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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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In the first part of this thesis, an account of the main problem definitions, motivators and methodological underpinnings was presented. I particularly stressed in this context that this work is in line with a broader movement in the more recent philosophy of science, insofar as it shares with other works a certain starting point, which it acts against: and that is the purely linguistic view of representation, and here especially also of argumentation. This work is dedicated to the counter-intuition, which holds that non-linguistic – and especially pictorial – means can be taken into account when it comes to illuminating what science is in terms of how representations and argumentations work in functional regards and under -science-specific demands on the performance of these means. Conversely, a lack of integrative efforts concerning the role of pictorial means in contexts of representation and argumentation was taken as a shortcoming of previous approaches.

The second part of this thesis presented two close-up analyses of the targeted scientific practices, some of which have not been documented in the philosophy of science so far – such as the use of microscopy-like images. The main challenge was to operationalize the questions on the epistemic weight (i.e. the functional role) and system-specific surpluses (i.e. type-specific contributions) of pictorial means in such a way that it becomes possible to decide on a case basis whether something is picture-like, language-like, epistemically weighty or particularly efficient, etc. At the same time, these conditions should, of course, allow for the intuitions gained...

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