Trouble with Images in Computational Physics

Matt Spencer

Abstract


Over 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork with a group of computational physicists, I encountered many negative assessments of the part that images should play in the accomplishment of good research. In this essay I explore the question of where these anxieties might come from and what they mean. Using Bachelard’s philosophy, I first point to the role that the image plays in conditioning the imagination and in training intuitive judgement. But to get to the bottom of the trouble with images we are led through Rheinberger and Stiegler to a view of scientific cognition that extends beyond the mind to prosthetic circuits of artefacts, including both images and written inscriptions. Rather than locating the problem as one of the relation between the image and what it represents, I argue for the importance of general cultural difficulties in managing and manipulating artefactual assemblages.

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