Next week one of the stars in the history of modern science visits Utrecht. Harvard Professor Peter Galison has written a number of highly acclaimed and original books, including How Experiments End (1987), Image and Logic (1997), and Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps (2003). Between March 8-12 he will be delivering a series of lectures and workshops at the University of Utrecht. I will certainly be there.
One intriguing aspect of Galison’s work in the history of modern physics is a focus on material culture, instruments, and the role of visual representations and images – the tangible, concrete, material context of scientific practice which has traditionally been neglected for a focus on abstract theoretical debates and chronologies of the accumulation of experimental data. Galison will bring the visual focus to Utrecht as well, giving a workshop on the role of film in documenting science, as well as the screening of his own documentary, Secrecy.
The title of the film gives a clue to what I look particularly forward to hearing him talk about: The role of secrecy in science. The lecture entitled “Blacked-Out Spaces: Secrecy and Science”, is advertised with the following abstract:
At its core, secrecy is the organized attempt to direct the flow of information—as such it conflicts directly with the common picture of science as the paradigmatic form of open distribution. But the relation of secrecy and science is far more complex than the pair “hide/reveal” can capture. In this lecture, I want to begin to unravel, historically and analytically, the ambivalent embrace of science and secrecy, from World War I era censorship through the massive bureaucratization of classification in 1939-89, to our current, destabilized attempts to create secrecy—and secret science—after the end of the Cold War. What is, and what has been, our changing, implicit theory of secrecy, and how does it shape the very idea of knowledge?
As someone who’s interested in esotericism and science, this cannot fail to enlighten on one level or another.
(Galison visits as holder of the Treaty of Utrecht Chair at the Centre for Humanities, University of Utrecht. This is a guest lecture position which runs on a semester to semester basis. After this intensive week, Galison will be back again at a later date to give a new round of lectures and seminars.)