framework
  • 1.4 Nano-Technoscience
  • 2. Modeling technology assessment
  • 2.1 Public demands and the process of TA-institutionalization
  • 2.2 Methodology of technology assessment
  • 2.2.1 Forecasting and scenarios building
  • 2.2.2 Models of assessment
  • 2.2.3 Participative turn and assessment practice
  • 2.3 Technology assessment as ‘governance’ of technosciences
  • 3. Combining converging technologies
  • 3.1 The political background of the NBIC-convergence
  • 3.2 Technological convergence and its societal background
  • 3.2.1 Convergence and the holistic unity of science
  • 3.2.2 The understanding and the fields of convergence
  • 3.2.3 Social impacts and potential of converging technologies
  • 3.3 Theoretical frames of convergence and ways of application
  • 3.3.1 The tetrahedron model of NBIC-convergence
  • 3.3.2 The problem of incommensurability
  • 4. Technosciences: Towards ‘convergence’ and ‘assessment’
  • Part B. Nano-domain: Theoretical framework
  • 5. Nanotechnology in historical context and the problem of definition
  • 5.1 General understanding of the nano-domain
  • 5.2 References by defining nanotechnology
  • 5.2.1 Nano-measurement and calibration procedures
  • 5.2.2 Systemic aspects: ‘Nano’ as enabling and infrastructure technology
  • 5.2.3 ‘Nano’ as socio-political construct in-between of nature and technology
  • 5.3 Transition from ‘science’ to ‘technoscience’
  • 5.4 Systematics of the nano-domain: Trading zones and interdisciplinarity
  • 6. Nano-methodology and epistemic dilemmas
  • 6.1 Methodical order: Nano-apparatuses and nano-approaches
  • 6.2 Epistemic dimension of ‘nano’: Images and visions
  • 6.2.1 The iconic background of the nano-development
  • 6.2.2 The ‘iconoclash’ and the heuristics of nano-images
  • 6.3 Heuristics and the nano-derivate: Synergies in biology and medicine
  • Part C. Nano-domain: Practical framework
  • 7. Governance of technosciences: Social and political robustness
  • 8. Nano-Governance 1: Uncertainties, risks and precaution
  • 8.1 Nano-safety and nano-toxicology
  • 8.2 Nano-risk: Assessment, heuristics and governance
  • 9. Nano-Governance 2: Responsibility and legitimacy
  • 9.1 Governance landscape of nanotechnology
  • 9.2 Responsible research and innovation in the case of nano-domain
  • 9.3 Visions’ assessment: Nano-politics and nano-ideology
  • 10. Nano-Governance 3: Societal impacts and ethical issues
  • 10.1 Heuristic background of the nano-domain: Nano-ethics and nano-speculations
  • 10.2 Ethics of technology and the explorative nano-philosophy
  • 10.3 The case of human enhancement
  • 10.4 The case of synthetic biology
  • Conclusions. The coordinates of the heuristics of (nano) technosciences
  • References
  • Abbreviations
  • Index

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Heuristic approach in the case of (nano) technosciences. Introductive remarks

The accelerated development of science and technology in the last two decades belongs to the major research objectives in the philosophy, humanities and social sciences. Besides the classical philosophical questions concerning human condition or relationship to the nature, on the meta-theoretical level the presented hitherto analyses deal with the phenomenon of overlapping of the theoretical conceptions devoted to the interrelations between science, technology and society such as the theory of technoscience basing on science and technology studies, the conception and practice of technology assessment and the model of converging technologies. Confronted with the development of technosciences such as genetic engineering and nano-bio-info technologies there is also recognized a need for a framework of societal and political, then ethical and legal integration of these technosciences into the culture and society. This framework ought to be designed from philosophical point of view because of the plurality of motifs, scientific disciplines and theoretical approaches involved in. Therewith appears the necessity of comprehensive heuristics with which it would be possible to characterize and to operate with the plurality and multiplication of various trading zones occurring at the point of junctions or interfaces between different and to date separated fields in the system of science, between particular technologies, but also between different reciprocally excepted understandings of science and technology in the society. Following to this the heuristics of technosciences shall contribute to better understanding of this multilayered node of science and technology, society and culture, a node, where the lines between sciences, technologies, and their impacts on society are interrelated.

The heuristics of technosciences appear hereby as an umbrella term encompassing and comparing the predominant to date analyses and approaches which are aiming the constitution of a comprehensive platform characterizing the development of emerging technosciences. The analyses containing in the book refer to the proper body literature constituting – in my opinion – both theoretical as well as practical framework of the heuristics of (nano) technosciences from the point of view of science and technology studies, technology assessment and converging technologies.

The epistemic guidelines of the presented analyses begin with the reconstruction of the most important theses as the background of the contemporary philosophy of science and technology, representatively elaborated in the science and ← 9 | 10 → technology studies, technology assessment and converging technologies. These theses are analyzed and compared with regard to the nano-domain extrapolated as the exemplary case of technosciences: the nano-technoscience. The aim of the analyses is the synthesis of the slightly different approaches contributing to the foundation of the heuristics of nano-domain by the distinguished and analyzed two principal dimensions of the ‘nano’: the theoretical and the practical framework. By elaboration of the concerns in the fields of theory and practice of the nano-technoscience are synthetically presented the coordinates of heuristics which can be used by the analyses of technosciences at all. In this manner the analyses of the nano-domain as the example of technoscience present the patterns of understanding which can be implemented in other technoscientific domains in form of the heuristic approach. This is especially relevant in the case of comprehensive and comparative analyses concerning the impacts of emerging technosciences on science and technology (engineering), but also society and culture. Therefore the elaborated patterns of the heuristics of technosciences give the opportunity to design the new fields of research containing also general issues which are no more separated and limited to the particular scientific disciplines or technological domains.

Constituted in this way ‘heuristic approach’ as the mode of analyses zooming on the emerging technosciences shall guarantee the extrapolation of theoretical, scientific and practical components as the background of technological development. Moreover, the heuristics of technosciences appear as a means by resolving practical problems that is socio-political, ethical, legal and economic conflicts accompanying technoscientific development and progress. In this context the heuristics of technosciences give the opportunity of a comprehensive analysis constituting theoretical as well as practical foundation of technologies as the predominant component of the contemporary science, society and culture. The presented heuristic approach corresponds in this manner to the passing changes in the modes of (scientific) knowledge production and the evolving culture of science making because of the focus on knowledge, science and technology as such without disciplinary-driven limits, respecting the methodical order as well as the creativity in the technoscientific practice, and the opportunity to standardize technoscientific knowledge production. In this manner the heuristics of technosciences constitute on the meta-level a ‘trading zone’ in which all relevant sciences and technologies, discoveries and innovations, but also impacts and risks can be integrated.

From ancient Greek ‘heuristic’ (ευρισκειν) means ‘to find out’ or ‘to discover’, but in general there can be distinguished the following meanings with regard to ← 10 | 11 → the presented analyses of technosciences. At first glance the objectives of the heuristics are the methods as means used by resolving of scientific controversies and theoretical dilemmas, but it is also ‘knowledge’ concerning scientific discoveries, and this implies the manners of hypothesis formulation as well as constructing or shaping of new theories. From the other side the task of heuristics consists in criteria building as proposals standardizing scientific works. This concerns the ‘normative’ heuristic (identified also with the logic by B. Bolzano) with the epistemic task to elaborate the norms of cognition and scientific research. With respect to the technoscientific development the notion ‘heuristic’ is related with the constituted AI research where the concept of heuristics is used with regard to the four major dimensions of meaning: 1) in the case of uncertainty of outcome by the research process, 2) as the base of incomplete knowledge, 3) by the envisaged performance improvement of artifacts or systemic functions, and finally 4) as the guidance of decision making (cf. Romanycia and Pelletier 1985).

In this context ‘heuristic’ in the meaning of ‘finding’ and ‘discovering’ can be viewed as “the art of discovery or invention”, but also as the way “how to think”, and as the reasoning “not regarded as final and strict but as provisional and plausible only, whose purpose is to discover the solution of present problem” which bases on induction and/or analogy – as stated G. Polya in his book How to solve it from 1945 (quoted by Romanycia and Pelletier 1985: 48). According to this description ‘heuristic’ presents methods and rules of discovery in the meaning of endeavor focusing on the understanding of processes by problems’ solving, especially basing on mental operations. Following to these characteristics ‘heuristic’ is the understanding of complex processes with the task to discover problems’ solution, and in the case of AI research it is “any stratagem for improving the performance of an artificial intelligence program” (Romanycia and Pelletier 1985: 50). Confronted with the technoscientific development ‘heuristic’ can be understood as the manner of dealing or handling with the problems such as systemic uncertainty or unpredictability of research and impacts according to the distinguished four dimensions of meaning.

Firstly, ‘heuristic’ as the uncertainty of outcomes concerns for instance the thesis of the underdetermination of theory and labs’ practice and the unpredictability of impacts. Secondly, ‘heuristic’ basing on incomplete knowledge appears in the case of nanotechnology as a research field where no one ‘closed’ theories of physics are present, or by confronting with the systemic complexity such as in the case of converging technologies (nano-bio-info-cogno), so that ‘heuristics’ are situated in-between, i.e. “they are plausible without being certain” (Romanycia and Pelletier 1985: 53), and the heuristic tools used here, such as models or ← 11 | 12 → analogies, are expressing or representing problems’ essentials. Thirdly, ‘heuristic’ understood as performance improvement can be identified with the contextual evolution of the meaning from the AI research, then the cognitive science, and the human-machine interfaces in engineering, and concerns the improvement of system’s performance. Hereby the practical dimension of heuristics is related with the AI research, i.e. the primacy of heuristic strategy’s improvement compared to the theoretical strategy’s performance. Finally, ‘heuristics’ as decision guiders are focusing on problems’ solution and/or systems’ control as for technosciences, so that “heuristic is a procedure for finding a procedure”: “Heuristics become the strategies, and the strategies for selecting the strategies, which tell us where to go next (…) that heuristics could be involved in direct active decision making, or merely passively as options to execute” (Romanycia and Pelletier 1985: 56, 57). – In the case of technosciences it would be the heuristic of labs’ practice but also the heuristic of risks and impacts or the heuristic of responsibility. At the same time ‘heuristics’ mean also the ability to use the norms of thinking with the aim to resolve emerging problems and conflicts from the one hand, and as the skill to discover them from the other hand. Following to these meanings ‘heuristic’ is problem-driven, and this point of view is especially relevant by the procedures of technology assessment, the theoretical frame of science and technology studies or converging technologies, so that the development of science and technology can be regarded as problem- and chance-driven. In both cases – by the heuristics as well as the technosciences – the aim is to find out or to discover new solutions in form of, for instance, the new modes of technoscientific knowledge production in the laboratory practice, then the practice of governance referring to the technology assessment, or the model of trading zones in accordance with the technological convergence and its transdisciplinary research.

Moreover, ‘heuristics’ as the skill resolving problems and dilemmas can be used as the means of hermeneutics by searching of new interpretations’ schemata as in the case of nano-images and nano-objects. Therewith is related the classical meaning of heuristic as the manner to constitute but also to guide the discourse, therefore ‘heuristics’ contain pedagogical components as learning and teaching processes. In the case of the heuristics of technosciences this concerns especially the modes involving the lay public into the technoscientific discourse or the modes of public participation and the co-creation not only of ‘technoscience’ but also the science and research policy. With the technoscientific thesis that ‘society’ co-produces and co-creates science and technology the significance of heuristics is obvious. Therefore the heuristics of technosciences complete the diagnosed process of science democratization as well as privatization. From this ← 12 | 13 → point of view the heuristics of technosciences appear as the condition in the deliberative approach or the participative model of technology assessment. Finally this understanding of the heuristics makes it possible to consider technology assessment as a social critique of science and technology from the one hand, but also as the way to elaborate adequate mechanisms of governance and decision-making from the other hand. The other aspect underlines the role of heuristics by the ethical dimension of technosciences.

Besides the socio-political and ethical aspects it is above all the epistemic relevance of the heuristics of technosciences confronted with the systemic complexity of science and technology development. The major challenge hereby is the qualitative dimension of the heuristic approach without the quantitative or empiric embedding. This concerns for instance the way of interpretations of nano-visions or the modes of scenarios building in the anticipative and prospective technology assessment. In this manner the introduced by K.R. Popper (in the Logik der Forschung from 1935) ‘heuristic’ as the epistemic tool by overcoming the dichotomy between the context of scientific discovery and the context of its explanation and falsification became fundamental for science and research at all. On this base it is distinguished between the positive and negative heuristic to which refers I. Lakatos in the concept of scientific research programs (in his Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes from 1970). Following to this the ‘heuristic power’ became the decisive criterion by assessing the scientific value of a theory. This ‘heuristic power’ should enable the anticipation of real innovations. In this meaning the heuristics of technosciences make part of the sociology of scientific knowledge and the controversies accompanying the history of scientific discoveries, so that it is the decisive element in the research devoted to the laboratory practice respecting for instance the non-human variables and factors as a new form of ‘collective’ (B. Latour).

In this context the aim of the heuristics of technosciences is the formulation of ‘laws’ of scientific discoveries from the one hand, but also the elaboration of heuristic ‘norms’ as the base of praxeology of scientific research, and this in form of a general methodology of creative thinking and acting in research practice. Basing on these meanings of ‘heuristic’ the following analyses attempt to design a comprehensive way of reflecting, analyzing and assessing the ongoing process of technoscientific development in form of a set of coordinates of the heuristics of technosciences. Because of intrinsic complexity, overlapping scientific disciplines and domains of social life, theoretical as well as practical dimensions, the heuristics of technosciences, and especially in the case of nano-technoscience, appear as a proper ‘trading zone’ in which scientific controversies and dilemmas ← 13 | 14 → as well as social risks and impacts of technoscientific development can be considered, so that ‘heuristics’ give the opportunity to integrate totally different aspects characterizing contemporary science, technology and society as a whole.

In this context the other aspect of heuristics’ understanding concerns the philosophical heuristic which at first glance constitutes the meta-theoretical level examining the scientific frames of philosophy itself as the philosophy of philosophy, or the philosophy’s self-image and self-understanding, i.e. the processes which form philosophical terms, methods, issues and discourses. Therefore ‘heuristic’ can be viewed as the constitution of unity between cognitive processes and discourse, a unity as the interrelation of research results in the process of heuresis, as “[a]nything that benefits and advances cognition, especially discursive”, so that the heuristic “is not supposed to serve some other cognitive process or discourse, but rather to constitute unity with them. (…) Every element of a discourse is a kind of result that is heuristically conditioned in some way, as well as a stage, and therefore a moment of heuresis advancing towards the next ideas and propositions” (Hartman 2015: 11).

This heuristic dimension of philosophy is relevant in the case of the multilayered process of technoscientific development encompassing science and technology as well as culture and society. In this vein, what underlines J. Hartman, the heuristic encircles theoretical and non-theoretical components and therefore it can contribute for instance to problem-solving, but at the same time it expresses more generally a certain form of thinking. This meaning of philosophical heuristic as a meta-philosophical level can be adapted to the analyses of technosciences as the form of searching for solutions of technoscientific problems and dilemmas emerging in research and society, but also as the form of thinking about. In this manner “heuristics must be placed ‘in between’ – in a kind of suspension and dependent on diverse forms of heuristic reflection (…), heuristics must have various faces, none of which can lay claim to any special position” (Hartman 2015: 13). This seems to be the case of nanotechnology as the prominent domain of technoscience where the plurality of spheres are interrelated: the scientific one such as the practice of measurement and apparatus calibration, the socio-political concerning the impacts by mass dissemination of nano-products, then the engineering sciences and the humanities for instance by comparing the reflective (philosophy) and prospective (engineering) modes of thinking, and finally the spheres of nature and culture confronted with the blurred distinction of organic and inorganic, or natural and artificial.

In this context the heuristics of technosciences can be regarded as a project basing on philosophy as a platform integrating various heuristic approaches ← 14 | 15 → related with. In this manner the heuristics of technosciences is philosophically founded by the universality of analyses and explanations, at the same time contributing to the unity of scientific and socio-political reflections. Philosophical heuristic as the meta-level of the modes of thinking contributes in this way to the heuristics of technosciences. In this sense philosophical heuristic, primarily designed with the aim to constitute a common reference with regard to the unity of philosophical thinking as science, can be adapted in the case of analyses of technoscientific phenomena. In both cases ‘heuristics’ express the modes of critical and reflective thinking about philosophy itself as well as science in the mode of technoscientific knowledge production or the culture of making science. In this context the heuristics of technosciences make out a meta-level of the interrelation of science and society, science and technology, science and engineering, nature and culture, a meta-level which unifies or integrates all the relevant various components, variables and phenomena which cannot be reduced or subsumed in one exclusive domain of science or culture. The objective hereby is the inner systemic complexity, and the task of such heuristics is the interrelation of different ongoing discourses, presented concepts and emerging technoscientific systems. In this meaning the heuristics of technosciences appear as the philosophically founded meta-trading zone focusing on the technoscientific phenomena. In this vein the heuristics of technosciences contain both the theoretical as well as practical dimensions of technosciences, that it is a theoretical, critical and reflective thinking as well as acting by solving emerging problems.

Following to this the heuristics of technosciences present the guiding lines of analyses and interpretations of technoscientific phenomena from philosophical, socio-political or normative points of view, and therefore can be regarded as the patterns of thinking about technosciences. In analogy to the philosophical heuristic it is an attempt to design a meta-technoscientific level of technosciences on which development’s paths and impacts are analyzed according to the general heuristic coordinates which have directly shaped the technoscientific progress, exemplarily elaborated in the case of nanotechnology. Therefore the heuristics of technosciences express at the same time the processes of modeling and adapting certain patterns of thinking and strategies for acting. The components of this conceptual framework of the heuristic approach are analyzed from theoretical point of view including science and technology studies, technology assessment and converging technologies, and then ‘translated’ in the case of nanotechnology as the prominent domain of technoscience. In this manner the presented concept of the heuristics of technosciences can be regarded as the process of ‘philosophical framing’ accomplished in the case of nanotechnology (the nano-domain) in ← 15 | 16 → form of the nano-technoscience. In this context the ‘framing’ – basically used by the determination of analyses’ patterns by technology-driven conflicts in the TA practice and procedures – is enlarged with regard to the theoretical, methodological and normative dimensions of technosciences, that besides the experts’ knowledge dilemmas or political aspects of technoscientific development, also the epistemic patterns of understanding and explanation are considered. In this vein the philosophical ‘framing’ in the case of the nano-domain makes out – by the establishment of a comprehensive structure of discourse – the pivotal contribution to the proclaimed heuristics of technosciences.

The presented analyses are divided in three major parts consisting of ten chapters, then introductive and concluding chapters epitomizing the structure of the book, presenting the methodological frame, confronting the major theses and designing the final conclusion. By constructing of this heuristic approach in the field of technosciences as starting point – in the Part A – is taken the general theoretical perspective in the philosophy of science and technology focusing on the three predominant nowadays conceptions by respecting their cultural and societal background. This part of analyses presents the general theoretical framework of technoscientific development and prepares the base of analyses devoted to the nano-domain as the representative field of technoscience itself. Due to this the introductive theoretical part of the book designs the process of technoscientific development in the last decades of the 20th century which has accompanied cultural and social changes above all in the Western societies.


Confronted with the accelerated development of science and technology the presented analyses are focusing on three predominant theoretical approaches in the philosophy of science and technology: technoscience (STS), technology assessment (TA) and converging technologies (NBIC). On this base are extrapolated the coordinates of the heuristics of technosciences which are recognized as the platform of understanding but also dealing with technoscientific innovations. This concerns especially nanotechnology and the emerging theoretical, methodological, ethical, socio-political controversies and dilemmas. In this manner the book epitomizes the elaborated to date approaches and designs the heuristic turn as the strategy of comprehensive understanding of technosciences.


ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2016 (August)
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 384 pp.

Biographical notes

Tomasz Stępień (Author)

Tomasz Stępień is head of Political Science and Social Communication Research Unit at the Department of Humanities of Wrocław University of Technology. His research fields consist of Philosophy of Culture, Science and Technology, Technology Assessment, Research and Science Policy and International Relations..


Title: Heuristics of Technosciences