8:30–9:10 Cesare Pastorino
Francis Bacon’s Controlled Experiments on Seed Steeping and Germination: Their Context, Circulation and Methodological Significance
In Sylva sylvarum, Francis Bacon analyzes the agricultural practice of seed steeping through a controlled experiment on the germination of wheat seeds (Sylva sylvarum, no. 402). My paper will address this experiment following two perspectives.
First, I will consider the context in which Bacon developed this experiment, and its subsequent circulation in authors interested in agricultural experimentation. The use of steeping seeds to develop their germination was a sufficiently widespread agricultural practice in Bacon's time. In particular, Bacon was aware of attempts to develop and determine optimal liquids for steeping by early Stuart projectors and farmers. Bacon's controlled experiments can be viewed as tests of these attempts, and as their methodological refinements. Controlled experiments on seed germination by steeping have an important history after Bacon. In this paper, I will consider some French and English agricultural treatises of the second half of the eighteenth century that discuss controlled experiments analogous to Bacon's, and at least in some cases directly inspired by the Sylva's experiment. Incidentally, some of these treatises indicate the existence of little-studied agricultural experimental histories in the Baconian style.
Finally, I will analyze this controlled experiment in its more methodological significance. I argue that in this experiment Bacon follows very precisely the principles of his notion of ‘literate experience,’ and in particular the idea that new experiments can be derived and developed by altering one of the characteristics of a given experimental setting. This practice is one of the fundamental steps of the Baconian induction. In my paper, I will then try to clarify the philosophical role of controlled experiments in the Baconian method.
9:10–9:50 Caterina Schürch
One Myrtle Proves Nothing: Rigorously Comparative Experiments & the Attempt to Improve Vegetation (1746–1846)
This talk focuses on the notion that it takes two tests to make a point. Or how botanist Augustin-Pyrame de Candolle (1832) put it: “A test proves nothing as long as another comparative test is not placed next to it.” I will introduce de Candolle’s conception of ideal rigorously comparative experiments and contrast it with examples from a hundred years of experimentation on the question of whether plants can be improved by electrification. This question occupied a diverse group of actors in the 18th and 19th century (and beyond). The case studies thus provide an opportunity to compare the methodological views and practical struggles of magazine editors, farmers, as well as practitioners of experimental philosophy or the newly forming plant physiology.
10:30–11:10 Theodore Arabatzis & Vasiliki Christopoulou
From the Determination of the Ohm to the Discovery of Argon: Lord Rayleigh's Strategies of Experimental Control
In the vast majority of the work of Lord Rayleigh theory and experiment went hand in hand and the quest for rigor was a ubiquitous theme in both. To his mind, though, physicists, in contrast to mathematicians, could proceed in their investigations without seeking absolute rigor. In Rayleigh’s physics, rigor in experimental practice was interwoven with control strategies, which pervaded his work at various levels. Moreover, experimental control had different aims in different cases: for instance, the standardization of a measurement unit in the determination of the Ohm and the validation of experimental results in the discovery of Argon. In the former case, Rayleigh and his team varied the design of their apparatus to control the experimental conditions. Dealing with errors was a main aspect of their control processes and lied at the heart of their methodology. In the latter case, control was present in every step of the discovery process: the detection of a discrepancy between the densities of atmospheric and “chemical” nitrogen, the identification of the new gas as a constituent of the atmosphere, and the subsequent exploration of its properties. The aim of this talk is to investigate and contrast the strategies of control employed in those two cases and to clarify their various purposes.
11:10–11:50 Dan Liu
Learning Light Controls: Theory, Application, and Correction at the Zeiss Vacation Courses for Scientific Microscopy, 1907–1924
Every scientist and technician must learn how to use their instruments to do their daily work. But when is it also necessary to learn why and how the instrument works at all? In the late nineteenth century a so-called “wissenschaftliche Mikroskopie” (or “scientific microscopy”) developed in the German-speaking lands—a way of approaching the microscope that was supposed to be distinct from merely using the microscope or, worse, amateur microscopy. In 1907 the Carl Zeiss optical firm began holding 6–8 day-long “vacation courses for scientific microscopy” to introduce the principles and techniques of scientific microscopy, eventually holding 19 such courses in Germany, Holland, Austria, and Hungary by 1924. On the one hand, by teaching scientific microscopy to a wide range of scientists, physicians, technicians, and engineers, the Zeiss firm sought to secure its near-monopoly position as the dominant global manufacturer of microscopes and accessories. On the other hand, many eagerly sought out such education, suggesting that desire for theoretical knowledge about the microscope was high, even among practitioners in fields that did not require it. In this presentation I will look at the Zeiss course’s pedagogical materials as well as attendees’ scientific work to explore the social dimensions of rigor, control, and scientific theory. I will argue that ideas about rigorous use of instruments might be common even in research fields that do not push those instruments to their limits.
1:00–1:40 Evan Arnet
Controlling Away the Phenomenon: Maze Research and the Nature of Learning
Following maze research in animal behavior studies through the 19th and 20th century, I explore control as an extended historical process which involves the successive stabilization or removal of bits and scraps of the world to arrive at the pure form of a phenomenon of interest. Early behaviorist investigation of maze learning aimed to strip environmental cues from maze design to study learning free from the idiosyncrasies of context. Exemplifying this tendency is the famous 1907 “Kerplunk” experiment of Watson and Carr, in which they held that rats could ultimately learn a maze as one long bodily response which would unspool in a successive series of actions, rather than rats basing their movement through the maze on external stimuli. Supporting this context free research program was a conceptual understanding of learning as something singular and general. Later however, with more ecological accounts of animal behavior, it was argued that these early control practices had nullified the rich interrelation between organism and environment that makes advanced learning possible, leading to a deflated and distorted understanding of animal learning. They had, in short, controlled away the phenomenon. This case highlights the tension between what is the object of inquiry and what is the object of control, and how novelty can lay in reinterpreting what was previously merely interference as central to the phenomenon of interest.