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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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III Examples

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Having defended the need for a revised view of pictorial means in science, I will proceed with the introduction of examples. Considering the line of argumentation, it makes sense to acquire some intuitions of actual usages of pictorial means before objecting to the notion that the latter are irrelevant or too unspecific for the scientific acquisition of knowledge or conceptual accounts thereof.

The idea now is, more precisely, to create an empirically supported reference base, which sets demands on the soundness and illuminative power of those accounts that seek to defend or reject the epistemic relevance and surpluses of picture-like means (reviewed in chap. 4.1ff.). In other words, the examples should not only work as motivators, but also as correctives of the positions discussed below. This is in accordance with the current mode of proceeding in the philosophy of science (as outlined above; cf. 2.3.2; 2.3.3), which is expected to be compatible – and should definitely not compete – with the self-conceptions of the domains under consideration.40

One simply needs to bear in mind that when focusing on a limited set of examples, the empirical significance of assertions thus supported is possibly limited, too; at any rate it can only be defended along the lines of the chosen examples. It goes without further saying that this is the reward from turning to case-related analyses. On the other hand, focusing on a limited set of examples also has specific advantages. First of all, one is free to pick examples...

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