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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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II Picture-like Means in Science

Extract

What do we refer to as a ‘figure’, an ‘image’ or a ‘picture’? Apparently, there is no definite answer to this question, but there are as many answers as there are ways of using these terms. Equivocation may, of course, occur with any terms, including philosophical terms of art (cf. Gadamer 1972, p. 392). Nevertheless, it seems particularly pronounced among the terms that form this section’s title. Why is that? This is difficult to say. Could it be a cause or a consequence of the fact that the so-termed entities often work as links between different contexts? For example, they link different arenas of science, such as research programs or projects, where they occur as shared objects of focus:

“[V]isual culture draws on nearly two dozen fields in the humanities, including history and art history, art criticism, art practice, art education, feminism and woman’s studies, queer theory, political economy, postcolonial studies, performance studies, anthropology and visual anthropology, film and media studies, archaeology, architecture and urban planning, visual communication, graphic and book design, advertising and the sociology of art” (Elkins 2003, p. 25).

This is still incomplete since Elkins (2003) skips the natural and engineering sciences in this list. Additionally, the so-termed entities also work as links between distinct stages of research, where they serve as pre- or post-preparatory means or measures:

“Once the researchers succeeded in visualizing these aspects of the flow [i.e. of an airflow inside a storm], they were able to...

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