Critical Studies Workshop: Writing Science

As in previous years, the "Writing Science" group will meet five or six times a quarter to discuss papers and projects that bring together perspectives from science studies, material semiotics, art, literature and architecture. The group includes faculty and students from Stanford's schools of humanities and sciences, engineering, law and medicine, as well as researchers working in universities, labs, corporations and research institutes in the area; it is intended to provide a forum for exchange of ideas and experiences generated in many different contexts, professional and other.

The "Writing Science" group usually meets to host an invited speaker or presentation of the work of some of the group members. Each speaker will precirculate a paper (or several papers), present his or her research, and answer questions from the audience, after which interested parties may proceed to a convivial dinner. In addition to meetings in this format, this year's program will also include an exhibit, one or more site investigations, including a field-trip, and participation in conferences in the areas of our interest.

We plan to hold an organizational meeting at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 9, 2001, in the Levinthal Room of the Stanford Humanities Center. (Please note that the Center is now housed in its new building - the former Alumni Association building across from the old Firehouse at 424 Santa Teresa Street.) Please attend if you can, and pass the word to others. If you can't attend but would like to suggest themes or speakers for this year, please send an email to the organizers, Tim Lenoir (, Haun Saussy ( or Gabriella Janni (

Our preliminary theme (as it has developed so far) might be called "From the Virtualization of the Material to the Materialization of the Virtual." In many areas of research and activity, a common focus has been the "virtualization" of experience: money has changed from being something carried in Wells Fargo bags or wallets to being arrangements of electronic signals; people have extended some of their traditional modes of social interaction by way of MOOs and MUDs; warfare occurs in simulated spaces that may in fact possess greater consequential power than "real" landscapes; political formations, artistic products, and personal histories have all taken a turn for the "virtual." This way of speaking has its illuminating force and usefulness, but it would be inaccurate to take the movement towards virtuality as the whole story of these new modes and regimes of inscription. The other side is the materialization of the virtual - the many ways in which the spaces and actions classifiable as "virtual" are not simply fictions or consensual hallucinations, but mark, shape and determine the spaces and activities of the "real." The relation between material and virtual realities is not new, but investigation of its dimensions and fields of application may lead us to conceive of it in novel ways.

We envision exploring this principal theme this year in the areas of:

i) bioinformatics (perhaps with special focus on protein folding as an ongoing area of investigation and model for other domains)

ii) architecture (especially the work of the Rhizome group and the effects of computer-led design)

iii) the history of representation and visual technologies (starting with the exemplary case of the living cell and its modes of visualization and description, from the seventeenth century forward but with special emphasis on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries).

We invite you to come and help design our workshop for this year by suggesting further areas to be investigated and possible speakers

next session

We will meet in the Levinthal Room of the Stanford Humanities Center, 424 Santa Teresa Street.


May15: John Johnston, "Machinic Life: The Lure of the Post-Natural"

The very idea that machines may begin to reproduce themselves disturbs our conceptual boundaries. What conditions must be filled in order to initiate such a process? As an assemblage producing both new forms of behavior and a new kind of performative discursive practice, Artificial Life challenges cultural boundaries and raises novel philosophical questions. One might say that its object is no longer nature but the simulation of "natural" processes that exhibit life-like behavior, but this formulation hardly conveys the extent to which hard and fast distinctions between the natural and the artificial, physis and techné, are undergoing radical revision and transformation. What we see taking place, rather, is a complex process of involution and re-articulation: not only have certain kinds of machines been constructed that can reproduce themselves, but life, biological life, has been reconceived by theorists such as Maturana and Varella as comprised of autopoietic "living systems," that is, machines that are organized in a specific way. When Artificial Life and the theory of autopoiesis are considered together, as they will be in this paper, striking evidence emerges of what might be called a double inversion, in which each side of the opposition between machines and biological organisms gives way to the other: non-organic machines become self-reproducing organisms, and organisms become autopoietic machines. Indeed, this double inversion defines an essential tendency of contemporary technological development. We are entering a new era defined by a "biology of machines," in which the realm of the born--all that is nature--and the realm of the made--all that is humanly constructed--are becoming one. But whether this becoming is one, or a complex multiplicity (the position I will take), it is clear that the opposition between machine and organism no longer marks the site of a simple conceptual breach or collapse, but has become a two-way street or nexus out of which new conceptual possibilities and contemporary technologies are rapidly emerging.

Background: Machinic Vision
Vibrant Cells: Cellular Automata, Artificial Life, Autopoiesis

Upcoming Sessions

That's it for this academic year, please visit us again next year.

Previous Sessions

May 8: Luis Rocha, "The Emergence of Symbols and Representations"

Luis Rocha is a Technical Staff Member at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (Modeling, Algorithms, and Informatics Group), where he is the leader of the Complex Systems Modeling Research Focus Area of the Distributed Knowledge Systems and Modeling Team, and is involved in several research projects. He is a visiting professor at the Instituto Gulbenkian da Ciencia as well as at the Instituto de Sistemas e Robotica of the Instituto Superior TÈcnico in Lisbon, Portugal, where he teaches a Ph.D. course in Bioinformatics and a graduate course on Biological Metaphors for Engineering, respectively. He is also a research collaborator and a member of the Santa Fe Institute's research community. He has published many articles in scientific and technologic journals, and has been the recipient of several scholarships and awards.
Full CV:

Background: "Selected Self-Organization and the Semiotics of Evolutionary Systems"

May 1: Michael Thaler, "Writing Medical Ethics:Timing is Everything"


"Jacques Derrida: Cruelty, Death Penalty, and the Return of the Religious"
An event at Stanford University celebrating Stanford University Press authors, April 26-27, 2002
For information on lectures, round tables and readings, see

April 24: Steven Meyer
Bio, Title and Abstract for Wednesday's talk
Paper to read in advance of Wednesday

Additional material participants will want to know about, somewhat at random: Varela and Natalie Depraz, "At the Source of Time: Valence and the Constitutional Dynamics of Affect"

Jean-Phillippe Lachaux, Eugenio Rodriguez, Jacques Martinerie, and Francisco J. Varela, "Measuring Phase Synchrony in Brain Signals," Human Brain Mapping 8: 194-208 (1999) link is on Varela's site

Varela, "Steps to a Science of Inter-being: Unfolding the Dharma Implicit in Modern Cognitive Science," in The Psychology of Awakening: Buddhism, Science, and Our Day-to-Day Lives, ed. Gay Watson, Stephen Batchelor, and Guy Claxton (2000)

Varela, "A Dimly Perceived Horizon: The Complex Meeting Ground between Physical and Inner Time," Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Volume 879 (Tempos in Science and Nature: Structures, Relations, and Complexity), June 30, 1999

as well as a volume he co-edited with Jonathan Shear: The View from Within: First-person approaches to the study of consciousness (1999).

April 10: Mark Hansen, "Affect as Interface: Confronting the 'Digital-Facial-Image'"

ABSTRACT and bio

March 13: Bruce Clarke,"Strong Constructivism: Modernity and Complexity in Science Studies and Systems Theory."

ABSTRACT and bio

March 6: Niklas Damiris
Electronic Money, Financial Intangibles, Virtual reality Reflections on the State of the New Economy

ABSTRACT and bio

TUESDAY, February 12th Sha Xin Wei, who is Assistant Professor, School of Literature, Communication and Culture and Adjunct Faculty in Graphics, Visualization and Usability Center, Georgia Tech. ( He has given us the following title:

"Why Didn't I Take the Blue Pill?" -- Responsive Mediaspace as an Experiment in Writing and Agency


"Persistence of Gender" conference (Feb. 8-9),, where humanities/cultural studies people will actually meet and talk with biologists and behavioral scientists. The unavoidable theme of the bodily effects of social decision-making will link up all these kinds of investigation in practice.

Wednesday, January 30th, Malinda M. Lo, "Dana Scully Uncovered: X-Files Fan Fiction and the Posthuman Body."


Wednesday January 16, Vishu Lingappa, professor of physiology and medicine at UCSF. His current research bears on protein folding and genetics. He is the author of a forthcoming second edition. The citation is: Physiological Medicine : a clinical approach to basic medical physiology. Vishwanath R. Lingappa, Krista Farey. New York : McGraw-Hill, Medical Pub. Division, c2000.
at the usual hour (6 pm), Stanford Humanities Center.

Reading: A Synopsis of Bioconformatics and other illustrations

Wednesday, December 12th, Sibylle Obrecht, "Rejection or tolerance? The first heart transplantations and the construction of the 'self'."


This year's second workshop featured Haun Saussy, Associate Professor of Asian Languages and Comparative Literature at Stanford, who presented Machines for Stimulating Curiosity-- Or, The Baroque Wunderkammer All Over Again in San Jose, California?

Abstract: This presentation is a progress report on some parts of a collective artwork being designed and constructed for the new Joint Public and University Library of San Jose, to be opened in summer 2003. Mel Chin, lead designer for this public art project, has unleashed an indeterminate number of collaborators to suggest and develop ideas for turning the functional spaces of this library building into corners of wonder and puzzlement (following on Aristotle's suggestion that all philosophizing begins in _thauma_, "amazement"). I will be discussing some of the plans that have emerged from this opportunity to conjoin fantasy, engineering, architecture and poetics.

This year's first workshop featured Tim Lenoir, professor of history and chair of the History and Philosophy of Science Program at Stanford, and Casey Alt, graduate student in the History and Philosophy of Science Program, as they presented their paper entitled

"Flow, Process, Fold: Intersections in Bioinformatics and Contemporary Architecture"

Abstract: Flow, Process, Fold: Intersections in Bioinformatics and Contemporary Architecture. We are becoming immersed in a growing repertoire of computer-based media for creating, distributing, and interacting with digitized versions of the world. Oft-noted features of the growth of computer-mediated forms of work and communication are the acceleration of nearly every aspect of design and production, along with the high degree of both modularity and adaptability of processes. IT workers have responded to the explosion of data created by digital technology by generating dynamic systems for facilitating the information flow, replacing static forms with fluid architectures for extracting meaning. In this essay we want to juxtapose several developments in the fields of computational biology, bioinformatics, robotics, and computer-aided design, which are significant for other areas in which computers have begun to mediate processes of work and creativity. Foremost among these transformations is the restructuring of the field of biology into a new, electronically-mediated information science known as bioinformatics - a discipline that differs greatly in its ontological relationship to traditional biological practice. We also will argue that a new fold of architects, whom we have called "post-architects," are effecting a similar restructuring of their discipline through their innovative use of digital media in addressing critical contemporary issues of philosophical, ethical, and social concern. Many have found philosophical resonance in the writings of Deleuze and Guattari, particularly in their effort to displace key modernist notions of difference as other, lack, or negative, with difference as a positive source. Post-architects have embraced computer-mediated design and production as an opening for a new critical discourse, a new line of flight, at once a new critical language and phenomenology that maps an emerging diagram of a larger social order.

1999-2000 Sessions


1998-1999 Sessions




Tim Lenoir, Chair, Program in History and Philosophy of Science,

Haun Saussy, Chair, Department of Asian Languages,

Steven Meyer, Stanford Humanities Center,

Graduate Student Assistant:

Gabriella Janni, Dept. of History,

Previous Participants

Tereza Virginia de Almeida is a Professor of Brazilian Literature and Literary Theory at Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina/Brazil. She is a visiting scholar within the Department of Comparative Literature at Stanford University. In her work in progress,entitled "For a Critique of Cannibal Reason", she is drafting a collection of essays each of which hinges upon a revisionist close reading of the thesis "The Crisis of Messianic Philosophy" which was presented in 1950 by the Brazilian modernist poet Oswald de Andrade. "For a critique of cannibal Reason" sets out to re-interpret Oswald's utopian proclamation of the emergence of a natural-technological man from a postmodern/techno-tribal

Nancy Anderson is a doctoral student in the History of Art at the University of Michigan. Her dissertation (of which 2-1/2 chapters are written) looks at representation and the rise of fields of microscopy (cytology, especially) during the second half of the 19th century. Chapters will cover: 1) the development of biological stains, "seeing" nature through a painted artifact, and the role of aesthetics; 2) representation (writing, drawing, photography) and how 19th-century microscopists debated the relative roles and merits of different forms of representation; and 3) 19th century arguments over the role of the imagination in scientific inquiry and then in the creation of representations by scientists.

Anne Balsamo is a research scientist at Xerox PARC in a design group called RED (Research on Experimental Documents). The current RED project is the design and construction of a museum installation called "Experiments in the Future of Reading." Her previous work on the body and technology was published by Duke University Press in a book titled Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women. Her current research focuses on the relationship between the design of new media and cultural

Robert Batchelor is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Stanford. He recently received his doctorate from UCLA. His current project is a book on cryptography in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe and its relation to studies of the Chinese language.

Richard M. Benjamin, Program in Modern Thought and Literature, Stanford University. His interests are in contemporary American culture most broadly; in technology studies; in critical and literary theory; and in syncretic versions of cultural criticism and communication theory that enable him to examine American pop iconography, contemporary film, interactive media, and "post-modernity."

W. Bernard Carlson is a Visiting Associate Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Stanford. He holds a joint appointment in the Division of Technology, Culture, and Communication and the History Department at the University of Virginia. As a historian of technology, he has specialized in studying the thought processes and business strategies used by prominent American inventors such as Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. His publications include Innovation as a Social Process: Elihu Thomson and the Rise of General Electric (Cambridge, 1991). He is especially interested in the ways in which inventors use representations, sketches, and models in their creative work. With the support from the Sloan Foundation, he is currently working on a scientific biography of Nikola Tesla which will be published by Princeton University Press.

Angelica Duran, Doctoral candidate, English Dept., Stanford University Dissertation, "The Art and Craft of Milton's Pedagogy: The Scientific Revolution in Milton's Poetry and Prose", explores the influence of the English Scientific Revolution on the representations of pedagogy in all of Milton's works. It combines historical research and analysis of poetry and prose to accurately appreciate how Milton captured the excitement, anxieties, and developments of the parallel Scientific Revolution and educational reform.

Lynn Eden, a sociologist, is a senior research scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. She is currently completing a book titled Constructing Destruction: Organizations, Knowledge, and the Effects of Nuclear Weapons(Ithaca: Cornell University press, forthcoming) about how scientific and engineering knowledge was encoded in organizational routines, and how and why that knowledge seriously underestimated the damage that would be caused by nuclear weapons. More broadly, Eden is interested in issues of social cognition and representation in organizations.

Robert E. Horn, Visiting Scholar, Program on People, Computers and Design, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University. His book Visual Language: Global Communication for the 21st Centuryhas recently been published by Stanford UP. His work is focused on developing a broad understanding of visual language, which he describes as the very tight integration of words and visual elements into new units of communication. He is also heavily involved in developing a kind of mapping of great public debates, called argumentation mapping.

Thomas Hughes is Mellon Professor of the History and Sociology of Science, Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, and Visiting Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University. His most recent publications include RESCUING PROMETHEUS (Pantheon, 1998); AMERICAN GENESIS (Penguin 1990), which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and LEWIS MUMFORD: PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL (Oxford University Press 1990), which he edited with Agatha Hughes. He is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a recipient of the Leonardo da Vinci Medal of the Society for the History of Technology.

Steven Meyer, visiting fellow this year at the Stanford Humanities Center, is currently on leave from Washington University in St. Louis, where he teaches modern and contemporary poetry and directs the graduate Creative Writing Program. His study Irresistible Dictation: Gertrude Stein and the Correlations of Writing and Science, due out next year from Stanford University Press, examines Stein's radically experimental writing in terms of late 19th- and early 20th-century, as well as late 20th-century, literary, philosophical, psychological and neurophysiological contexts. stevenm@leland.Stanford.EDU

Ellen S. O'Connor is a Visiting Scholar at the Scandinavian Consortium for Organizational Research, Stanford University, and a Visiting Lecturer at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley. Her research pursues linkages between the humanities and management-organization studies. Her most recent article, "The Politics of Management Thought: A Case Study of the Harvard Business School and the Human Relations School," appears in the Academy of Management Review, January, 1999. eoconnor@leland.Stanford.EDU

Michael Riordan is Assistant to the Director at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and a Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science Program at Stanford, teaching a course on the history of 20th century physics. He author of "The Hunting of the Quark: A True Story of Modern Physics" (Simon & Schuster, 1987), and coauthor of "Crystal Fire: The Birth of the Information Age" (W. W. Norton, 1997), a history of the transistor. He is now working on a multi-author history of the SSC to be titled "Tunnel Visions: The Rise and Fall of the Superconducting Super Collider."

Daniel Rosenberg, Stanford University. His principal work concerns theories of language and epistemology in eighteenth-century Europe. He has written on etymology, neology, and language origins theory as well as Diderot's Encyclopediaand Condillac's pedagogical works. His work aims especially at understanding the role of history and temporality in these various theories. Some of his current work concerns relationships between the concept of the encyclopedia in the eighteenth century and contemporary information theory, in particular, Theodor Nelson's theory of hypertext. He is also currently writing about the Hoover Dam. He would be especially interested in talking with people who think about computers and such things.

Haun Saussy, Associate Professor in the Departments of Asian Languages and Comparative Literature. His research interests include Chinese poetry and archaeology, translation, and linguistic

Sha, Xin Wei, is Assistant Professor, School of Literature, Communication and Culture and Adjunct Faculty in Graphics, Visualization and Usability Center, Georgia Tech. xinwei@lcc.gatech.eduPrior to his current position, he was a Visiting Scholar, Program in History and Philosophy of Science, and Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Mathematics.

Ann Weinstone is a Ph.D. Candidate in Modern Thought and Literature at Stanford University. Her essays have appeared in Science-Fiction Studies, Nineteenth-Century Contexts, and Diacritics, among other venues. She is currently working on her dissertation: Universe City or The Risk of Posthumanism.weinstne@leland.Stanford.EDU

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