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CSS colloquium: Christoffer Basse Eriksen, Department of Philosophy and History of Ideas, AU

Scaling the exceedingly small: The early modern discovery of the sub-visible world

Info about event


Wednesday 24 October 2018,  at 14:15 - 15:45


Koll G4 (1532-222)


Early modern microscopists faced a number of challenges as they began observing what no one had observed before. They found their objects to be blurry and out of shape, they had trouble reproducing their findings as well as relating what they saw with preexisting knowledge about the natural world. But more than that, they struggled with the sense that although they could hold their objects in their hands, they were forever far away as if in a different world. In this talk, I will approach the microscopists’ experience of otherworldliness as a problem of scaling. Taking the concept of scaling from work done within the discipline of environmental history, I will identify the different observational and representational strategies used by microscopists such as Hooke, Leeuwenhoek and Grew as they were facing a new scale of nature, the sub-visible world. I argue that they were trying to integrate the sub-visible world into the realm of nature at large, while being careful to specify the boundaries between the visible, the sub-visible and the invisible. These analyses will result in reflections on how instruments are able to create new images of the world, and how these images foster new kinds of knowledge.