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Scientific Visualisation

Epistemic Weight and Surpluses

Marianne Richter

Much of the recent confidence in the future of science and technology stems from advances in scientific visualisation. But is it right to assume that visual – and especially pictorial – measures carry special epistemic weight in the context of scientific reasoning? Do pictorial approaches have any surpluses, compared to other semiotic types? This book delves into these issues from the point of view of the philosophy of science. New examples from the field of scientific visualisation are introduced in order to account for the epistemic weight and surpluses of syntactically dense – pictorial – symbol systems.
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← 16 | 17 → Preface


The philosophical interest in scientific visualisation had already reached a peak when I started working on this thesis in 2009. Nevertheless, the various contributors to the thriving debates have kept on nurturing diverging intuitions on the nature, exploitability and methodological status of visual – and especially pictorial – means. It seems that while the prevalence of pictorial means was never called into question their status as aids to the scientist – and thus as subjects of interest to the philosophy of science – is repeatedly in need of reconsideration. Meanwhile, the range of attributions comprises everything from redundant or distractive to enabling or instructive, which only reinforces the friction between “those who think that the image is an extremely rudimentary system […] and those who think that signification cannot exhaust the image’s ineffable richness”1 (Barthes 1977, p. 32). The implementation of study programs, such as Visual Computing which grew out of computer science, or Visual Studies which involves several disciplines within the humanities, added further fuel to a fire which finally spread to the philosophy of science as well, where it presents a particluar challenge to those who try to analyse the notion of science (and notions related to it) in terms of its integral and contingent components. Following this track, the question arises as to whether the long-neglected pictorial means can be integral to core measures of scientific practice and thus carry epistemic weight in a non-trivial sense.

In my thesis I have also made attempts to use this strategy of...

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