Tooled Knowledge :
Animation of Nature
The Animation of Nature
Harry Hillman Chartrand, August 2003
It should prove historically ironic that the ‘tool making’ animal – humanity – entered its 21st century global knowledge-based economy without ‘tooled knowledge’ in its economic epistemology, i.e., its economic theory of knowledge. Tooled knowledge, as sensor has extended the human senses far beyond our natural endowment; as tool, it has extended the human grasp into the darkness of space, the depths of the oceans and to the genetic fabric whose warp and weave dresses humankind’s consciousness; and, as toy, it has extended the human playpen to the globe and beyond.
Tooled knowledge is like tacit knowledge (personal and somatic) in that it has purpose and is an existential extension of our self. It is like codified knowledge in that it is extrasomatic, fixed in a material matrix other than our physical self and has vintage. Unlike the analytic and reductive knowledge of the natural sciences, it is the result of design through synthesis of different domains and forms of knowledge. It has density: the more knowledge tooled into a functional material matrix, the more operationally opaque it becomes approaching, at the limit, the user-friendly ‘black box’.
In spite of its pervasive presence and impact, tooled knowledge, has remained below the analytic radar not just of economics, but also of the history, philosophy and sociology of science and technology. A paradox results: the experimental instrumental sciences have risen to cultural ascendancy paralleled by the continuing epistemological subordination of tooled knowledge except within the natural sciences themselves.
… where knowledge is an essential part of the system,
knowledge about the system changes the system itself.
1.01 Kenneth Boulding called the epithet to this essay: “the epistemological paradox” (Boulding 1966, 9). Epistemology, the study of knowledge, is, by definition, an essential element in any discussion of the so-called knowledge-based economy. It is my hope to expand the vocabulary of this discussion by introducing a new concept: ‘tooled knowledge’
1.02 To date, discussion has focused on two terms: tacit and codified knowledge. Both are generally recognized as factors affecting the production functions of firms and nation-states (OECD 1996; Malhotra 2000; ANSI/GKEC 2001). Both are subject to widely varying interpretation in the hands of different analysts.
1.03 For my part, I will define tacit knowledge in keeping with the work from which the term derives, Michael Polanyi’s 1962: Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. It is clear from Polanyi’s usage that he views tacit knowledge as ‘personal knowledge’. Put another way, tacit is living knowledge, knowledge that resides in the head of an individual. From whence it comes – demonstration, experience, intuition or reading – does not change its personal nature. Ultimately, all knowledge is tacit in that only a natural person can ‘know’. [A]
1.04 Codified knowledge, as a term, does not appear to have a single seminal source. In general, it means the use of a written language or symbols to encode the knowledge of one or more persons into a material matrix (Innis 1950, 1951) that subsequently – distant in time and space – may be decoded and assimilated as tacit knowledge by another. Legally, fixation of knowledge (or rather ideas) in material form is a requirement of copyright protection. Such fixation is also required for a patent in that protection requires filing a written and graphic description of sufficient detail to permit someone normally skilled in the art to replicate the invention. In short, a patent also requires codification of knowledge.
1.05 By contrast, the term ‘tooled knowledge’ is not part of the current debate. The term itself appears first, and to my knowledge only, in the classic The History of Economic Analysis, wherein Joseph Schumpeter refers to economics as “a recognized field of tooled knowledge” (Schumpeter 1954: 143). My usage, however, will be quite different.
1.06 While the term is not used, many allusions to the concept can be found in the history, philosophy and sociology of science and technology as well as within economics itself. Restricting ourselves, for the moment, to economics, the term ‘technological change’, for example, veils the impact of new knowledge on the production function. In general, it is assumed that such new knowledge takes the form of capital plant and equipment. In turn, the term ‘capital’ hides what Kenneth Boulding identified as “knowledge imposed on the material world” (Boulding 1966, 5), or, “frozen knowledge” (Boulding 1966, 6). As will be seen, however, Boulding’s frozen knowledge includes codified and tooled knowledge.
1.07 One way to characterize tooled knowledge is by reference to grammar. In this context, tacit knowledge would be a verb, i.e., active, dynamic, functional and somatic, i.e., embodied in a natural person. Codified knowledge would be a noun, i.e., extrasomatic (Sagan 1977), fixed or frozen in a material matrix, static, a message that must be decoded by a natural person. Tooled knowledge would be a gerund, i.e., a verbal noun “that has the function of a substantive and at the same time shows the verbal features of tense, voice, and capacity to take adverbial qualifiers and to govern objects (Merriam-Webster Online: 2 – henceforth MWO).
1.08 Tooled knowledge is like codified knowledge in that it is extrasomatic and fixed or frozen in material form, i.e., it has a vintage. Like codified knowledge, it must, ultimately, be activated, but not necessarily decoded, by a natural person. On the other hand, it is like tacit knowledge in that it has purpose and function and the potential to shape, form and animate nature: “
1.09 An inference may be drawn from this grammatical analogy: a language uses all three parts of speech - verbs, nouns and gerunds – in a syntax, i.e., ordering, that define a specific language – Chinese, English, French or mathematics. The richer the store or inventory of verbs, nouns and gerunds and the more varied their interactive combinations, the richer, more subtle and effective communications.
1.10 The inference is use or application of tacit, codified and tooled knowledge within the syntactical context of a firm or nation-state defines competitiveness in a global knowledge-based economy. The richer the stock of tacit, codified and tooled knowledge and the more varied their interactive combinations, the more competitive the firm or nation-state.
1.11 The border line between codified and tooled knowledge can, at present, be best demonstrated by the different patent filing requirements for microorganisms versus traditional forms of patentable inventions. As noted above, to receive a patent, inventions must, among other things, be fully disclosed in words and diagrams. To receive a patent for a new microorganism, however, a sample must be deposited and made available to others (see, for example, the 1980 WIPO Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Microorganisms for the Purposes of Patent Procedure). Such new knowledge is ‘tooled’ into the genetic code of the organism itself. Words and pictures are simply not enough for someone normally skilled in the art to replicate the invention. In both cases, however, knowledge is, in fact, tooled into a functional material matrix evidenced by the historically well-established and widespread industrial practice of ‘reverse engineering’ (Samuelson & Scotchmer, 2002).
1.12 The border line between tacit and tooled knowledge can be demonstrated by reference to machine tools and contemporary ‘expert systems’. In effect, a machine tool is a machine that makes machines. Once upon a time all machines were individually and uniquely crafted applying the tacit knowledge and skill of an individual craftsperson. In effect, tacit knowledge has been progressively downloaded, embodied or tooled into a new type of machine that can produce standardized parts for new machines. Computerized ‘expert systems’, e.g., in chemical analysis, engineering and medical diagnosis, are examples of the continuing human effort to embody tacit or expert knowledge in a functional material matrix, i.e., to create tools to manipulate, monitor, shape or animate nature.
1.13 In what follows, I will explore the forms and types as well as the nature and sources of tooled knowledge. I will also explain the cultural path dependency or bias that has, at least until now, kept tooled knowledge below the analytic radar not just of economics, but also of the history, philosophy and sociology of science and technology.
2.01 Tooled knowledge takes one of two related forms: ‘hard-tooled’ and ‘soft-tooled’. In turn, each breaks out into three different types: sensors, tools and toys; and, mathematics, standards and techniques, respectively. I will examine each by form and type.
2.02 By ‘hard’ I mean tooled knowledge as a physical artifact, specifically an artifact designed to:
· monitor activity in the world of matter and energy (a sensor) or;
· manipulate, shape or animate matter and energy (a tool or toy).
2.03 In summary, the purpose of sensors is measurement; tools, manipulation; and, toys, pleasure. Sensors and tools are located on the production-side of the economic equation; toys, on the consumption-side. Sensors and tools are utilitarian; toys, non-utilitarian. Collectively, sensors, tools and toys constitute ‘instruments’. The term ‘instrument’ should, accordingly, be read in context.
2.04 Another distinction can be made between ‘wetware’ and ‘dryware’. Living things can, using genomics or traditional cross-breeding, be designed to serve a utilitarian purpose, e.g., gene therapy (BBC News 2002), or, a non-utilitarian one, e.g., genetically engineered fish that glow in the dark (Shaikh 2002). These constitute wetware, i.e., ‘living’ tooled knowledge. Traditional instruments are constructed out of inanimate matter, usually minerals, and constitute dryware. Both are hard-tooled knowledge. Using this distinction, plastics are a cross-over, i.e., they are organically-based but generally derived from non-living sources, e.g., petroleum. As genomics matures the threshold between wetware and dryware will become increasingly obscure. Thus, in theory, the genetic code that some marine organisms use to produce biosilicates may eventually be used to make silicon chips for computers.
2.05 The three – sensors, tools and toys – can, from time to time, be one and the same. For example, a sensor may be active or passive. An active sensor monitors changes in nature by initiating such changes, e.g., a synchrotron or subatomic particle accelerator. Thereby the sensor becomes a tool. Furthermore, to the degree that normal science involves puzzle solving (Kuhn 1962, 35-42) then scientific instruments can, with no disrespect, be considered playthings or toys of scientists. Play-like behaviour is a generally recognized characteristic of creativity in all knowledge domains. In this regard, the search for knowledge-for-knowledge-sake is non-utilitarian in purpose, i.e., it has no objective other than itself. To this extent, all scientific instruments can be considered toys. However, scientific instruments are designed to produce new knowledge and are not used for their own sake like a toy.
2.06 Similarly, new scientific instruments – the foundation of basic experimental research – may subsequently become industrial tools used in economic production, e.g., the scanning electron microscope, ion implantation and the synchrotron (Brooks 1994, 480). They may also become toys intended for amusement or entertainment, e.g., the cathode display tube developed to monitor laboratory experiments became a standardized tool of science and industry and then evolved into the television set in the family living room.
2.07 As a sensor or ‘probe’ (Polanyi 1962a, 55), tooled knowledge extends the human senses of touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. It monitors the world of matter and energy existing above (macroscopic), at (mesoscopic), or below (microscopic) thresholds of our natural senses. The information or ‘readings’ generated, when organized, structured and systematized, become codified knowledge that can be shared as a statement of objective, empirical fact.
2.08 In a way, scientific instruments realize a Platonic ideal: “belief in a realm of entities, access to which requires mental powers that transcend sense perception.” (Fuller 2000, 69) Furthermore, the ‘language’ of sensors realizes another ancient Greek ideal, that of Pythagoras, by reporting about nature in numbers.
2.09 The effects of sensors can be profound, for example: “…the idea of a world governed by precise mathematical laws was transmitted … through Galileo’s and Huygen’s conversion of the mechanical clock into an instrument of precision.” (Layton 1974, 36) Or, consider the impact on our “image” of the world (Boulding 1956) of Galileo’s innovative use of the telescope resulting in “artificial revelation” (Price 1984, 9). [B]
2.10 To the degree that the natural sciences are about acquiring knowledge of the physical world then, to that degree, all scientific instruments are sensors, i.e. their primary purpose is to monitor, not manipulate. That scientific instruments embody knowledge is alluded to by Shapin when he reports: “[m]uch empirical work has addressed the embodied nature of scientific know-how and the embodied vectors by which it travels, whether that embodiment is reposed in skilled people, in scientific instruments, or in the transactions between people and knowledge-making devices.” (Shapin 1995, 306) With respect to the later category, he notes the emergence of new non-human actors including cyborgs – part human and part machine (Shapin 1995, 313).
2.11 The history, philosophy and sociology of
science are replete with allusions to the role of scientific instruments. Experimental science was, is now, and
probably always will be, rooted in tooled knowledge (Price 1984). For example, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider will
begin operation in 2006 while the recently upgraded Fermi National Accelerator
Lab’s “Tevatron” is already sensing nature at levels beyond the sensitivity of
previous instruments. The ‘Canadian
Light Source’ synchrotron at the
2.12 It has also been argued that new
sub-disciplines, i.e., new categories of knowledge, within the natural sciences
and related technological disciplines emerge in response to new instruments
(Price 1984). [C]
This epistemological conclusion is reinforced
2.13 Beyond the knowledge embodied in scientific sensors and the new knowledge they generate, their social importance lays in the fact that they generate consistent, objective, quantitative measurements of physical reality through time. They extend the human senses beyond the subjectivity of the individual observer. Once calibrated and set in motion a clock – atomic or otherwise – will tick at a constant rate per unit time until its energy source is exhausted. Such measurement is achieved without mediation by a human subject.
2.14 In this regard it is important to note that sensors also pattern the modern way of life. The simple household thermometer is an example. It tells us when we have a fever and when to seek medical intervention. In turn, a medical thermometer is used to monitor the progress of such intervention. (Shapin 1995, 306-307) [E]
2.15 If sensors extend the human senses then tools extend the human grasp. They can be considered extensions of our own bodies “forming part of ourselves, the operating persons. We pour ourselves into them and assimilate them as parts of our own existence”. (Polanyi 1962a, 59) Tools are the means by which humanity animates nature. They move and change nature to suit human purposes and ends. Empirically, before art, culture or language, there was tool making. Tools provide primae facia evidence of the arrival of our species: artifacts left by ancestors some two and a half million years ago (Schuster 1997).
2.16 Using its opposable thumb, humanity reached out to shape the material world to compensate for its elemental frailty – no great size, no claws or talons and tiny canine teeth. To eat and survive predation, the human brain reached out with finger-thumb coordination to grasp and shape parts of the world into tools with which to then manipulate other parts, e.g., to kill game or plant seeds. It appears, from the fossil record, that the opposable thumb preceded, and in a path-dependent manner contributed to, the subsequent and extraordinarily rapid evolutionary growth and development of the human brain itself.
2.17 In this regard, the word ‘concept’ derives from the Latin concipere ‘to conceive’ that in turn derives from ‘to take’ and, as I understand it, colloquially, meant ‘to grasp firmly with the hand’ or, in Sicilian, ‘to steal’. Thus a concept is a grasping and manipulation of the world – inner or outer – using mental tools, the evolutionary descendents of finger and thumb exercises of prehistoric humanity.
2.18 As noted, matter is tooled to extend the human grasp of the physical world in order to shape and mold it to serve human purposes. In this sense tools have an in-built aim or purpose, i.e., they are teleological. (Layton 1988, 90-91) We recognize a tool by its purpose. (Polanyi 1962a, 56) [F]
2.19 The teleological nature of tooled knowledge is atavistic, an epistemological throwback to a time before the Scientific Revolution when medieval animism ruled, i.e., when objects and natural phenomena were believed possessed of purpose. This was effectively displaced by the mechanistic causality of the initial Scientific Revolution of the mid-17th century which provided a “description of reality in terms of a world of precision, free of all considerations based upon value-concepts, such as perfection, harmony, meaning, and aim.” (Layton 1988, 90. While this displacement is appropriate for understanding the natural world, it is inappropriate in the world of human-made things, that is, in “the sciences of the artificial”. (Layton 1988, 91)
2.20 Purpose and value are inherent in a tool. It is designed to do a job; it is not valued in-and-of-itself, like a work of art, but rather for what and how well it can do that job. The knowledge required to make a tool becomes embedded in it, i.e., becomes tooled knowledge. For example, if it is intended to do a job in the weightlessness of outer space then its shape, size and tolerances will be very different than if designed to do the same job under conditions of terrestrial gravity or the enormous pressures of the ocean’s depths.
2.21 Tools are located on the production-side of the economic equation. They are intermediate goods used to produce final goods and services that are purchased by consumers (excepting the handyman). In this sense, they are utilitarian in that they are valued for what they can do, not for what they are in-and-of-themselves.
2.22 A final distinction can be drawn between specific purpose and general purpose tools, or what David calls ‘general purpose engines’ (David 1990). A specific purpose tool has but one primary purpose, e.g., a hammer or a drill press. A general purpose engine is one that has multiple applications and which tends to “give rise to network externality effects of various kinds, and so make issues of compatibility standardization important for business strategy and public policy...” (David 1990, 356). Modern general purpose engines also generate “techno-economic regimes” involving a web of related installations and services. Such is the case with the internal combustion engine. For example, if embodied in an automobile it requires manufacturing plants, refineries, service stations, parking lots, car dealerships, roads, insurance, et al. In temporal succession, general purpose engines include the printing press, steam engine, electric dynamo, internal combustion engine, radio-television, the computer and, arguably, genomics.
2.23 Such techno-economic regimes display path
dependency. Specifically, once innovated all subsequent additions, changes
and/or improvements to a general purpose engine must conform to its existing
standards. The example of 110 versus 220
voltage current used in
2.24 If sensors are for measuring and tools are for manipulating then toys are for pleasure. Sensors and tools are located on the production-side of the economic equation. They serve as inputs in production of final goods and services. In the case of sensors, monitoring information may be used either as an input to the production of knowledge or the production of other goods and services. Toys are final goods and services. They are appreciated for their own sake, not for any contribution to the production of other things. In this sense, toys are non-utilitarian, pleasure-giving devices. This includes the pleasure of learning, i.e., knowledge as a final consumption good.
2.25 So far I have used the term ‘utilitarian’ in the conventional sense of ‘useful’, i.e., useful in serving a higher order purpose. In economics, however, the term derives from Utilitarianism, a philosophy created by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and described by Joseph Schumpeter as “the shallowest of all conceivable philosophies of life” (Schumpeter 1949:132-4).
2.26 Bentham asserted that human life reduces to pleasure and pain, “the two sovereign masters of humanity” (Clough 1964: 825). In turn, he assumed that pleasure and pain are measurable in physical units called ‘utiles’ (hence utilitarianism). He further assumed that utiles would, eventually, be monitored using scientific sensors. Based on his assertion and assumptions, Bentham produced ‘a calculus of human happiness’ that could calculate the happiness of the individual as well as “the greatest good for the greatest number”. The ‘utile sensor’ has not yet been produced and, in the interim, economists have reified (made concrete something which is abstract) the utile into money. Lack of money is pain; the presence of money is pleasure.
2.27 In microeconomic theory, production and consumption are differentiated by utility. One suffers the disutility or pain of work to earn income (money). Firms hire workers and tools to embed utility into goods and services. Consumers then use their hard earned income to purchase goods and services to extract utility or pleasure through consumption. Production embeds and consumption extracts utility. The objective of life, according to Bentham, was to maximize utility, i.e., to maximize pleasure. So defined, economics is radically hedonic and materialistic. Two question, however, arise:
(i) how is pleasure actually measured; and,
(ii) other than income, what constrains pleasure seeking?
2.28 With respect to measurement, pleasure remains within the realm of our subjective biological senses as individual human beings. An effective utile meter has not been invented. Some of our senses, however, have traditionally been shunned in Western thought and culture. Aesthetics, for example, traditionally has been restricted to the ‘distant senses’ of sight and sound. The near senses of touch, taste and smell lead to obscenity, gluttony and scatology. Quoting Berleant:
Since the organs of sight and hearing are distance receptors, detachment from direct contact with the physical may be retained, for the other senses call attention to the body, so destroying the isolation of the contemplative mind. Thus the aristocratic attitude of classical Greek culture has been preserved: the conviction of the superiority of the essentially passive aloofness of the meditative spirit and contempt for the practical and manipulative. (Berleant Winter 1964, 187)
2.29 In this regard, scientific instruments extend the ‘distant senses’ fostering an aesthetic distance called ‘objectivity’. Only a natural person, however, can ‘know’ touch, taste and smell as well as sight and sound. And around each of the ‘baser’ senses entire industries have existed since the beginning of civilization, e.g., the sex, food and perfume industries.
2.30 As to limits on pleasure seeking beyond the income constraint, Bentham assumed an almost genetic ethic, specifically ‘ethical hedonism’. For Bentham, it was, in effect, the Protestant ethic which, beyond the moral value of work involves social inhibitions against conspicuous consumption and status fraud (Veblen 1899; McCracken 1988, 33).
2.31 When the Protestant ethic collapsed after the Industrial Revolution, only hedonism remained - in all its unrestrained, irrational incarnations (Bell 1976: 20-22). Without a generally accepted moral code, the law became the accepted social institution to moderate individual pleasure-seeking. With this possibility in mind, Bentham offered guidance, for example, with his dictum ‘the more deficient in certainty a punishment is, the severer it should be’ (Becker 1968).
2.32 It is with respect to the non-income limits to pleasure seeking that economics hides one of its ‘dirty little secret’. There is a disciplinary injunction against investigating consumer taste. This was formalized in the classic 1977 article by Stigler and Becker: “De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum” – taste is not disputable. Pleasure is pleasure and its maximization is the rational objective of human life. The economist should say nothing about the types and forms of pleasure. The economist is, in this sense, amoral.
2.33 A few brave souls have struggled with this moral lacuna. Tibor Scitovsky (1989) is one. From a welfare economist's perspective, there are two types of social behavior. The first are onerous activities not performed for any inherent satisfaction, e.g., work, but for what they yield, e.g. income. Thus the disutility of work is compensated by a pay check. Second, there are activities that are the opposite of work. They give satisfaction or pleasure to those performing them. In turn, there are two types of these activities. The first are antisocial activities that give pleasure by inflicting pain or suffering on others. Social costs usually outweigh benefits because benefits are transitory while the suffering is often long lasting or permanent. Then there are ‘social’ activities that impose no physical burden or harm on anyone yet can give satisfaction or pleasure to others. They include the most benign and valued of human activities such as love, learning, the Arts and Sciences and the spiritual quest.
2.34 If pleasure is the ultimate objective of life then tooled knowledge, like tacit and codified knowledge, must reflect the full spectrum of human pleasures subject only to cultural, legal and financial constraints. Put in very different words: the difference between a man and a boy is the price of his toys.
2.35 As toys, tooled knowledge has extended the human playpen to the globe and beyond; it has extended our sense of time and place beyond the dreams of previous generations through the World Wide Web or Internet. As an example, consider new recording technologies, especially video tape and disc. Consumers now have near universal access to the styles and tastes of all historic periods, at least as presented on television and in motion pictures. Does one want to watch the gangster movies or musicals of 1930s? Does one want to witness the French Revolution or Moses on the mountain? Does one want to replay it, time after time, or erase it to capture the images and sounds of another place, of another time – past, present or future?
2.36 This access to the fashions and styles of all historic and futuristic periods has produced what Thomas Shales, in the 1980s, called the ReDecade, a decade without a distinctive style of its own, a decade characterized by the pervasive stylistic presence of all previous periods of history. The impact on consumer behavior is, in the short term, confusion and disorientation. Time has become an additional dimension in consumer thought and behavior. As noted by Shales:
It does seem obvious that here in the ReDecade ... the possibilities for becoming disoriented in time are greater than they have ever been before. And there's another thing that's greater than it has ever been before: accessibility of our former selves, of moving pictures of us and the world as we and it were five, ten, fifteen years ago. No citizens of any other century have ever been provided so many views of themselves as individuals or as a society. (Shales, 1986, 72)
2.37 Even in the Fine Arts, tooled knowledge has ‘cracked the time barrier’. Thus the art critic Robert Hughes (1981), in his book and television program The Shock of the New, pointed out that since the turn of the twentieth century, modern abstract painting has been increasingly concerned with the fourth dimension, time, in contrast with the traditional dimensions of space. Abstract painting can be considered a precursor of the increasing disorientation in time so characteristic of the ReDecades of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
2.38 Operation of an instrument – sensor, tool or toy – is generally associated with tacit and/or codified knowledge in the form of standards and techniques. In introduction, standards are codified knowledge designed into an instrument defining its operational properties, e.g., a 110 or 220 volt electric razor. Mathematics tends to be the language in which such standards are set and in which an instrument is calibrated. Techniques are tacit and/or codified knowledge defining the manner of use and application of an instrument. While both may be codified into manuals, a standard cannot be readily changed by a user because it is internal to the instrument. This is true unless, of course, the instrument is designed to permit a user to readily switch from one standard to another, e.g., from 110 to 220 voltage. Technique, on the other hand, involves actions by a user subject to volitional variation. For example, do you use an electric razor side to side or up and down, from left to right or right to left? The choice is a matter of preference and effectiveness in the hands of different users.
2.39 Together with mathematics, standards and techniques constitute what I call the ‘soft’ tooled knowledge. Soft-tooled knowledge is a tied good to hardware. In effect, one has no purpose (software) and one has no functionality (hardware) without the other. Soft-tooled knowledge exists on both sides of the economic equation – consumption and production.
2.40 The Pythagorean concept of a cognate relationship between mathematics and the physical world is, perhaps, the single most important inheritance from the ancient world affecting the material well being of contemporary society.
2.41 If the computer represents a ‘general purpose engine’ (David 1990) then mathematics is a general purpose concept, i.e., a mental general purpose tool. It serves as the most effective interface yet discovered (or invented) between mind and matter, between user and instrument, between human readable and machine-readable forms of expression. In this regard, it is important to note that music was the only ‘fine art’ admitted to the classical and medieval Liberal Arts curriculum. Balance, harmony, proportion and resonance are critical mathematical elements that Pythagoras chose to express using the music of a string – halves, quarters, thirds, fourths, fifths, etc. All are audible properties of a string.
2.42 For the ancient Greeks (and the humanist Renaissance), balance, harmony, proportion and resonance were everything. They capture the ancient Greek meaning of kosmos – the right placing of the multiple parts of the world (Hillman 1981, 28). They are inherent in the music of the spheres, i.e., astronomy, and the design of cities. (Steiner, 1976) [G]
2.43 Similarly in temples and public buildings,
the ancient Greeks used the proportions of the human form for their
columns. According to Marcus Vitruvius,
writing in the 1st century before the Common Era, the Doric column represented
the proportions of a man; the Ionian column, those of a mature woman; and, the
Corinthian column, those of a young maiden (Vitruvius 1960, 103-104). Thus in ancient
2.44 Beyond the human form, however, lay the
universal forms of circle, square, triangle and variations on their themes,
e.g., the parabola. Captured in
2.45 After the fall of
2.46 In the early 15th century, the
mathematical laws of perspective were discovered (or rediscovered) by the
architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446).
In accounting, innovation of the double entry ledger by Luca Pacioli (1445-1515)
facilitated the commercial revolution first in the
2.47 The need for improved navigation led to an
intensive search for new methods and instruments to calculate longitude. The
Royal Observatory was established in
2.48 Beyond the astronomical mathematics of Kepler and Galileo (the later taking the telescope, invented by Hans Lipperhey in 1608, and changing the way we see the universe), it was canon fire that provided the terrestrial impetus for development of a true mathematics of motion. In fact, the mathematics of cannon fire (and its patronage) provided the opportunity for many of the experiments of Galileo (Hill 1988) which are generally recognized as the beginning of the Scientific Revolution. Mechanics began to drive mathematics.
2.49 In the 1670’s, what was previously known
as ‘the geometry of infinitesimals’ achieved a breakthrough with the invention
of calculus, independently by
2.50 Mathematics, however, is a language with its own alphabet, grammar, syntax and vocabulary. A linguistic explanation of mathematics can be derived using Chomsky's analogy of language as a genetic but abstract organ. (Chomsky, 1983) Chomsky uses post-Schonbergian music as a limiting case for what in the natural sciences Polanyi and Kuhn called ‘incommensurability’, or more generally, incomprehensibility. (Polanyi 1962a, 174; Kuhn 1962, 103, 112, 148, 150) Like the physical organs of the body, the language organ develops through the life stages of the individual. Its capacity can be increased through exercise like an athlete but the genetic endowment and one’s disposition can be taken only so far; similarly with mathematics and post-Schonbergian music. (Chomsky, 1983, 116) [H]
2.51 A quarter of a century before Adam Smith published his analysis of the division and specialization of labour in The Wealth of Nations (Smith 1776), the French military changed its weapons purchasing policy imposing strict standards for the production of parts and final weapons systems, e.g., artillery (Alder 1998). Standards were codified into mechanical drawings and mathematically defined tolerances subject to various physical forms of testing. Previously production was a craft activity with each part and weapon a unique artifact. This change meant that parts became interchangeable, e.g., bayonets. This had a significant impact on the performance of the French revolutionary armies of Napoleon (Alder 1998, 536). [I]
2.52 Standardized parts production was the
first step towards ‘mass production’. It was followed early in the next century
by introduction, in
2.53 It was not in
2.54 The American System, however, was not
restricted to the military. It was
extended to most manufacturing industries in the
2.55 If standardized parts and the assembly line began mass production, it was innovation of “techno-economic regimes formed around general purpose engines” (David 1990, 355) that completed the transformation of traditional into modern life-styles. The steam engine, railway, internal combustion engine, electric generator and computer require standardization not only of internal components but also external connectors (Alder 1998, 537). [M] As previously noted, general purpose engines, once innovated, establish a ‘path dependency’, i.e., standards and specifications established at the onset become ‘locked in’ and all subsequent improvements, innovations or adjustments must comply. In a manner of speaking, the path dependency of general purpose engines corresponds to ‘tradition’ for the medieval craftsman who inherited and was limited by ‘best practices’ established in a distant past.
2.56 The importance of ‘standards’ in the production of stand-alone artifacts and technical networks is recognized in an emerging sub-discipline called metrology (O’Connell 1993). To anticipate discussion of technique, such networks produce what O’Connell calls ‘societies’ or what I call ‘technical subcultures’ including “a society of health care facilities that share the same measure of body composition, a society of laboratories that share the same electrical units, and a society of weapons that share the same electrical and dimensional standards.” (O’Connell 1993, 131)
2.57 In this regard, at the international level, engineering standardization began with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in 1906. The broader based International Federation of the National Standardizing Associations (ISA) was set up in 1926 and, after the Second World War, the International Standards Association (ISO) was established in 1947. Today the ISO has forty distinct fields of standardization ranging from Environment to Image Processing to Domestic Equipment. [N] In each field mathematically defined standards are codified and then designed into hard-tooled knowledge to ensure compatibility anywhere in the world. (Alder 1998, 537)
2.58 The French word ‘technique’ was introduced into English in 1817. Among its several meanings is: “a body of technical methods (as in a craft or in scientific research)”. (MWO 2a) Quite simply such methods involve the effective use and application of hard-tooled knowledge - as sensor, tool or toy. Such use requires acquisition of tacit knowledge about new instrument, its codification into operating manuals, and, then transfer of the instrument to a final user who, in turn, must decode the manual and then develop the necessary tacit knowledge to become skillful in its use.
2.59 In a way, hard-tooled knowledge is a nucleating agent around which routinized patterns of human behaviour develop. In the tradition of the ‘old’ Institutional Economics (e.g., Commons 1924, 1934, 1950), a routinzed pattern of collective human behaviour is an ‘institution’. In this regard Price has called the instrument/technique relationship an ‘instrumentality’, i.e., the nucleus plus the orbiting behaviours. (Price 1984, 15) For my purposes, the instrument is hard-tooled while the methods associated with its use constitute soft-tooled knowledge. They are, in economic terms, ‘tied goods’ like the punch cards required to run an old-style mainframe computer. [O]
2.60 In genomics, Cambrosio & Keating have documented the nucleating role of instruments in their study: “Art, Science, and Magic in the Day-to-Day Use of Hybridoma Technology”. They define scientific technique as an “embedded system of practices”. They highlight how much of technique can only be learned by doing and/or through instruction, i.e., it cannot be fully codified and much remains tacit. (Cambrosio & Keating 1988, 258) [P] To anticipate discussion of its characteristics, technique involves the ‘density’ of tooled knowledge.
2.62 Discussion of technique brings us full circle back to tacit knowledge, back to personal knowledge. Thus, in Zen-like terms of a monk transcending technique (Suzuki 1959), Polanyi notes:
3.01 Tooled knowledge exhibits four characteristics: design, density, fixation and vintage. As introduction, design refers to the synthesis of different sub-domains of knowledge, e.g., biology, chemistry and physics, to create an instrument, i.e., a sensor, tool or toy. Density refers to the operational opacity (or transparency) of the resulting instrument. Fixation refers to embedding knowledge into a functional material matrix. Vintage refers to the temporal coefficient (historical date or time) at which existing knowledge is embedded. I will examine each in turn.
3.02 The word ‘design’, as a noun, entered the English language in 1588. Its meaning: deliberate purposive planning; the arrangement of elements or details in a product or work of art; the creative art of executing aesthetic or functional designs. As a verb, it entered the language in the 14th century, meaning: to create, fashion, execute, or construct according to plan; to have as a purpose” (MWO) Critically, for our immediate purposes, engineers use the word ‘design’ “in framing membership criteria for the professional grades of engineering societies…” (Layton 1974, 37) [R] More generally, however,
[w]e have come to recognize the processes which bring about creative advances in science, the new paradigms as processes of human design, comparable to artistic creation rather than logical induction or deduction which work so well within a valid paradigm... the norms of artistic design (are) “inherent in the specific psychic process, by which a work of art is represented” and thus in the creative act, not in the created object - in the process not the structure (Jantsch, 1975, 81).
3.03 From the dictionary definitions I extract the terms ‘arrangement’ and ‘purpose’ in order to distinguish tooled from codified knowledge.
3.04 While codified and tooled knowledge are both extrasomatic, i.e., carried outside the consciousness of a natural person, the purpose of codified knowledge is transmission of knowledge between natural persons. The purpose of tooled knowledge is manipulation of the natural world. Thus a computer program, while codified and fixed in a communications medium, is intended to be read or decoded by a computer to manipulate the flow of electrons in a circuit. A computer program therefore constitutes soft-tooled knowledge. Put another way, the computer is the pencil and the program is the lead. Resulting electronic and hardcopy documents that are readable by a natural person constitute codified knowledge. This distinction between ‘machine readable’ and ‘human readable’ forms of expression fuelled the 1970s debate about software copyright (Keyes & Brunet 1977). Recognition of software copyright in 1988 represented a break with a long legal tradition restricting copyright to ‘artistic works’ (Chartrand 1997).
3.05 The arrangement of codified knowledge involves manipulating an alphabet, grammar, syntax and vocabulary, i.e., a language including mathematics intended to communicate with other natural persons. The arrangement of tooled knowledge involves the coordination of different forms and types of matter and energy to subsequently and artificially manipulate or animate the natural world. This may include synthesizing specific bits of biological, chemical, cultural, electric, electronic, ergonomic, mechanical knowledge and/or organizational knowledge into a single working device or instrument.
3.06 As an example, consider the common electric hand drill. Functionally it makes a hole. Without a drill one can use a simpler tool like a spike. This requires knowledge of materials technology, e.g., balsam won’t work well. One either pounds away or rotates the spike with little control or effect unless one spends a very long time developing the tacit knowledge of how to do so. If instead one mounts the bit and turns a crank handle to drive a hardened specially shaped shaft (embodied knowledge of gears as well as bits) then the operator can achieve much more control and effect. One has invented the hand drill. If one powers the crank by electricity (knowledge of electric motors), then at the push of a button one hand can achieve more control and effect. If one then computerizes the button, one frees the hands, body and mind of the operator. One has invented a computerized machine tool that embodies knowledge streams of materials technology, mechanics, electricity and computers - all in one tool.
3.07 Quoting Herbert Simon,
3.08 Polanyi too recognized the artificial nature of tooled knowledge. He observed that a machine can be smashed but the laws of physics continue to operate in the parts. He concluded that: “[p]hysics and chemistry cannot reveal the practical principles of design or co-ordination which are the structure of the machine…” (Polanyi 1970) [T]
3.09 Put another way, in another context, by another author: “… technology is about controlling nature through the production of artifacts, and science is about understanding nature through the production of knowledge.” (Faulkner 1994, 431). The word ‘technology’ derives from the Greek techne meaning art and logos meaning reason, i.e., reasoned art. Thus in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: “… art is identical with a state of capacity to make, involving the true course of reasoning.” (McKeon 1947, 427)
3.10 The connection between the Arts and tooled knowledge is captured in the aesthetic term elegance, i.e., “ingeniously simple and effective” (Sykes 1985; 311). This term, of course, is also applied in mathematics. Put another way: “[d]esign involves a structure or pattern, a particular combination of details or component parts, and it is precisely the gestalt or pattern that is of the essence for the designer.” (Layton 1974, 37) [U]
3.11 This gestalt is generally expressed in visual rather than verbal terms. In fact, the earliest expression of engineering knowledge in the West takes the form of design portfolios and the “natural units of study of engineering design resemble the iconographic themes of the art historian.” (Layton 1976, 698) [V] There is, however, a Western cultural bias towards ‘the Word’ and away from ‘the image’ – graven or otherwise (Chartrand 1992). This has contributed to the epistemological suppression of tooled knowledge relative to the high status enjoyed by ‘scientific’ knowledge which is usually presented in a documentary format (the article or book) while tooled knowledge appears first as an artifact which must then be transliterated into a written format that “savour[s] of the antiquarian.” (Price 1965, 565-566) [W]
3.12 Another connexion between tooled knowledge and the Arts is found in the expression “from art to science” (Cambrosio & Keating 1988, 256). This transition has been documented in biotechnology (Hood 2002) and engineering (Schön, 1983) with respect to experimental techniques or protocols. Such protocols generally begin as the unique tacit knowledge of a single researcher. This is called ‘magic’ by Cambrosio & Keating. Over time, this tacit knowledge becomes embodied in an experimental piece of hardware, i.e., tooled knowledge. This stage they call ‘art’ because operation of the prototype requires a high level of tacit knowledge or skill. In turn, the prototype may be commercially transformed into a standardized instrument requiring less skill of its operator who, in effect, transforms from a scientist into technician. (Rosenberg 1994, 257-258) [X] This, according to Cambrosio & Keating, is the ‘science’ stage when the now standardized instrument can be routinely used in the ongoing search for new knowledge. The protocol, however, has effectively become embodied in a standardized, calibrated scientific instrument.
3.13 Four other aspects of the design nature of tooled knowledge need to be mentioned. First, there is the contrast between precepts and concepts. While originally penned to describe the difference between the Arts and Sciences, the following catches the design nature of tooled knowledge:
Whereas Art begins with desired effects and finds causes to create these effects and no others, Science starts with presumed causes and seeks effects to confirm or negate these causes. Art organizes ignorance by precepts while Science organizes knowledge by concepts (Nevitt 1978, 7).
3.14 Second, there is the distinction between invention in technology and discovery in the natural sciences. While both rely on observations, old and new, only inventions receive patents. A discovery in the natural sciences provides understanding; an invention improves the “art of producing more valuable objects from less valuable materials.” (Polanyi 1960-61, 404) [Y]
3.15 Third, there is the distinction between industrial ‘research’ and ‘development’ (R&D) that serves to highlight yet another distinction, i.e., between invention and innovation. While industrial research may generate a new idea or invention, it requires development to bring it to market. Even when new scientific knowledge provides a stimulus for a new industrial product or process “the subsequent development process will draw upon a wide variety of sources” including feedback from marketers, users, suppliers and the in-house engineering expertise of a firm. (Rosenberg & Steinmueller 1988, 232) [Z]
3.16 Fourth, there is the role of economics in the design process. Knowledge of economic cost and return is critical in the development of most tooled knowledge. Development of an instrument – sensor, tool or toy – is fundamentally dependent on economic considerations, indeed “any invention can be rendered worthless and altogether farcical by a radical change in the values of the means used up and the ends produced by it.” (Polanyi 1960-61, 404) [A1] Scientific knowledge, on the other hand, can never change due to a shift in social or economic values.
3.17 In summary, design refers to the synthesis of different forms of knowledge – cultural, economic, organizational as well as scientific. Tooled knowledge is thus synthetic and integrative rather than analytic and reductive. Through design it enfolds or integrates many different forms of knowledge, including economic knowledge, into an efficient instrument (technically and economically) that works and performs its function. In this sense, tooled knowledge achieves what the ancient Greeks called kosmos: “the right placing of the multiple parts of the world” (Hillman 1981, 28). When this is achieved the world is in harmony; the world works. In more prosaic terms: "Development of the design is coordinated and iterative, and the end product succeeds in integrating all of the necessary knowledge". (Faulkner 1994, 432)
3.18 Among its several meanings, the word density refers to “the degree of opacity of a translucent medium” (MWO, 3a). With respect to tooled knowledge, density refers to the operational opacity (or transparency) of an instrument. The more tooled knowledge embodied in an artifact, relative to its function, the denser, the more opaque, the instrument becomes, i.e., it requires less and less tacit or codified knowledge to operate. In other words, the denser an instrument, the more ‘user friendly’ it becomes.
3.19 At one extreme are ‘one-offs’, customized instruments common in the natural sciences. A particle accelerator or synchrotron is unique. No two are alike; the tacit and codified knowledge required to maintain and operate it is large. It requires a great deal of what is called ‘local knowledge’ (Alder 1998, 537; Faulkner 1994, 445). In this sense it is very translucent and operation involves the “craft of experimental science” (Price 1984).
3.20 At the other extreme is the ‘black box’ – push the button and it operates itself. The leading edge of black box tooled knowledge, today, is voice activated computer control. Just a verbal command and the tooled knowledge works.
3.21 Between the extremes are many shades of grey. Standardized research instruments like scanning electron microscopes or MRI scanners require highly trained technicians to operate. They can do so, however, without the detailed tacit and codified knowledge available to an experimental scientists. In a sense, density involves the ability and the need to see inside the black box.
3.22 The phenomenon of experimental scientific instruments being ‘standardized’ with automatic replacing manual control is well documented (Cambrosio & Keating 1988; Hood 2002; Price 1984; Rosenberg 1994; etc.). This involves conversion of a translucent scientific sensor into a more opaque industrial tool that, in turn, becomes a black box toy in final consumption. To repeat myself, the cathode display tube developed for experimental purposes then became a tool of industry and finally a consumer ‘toy’ television set.
3.23 The impact of soft-tooled knowledge in this process, especially standardization, cannot be underestimated:
… For all the diversity of our consumer cornucopia, the banal artifacts of the world economy can be said to be more and more impersonal, in the sense that they are increasingly defined with reference to publicly agreed-upon standards and explicit knowledge which resides at the highest level of organizations, rather than upon local and tacit knowledge that is the personal property of skilled individuals. (Alder 1998, 537)
3.24 Fixation refers to embedding knowledge in a material matrix. Fixation is a condition for granting intellectual property rights such as copyright, industrial designs, patents and trademarks. Intellectual property rights do not protect ideas but rather their expression fixed in a tangible material form. Traditionally, the matrix was something that could be seen, touched or otherwise perceived by a human being and, further, it had to have some permanence. The mid-70s copyright controversy over ‘machine-readable’ versus ‘human-readable’ forms of expression centred on the fact that a computer program embodied in a computer could not be read by a natural person and, furthermore, that an image on a computer screen is fleeting and impermanent. In a manner of speaking, granting software copyright protection represented legal recognition of the electron as part of the material world and, further, that machines can read (or more properly, decode because reading assumes tacit consciousness possessed only by natural persons).
3.25 In the case of copyright and trademarks the matrix in which an idea or expression is fixed is non-utilitarian, i.e., it has no function other than to carry that expression. A book, for example, may be a good read but it makes a second rate door-jam. Industrial designs and patents, on the other hand, are embodied in utilitarian matrices. No matter the new design of a coffee cup, it remains a coffee cup. As noted before, the threshold or border line between codified and tooled knowledge can, at present, be demonstrated by the very different and distinct patent filing requirements for microorganisms versus all other forms of patentable inventions. To receive a patent, inventions must, among other things, be fully disclosed in words and diagrams, i.e., the new knowledge must be codified to receive protection. To receive a patent for a new microorganism, however, a sample must be deposited and made available to others. The new knowledge subject to protection is fixed or ‘tooled’ into the genetic code of the organism itself. Words and pictures are not enough for someone normally skilled in the art to replicate the invention – another requirement of patent disclosure.
property rights are granted only for a limited period of time after which they
enter the public domain – an immense pool of accumulated knowledge rather than
its most recent increments. Following
3.27 Not all intellectual property, however, receives legal protection. Examples include knowledge in the public domain, trade secrets (except for unauthorized disclosure) and most developmental designs that improves an existing product or process. Furthermore, full codified patent disclosure is not always achieved (Dasguota & David 1994, 494). Some critical step, design or other factor may be deliberately left out or vaguely stated
3.28 If such knowledge (protected, unprotected and undisclosed) is fixed in a functioning material matrix then one should be able to extract and convert it into tacit, codified and/or tooled knowledge. The industrial practice of reverse engineering accomplishes this task: “[e]ngineers learn the state of the art not just by reading printed publications, going to technical conferences, and working on projects for their firms, but also by reverse engineering others’ products.” (Samuelson & Scotchmer 2002, 70-71). [C1]
3.29 Vintage refers to the temporal coefficient (historical date or time) at which existing knowledge is embedded or embodied or tooled into a matrix. Unlike design, density and fixation, vintage has been the subject of formal economic investigation since Robert Solow (1960) considered the question of the distribution of capital equipment including new and old technologies and why different vintages coexist? Subsequently, Solow introduced the concept of ‘embodied technological change’ (1962).
3.30 Like codified knowledge where the hand having written moves on, tooled knowledge exists at a given moment of time – a given state of the art. Once embedded it is ‘frozen’ (Boulding 1966, 6) subject to update with, however, significantly more effort and cost than revising a written document. Vintage thus refers to the state of the art current when knowledge is tooled into matter. Furthermore, and excepting defense and the natural sciences, it is subject to economic criteria. (Polanyi 1960-61, 404) [D1]
3.31 To Polanyi’s limitation can be added ‘one particular place’. International trade theory has observed that the state of the art – the most cost effective production methods – vary country to country depending on the cost of inputs, especially labour. What is the most cost-effective method of production in a high wage country may not be in a low wage nation-state. Accordingly, vintage has not just a time dimension but also a geographic one - at the same moment in time.
3.32 One further vintage distinction within tooled knowledge can be drawn: technical versus functional obsolescence. On the one hand, a given product or process embodying tooled knowledge may be displaced by one that is faster and/or more cost-effective. The old is now technically obsolete. It can continue, however, to perform the same or similar function. On the other hand, a given product or process may be displaced because the function it performs is no longer required (for whatever reasons). The old is now functionally obsolete. An example is hydrogen re-fuelling stations for zeppelins.
4.01 When one asks from where tooled knowledge comes, one faces terminological and conceptual confusion. In mainstream economics, the impact of new knowledge on the production function is called ‘technological change’. New knowledge, no matter its source, may, alternatively, be disembodied or embodied in capital plant and equipment and/or endogenous or exogenous to the economic system, i.e., stimulated by profit and loss (endogenous) or not (exogenous).
4.02 In Marxian economics, Engel distinguished between the handicrafts, manufacturing and machine industry as the temporal sequence defining historical development of tooled knowledge (Rosenberg 1974, 717). These stages, for my purposes, roughly correspond to:
4.03 After Marx and Engel, parts assembly was rationalized with the mechanized assembly line introduced by Henry Ford in 1913. A worker assembled only some parts of a growing semi-complete work as it inexorably passed on to the next worker down ‘the line’. Workers became tied and conditioned to its mechanical rhythm; they became, in effect, alienated from the means of production. Beginning in the mid-1950s, however, and continuing to this day, workers are increasingly being displaced by other machines (robots) that assemble parts made by computerized machine tools with a human taskmaster monitoring the whole process from beginning to end using computers – a general purpose engine.
4.04 Tooled knowledge for Marx and Engel, including that emanating from the natural sciences, was considered endogenous emerging in response to the economic forces of profit and loss. Purity of purpose such as ‘knowledge-for-knowledge-sake’, like religion, was so much opium for the masses cloaking the inexorable teleological forces of capitalist economic development. In other words, there was only one source of tooled knowledge – the economic process itself.
4.05 Faulkner (1994), in her comparative review of the science/technology debate, notes that some make a distinction between technology and engineering. For example, Vincenti (1991), author of What engineers know and how they know it, distinguishes technology involving draftspersons and workers from ‘engineering’ concluding that “although elements of engineering methodology appear scientific, engineering methodology as a whole did not emerge within science.” (Faulkner 1994, 434). In other words, there are three distinct sources of tooled knowledge - technology, engineering and the natural sciences.
4.07 Polanyi (1960-61) offers an even more complex seven-part perspective. Alternatively, he distinguishes between industrial science (p. 404); analytic technology (p. 405); engineering (p.405); theoretical technology or theoretical engineering (p. 405); technically justified sciences (p. 405); and, ‘practices’ exhibiting fundamental overlaps between science and technology e.g. medicine (p. 405). [E1]
4.08 Finally, Price distinguishes between technology and science based on, among other things, the fact that “[r]oughly speaking, science is a cumulating activity which is papyrocentric, while technology also cumulates, but in a papyrophobic fashion.” (Price 1965, 561)
4.09 From this plethora of sources of tooled knowledge, I deduce a four-step sequence: the crafts, natural science, technology and engineering. They share two things in common. First, they involve either measurement and/or manipulation of the physical world. Second, their present epistemological status is rooted in a sequence of overlapping temporal gestalten (Emery & Trist 1972). Traditions of the first have been absorbed by and continue in the second, third and fourth; traditions established in the second continue in the third and fourth; and so on up the temporal line of progression.
4.10 Of specific interest is the progressive extension of the Pythagorean insight about the cognate relationship between mathematics and matter. Beginning with numerology and magic numbers, this has developed into modern chaos theory, fractals, quantum mechanics and, arguably, genomics.
(a) The Crafts
4.11 The crafts are empirical and experiential, i.e., knowledge is acquired by observation and learning by doing. Originally there was no distinction between the Beaux or Fine Arts as we know them today and ‘handicrafts’. Both were classed as Mechanical Arts by the Ancients and epistemologically subordinated to the Liberal Arts.
4.12 Mathematics was limited to ‘rules of thumb’ inherited by apprentices from guild masters or learned on the job. Perfection lay in the past, not in a progressive future.
4.13 During the ‘Quattrocento’
(the second decade of 15th century
4.14 About thirty years later the printing
press was invented in
4.15 At the about same time perspective and the printing press were invented, many were working on the mathematics of canon fire, e.g., Da Vinci. The innovation of gunpowder in the West literally shook the foundations of European culture. As feudal fortifications were breached, its social organizing broke down. Feudalism gave way to budding capitalism and the guilds gave way to something new: experimentation by individual craftsmen in search of better methods than those inherited from the past. (Zilsel 1945) This was the beginning of the end of a Renaissance founded on the superiority of the Ancients.
4.16 In the middle of the 17th century the
Scientific Revolution occurred with the breakdown of social barriers between
the two components of the scientific method. The experimental method and instrument-making
tradition of the crafts were adopted by university and mathematically trained
scholars to form a new ‘experimental’ philosophy. (Layton
1974, 35). Consummating this
marriage was Leibnitz and
4.17 What today we call technology emerged in the late 18th century. Its appearance can be dated to Adam Smith’s treatment of the division and specialization of labour (Smith 1776). Unlike the crafts in which a one person was responsible for the entire production process, technology is characterized by the breakdown of the production process into discrete stages each requiring less skill than that of a craftsman, i.e., it employed semi-skilled labour. As previously noted, this development was associated with the introduction of standardized parts production in French military arsenals. The experimental tradition of both the crafts and natural science was adopted.
4.18 Coincidental with these organizational innovations was the invention of a new power source – steam - that allowed the working of materials like iron and steel beyond the human scale. These three developments – division of labour, adoption of the experimental method and a new power source - led to the end of the craft guilds and the emergence of what today we call ‘technology’.
4.19 Technology, however, also continued to
work with ‘rule of thumb’ mathematics. The
higher mathematics of the natural sciences were not immediately
adopted. Thus the Industrial Revolution
was initiated, in
4.20 Engineering, as a formal discipline of thought, did not emerge in the English-speaking world until the mid-19th century. It can be considered the product of a ménage à trois of technology, mathematics and the natural sciences. It continued the empirical and experimental traditions of the crafts but replaced rule of thumb mathematics first by statistics (Layton 1976, 692) [G1] and, much later, by calculus “… American engineers were still debating in the 1920s whether students needed to learn calculus…” (Kranakis 1989, 18). It also began to absorb the findings of the natural sciences.
4.21 This order of epistemic integration
differs from continental Europe where in France, for example, what might be
called ‘scientific’ engineering emerged
a hundred years earlier with its requirement for training in calculus at formal
‘academic’ institutes such as the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées (1747) and the
Ecole Polytechnique (1794).
As a discipline of thought, however, it
was restricted to public engineering of armaments, canals, fortifications,
roads, etc., and did not extend to private industrial production (Finch
4.22 Engineering in the Anglosphere
(Bennett 2000) remains to this day much more of a ‘self-regulating profession’
than an academic discipline as in
4.23 Among the conclusions drawn by Price about the relationship between the natural sciences and engineering (allowing, in this instance, for an equivalence between the terms ‘technology’ and ‘engineering’):
8. It is probable that research-front technology is strongly related only to that part of scientific knowledge that has been packed down as part of ambient learning and education, not to research-front science.
9. Similarly, research-front science is related only to the ambient technological knowledge of the previous generation of students, not to the research front of the technological state of the art and its innovations.
10. This reciprocal relation between science and technology, involving the research front of one and the accrued archive of the other, is nevertheless sufficient to keep the two in phase in their separate growths within each otherwise independent cumulation. (Price 1965, 568)
4.24 Finally, the role of the university in the generation of tooled knowledge requires explanation. The medieval university was dominated by philosophy, especially metaphysics or religion. Beginning outside the university proper, the natural sciences from the late 17th century acted like an ‘emergent process’ (Emery & Trist 1972, 24-37). First through concealment and then by parasitism, the natural sciences gradually entered the university, absorbed more and more of its resources (financial and human) until finally it became the dominant knowledge domain within. Accordingly, the university has become the primary source of that form of tooled knowledge I call sensors, i.e., instruments intended to monitor natural phenomena.
4.25 The primary sources of other forms of tooled knowledge, however, remain outside the university. The degree to which the university is now recognized as the home of the natural sciences, compared to all other knowledge domains, was captured by Polanyi when he wrote:
Nature is given to man ready-made; we may try to elucidate it, but we cannot improve it. But language, literature, history, politics, law, and religion, as well as economic and social life, are constantly on the move, and they are advanced by poets, playwrights, novelists, politicians, preachers, journalists, and all kinds of other, non-scholarly, writers. These are the primary initiators of cultural changes, rather than the Faculties of Arts which contribute to the advancement of culture mainly at second-hand, by studying language, literature, history, law, religion, and so on, as produced outside the universities. Hence, academic science has an advantage over the humanities similar to that it holds over technology…
We may conclude that the profound distinction between science and technology is but an instance of the difference between the study of nature on the one hand and the study of human activities and the products of human activities, on the other. The universities cannot be the main source of progress either in humanistic or in material culture, as they are in the natural sciences.” (Polanyi 1960-61, 406)
5.01 If tooled knowledge plays a critical role in a knowledge-based economy, why does it remain below the analytic radar of the history, philosophy and sociology of science and technology as well as of economics itself? Others have, in so many words, responded to the question:
… we … dispute … that technological knowledge… be assigned a subordinate epistemological status. (Dasgupta & David 1994, 494)
… an explicit examination of … knowledge about technology has simply been suppressed by introducing certain assumptions… (Rosenberg 1994, 11)
… matters involving “hardware,” including techniques of instrumentation, are … dismissed as … an inferior form of knowledge … This … academic snobbery should surely have been discarded long ago... (Rosenberg 1994, 156-157)
5.02 The answer, I believe, is cultural path
dependency and a resulting bias. The modern
Western world has inherited an epistemological hierarchy from it earliest
beginnings. In ascending order, it ranks
Sensation, Sentiment, Reason and Revelation.
The first three were subordinate to a monopoly of Revelation exercised, often
violently, by the Christian Church beginning in 313 C. E. with the Edict of
Milan. Soon afterwards Christianity was
declared the official religion of the
5.03 With respect to tooled knowledge, this hierarchy found expression in the ancient, and continuing, dichotomy between the Liberal and the Mechanical Arts. In the Liberal Arts, one works with one’s head (and tongue). These are ennobling and suited for the upper classes. In the Mechanical Arts, one works with one’s hands. These are demeaning and suitable only for the lower classes. This dichotomy was introduced when the ancient Greeks adopted slavery. In this regard, writing was considered a Mechanical Art by the ancient Greeks and fit only for scribes and slaves. The spontaneous spoken word was what was required of ‘free’ citizens of the polis for it was, in open debate, using the spoken word that truth would emerge. (Fuller 2000, 46) Of course, the ancient Greeks did not believe the brain was the organ of decision but rather the heart with all its related passions (Hillman 1981)
5.04 In what follows I trace this cultural path dependency with respect to the natural sciences and tooled knowledge. The first is arguably the dominant knowledge domain; the second, the dominant force active on the planet today. I will do so by knitting together seven hypotheses proposed by historians, philosophers and sociologists of science and technology as well as one economist. Each is a specialist in their respective fields but their contributions have been viewed in isolation. I construct my argument out of their finely hewn stones recognizing that each is subject to dispute and debate within their respective disciplines. Furthermore, I do so using my own reading of their work. Linked together, they constitute, for me, a convincing explanation of the paradox that, at one and the same time, the experimental natural sciences have risen to their current cultural ascendancy paralleled by the continuing epistemological subordination of tooled knowledge except, at least implicitly, within the natural or experimental sciences themselves. After telling the tale, I will interpret it.
5.05 One final qualification: the hypotheses generally
refer to the emergence and evolution of the natural sciences in
(i) Zilsel Hypothesis: Craft Origins of the Scientific Method (1945)
(ii) Merton Hypothesis: Puritan Values & God’s Book of Nature (1938)
(iii) David Hypothesis: Patronage & Mathematics (1998)
(iv) Jacob Hypothesis: Anglicans & Experimental Philosophy (1980)
(v) Houghton Hypothesis: Round Heads and Virtuosi (1941, 1942)
(vi) Kuhn Hypothesis: Paradigm of
(vii) Wiener Hypothesis: Gentlemen Don’t Work with Their Hands (1981)
(i) Zilsel Hypothesis: Craft Origin of the Scientific Method (1945)
5.06 In my reading, the Zilsel
Hypothesis (Zilsel 1945) consists of four parts. First, with the collapse of feudalism, the
rise of capitalism and the dawn of the Age of Discovery, an empirical form of
experimentation gradually emerged among master craftsmen and instrument makers
5.07 Second, at first the experimental revolution
in the crafts was overshadowed by the artist/engineer/scientist genii of the Renaissance
who attained a unique synthesis of hand, heart and head that has, arguably,
never been achieved again in Western culture. This unique period in Western history, a
veritable bubble in time, began with the ‘Quattrocento’
referring to the second decade of 15th century in
5.08 Third, about fifty years later, a small, select group of university trained scholars recognized the merits of the experimental method of superior craftsmen and married it to their own systematic and theoretical ways of thought. [H1] It was Francis Bacon (1561-1626) who called on natural philosophers to go into the workshops of the mechanics and observe nature being forced to reveal her secrets. He called for a ‘History of Trades’ to draw upon and codify the experimental empirical knowledge attained by the crafts. Eventually he wanted a ‘House of Solomon’ to be erected modeled on the craft workshops of his experience and dedicated to experimental philosophy. When “the social barrier between the two components of the scientific method broke down, and the methods of the superior craftsmen were adopted by academically trained scholars: real science was born.” (Layton 1974, 34)
5.09 The sense of progress distanced experimental craftsmen and emerging experimental philosophers from the alchemists and humanists of their age who sought fame and glory for themselves and their patrons relying, respectively, on secret arcane methods and the authority of antiquity, not progress of an Art (Zilsel 1943). This moral imperative to contribute to the advancement of knowledge by accumulating replicable unmediated results through the experimental method is a unique ethical, as well as functional, characteristic of the natural sciences.
(ii) Merton Hypothesis: Puritan Values & God’s Book of Nature (1938)
5.10 In my reading, the Merton Hypothesis
consists of a major premise to which I add a corollary. First, the Merton Hypothesis asserts that a
coincidence of interests occurred in early seventeenth century
5.11 Second, as a corollary, while the Puritan ethos favoured the natural sciences, it was hostile towards the Arts especially the performing and visual arts. Art’s ability to manipulate Sentiment as a technology of the heart threatened Christian values – Catholic and Protestant. Rooted in the biblical injunction against graven images and the Platonic injunction restricting poetry to the praise of the gods and great men (Plato, Book X, 1952: 433-434), the performing and visual arts were considered at best profane, and, at worst, sacrilege (Chartrand 1992).
5.12 It was not until the late 18th century that Art finally escaped the heavy hand of the Church. It was at this time that the Fine or Beaux Arts coalesced around a new philosophy – aesthetics - created by Baumgarten as his science of sensual knowledge to balance logic as the science of intellectual knowledge (Kristeller 1952, 35). The word aesthetics itself derives from the Greek aisthesis - the activity of perception or sensation - which at root means “taking in” and “breathing in” - a “gasp”, the primary aesthetic response (Hillman 1981).
(iii) David Hypothesis: Patronage & Mathematics (1998)
5.13 In my reading, the David Hypothesis (David 1998) consists of two parts. First, competition for status among the nobles of late medieval and early Renaissance Europe led to a system of patronage of scholars and artist-engineer-scientists. Patronage of utilitarian subjects like fortifications and weaponry were wrapped in secrecy. Support of non-utilitarian matters, however, like art, literature and mathematics required public disclosure if prestige was to flow to the patron. Beginning in the Renaissance such patronage increasingly took the form of support for academies, first for poetry and literature and then the visual arts (Kristeller 1951).
5.14 Second, by the early 17th century, this “entailed the revelation of scientific knowledge and expertise among extended reference groups that included ‘peer-experts.’” (David 1998). This system of peer evaluation was necessary in the emerging experimental sciences because of the ever increasing mathematical complexity, e.g., calculus, that noble patrons could not interpret and who wanted to avoid the public embarrassment of supporting fakes and frauds.
(iv) Jacob Hypothesis: Anglicans & Experimental Philosophy (1980)
5.15 In my reading, a question unanswered by the Merton Hypothesis is how experimental philosophy flourished after the decline of Puritanism, the end of the Commonwealth (1649-1660) and with the restoration of the monarchy. The Jacob Hypothesis asserts that the natural sciences flowered in the post-Puritan period because of Latitudinalists within and without the Anglican Church - including Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton. They squared the circle of science and religion with the politics of the Restoration resulting in establishment of The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge incorporated in 1662 (Jacob & Jacob 1980). This was the first ‘science academy’ in keeping with the David Hypothesis.
5.16 It was Robert Boyle, in the 1650s with his
Some Considerations touching the Usefulness of experimental natural
philosophy, who first provided a metaphysical rationale for natural science
placing the laws of the physical universe in stasis above and beyond human and divine
intervention (Jacob 1978). This argument
was fully expressed in his 1686 publication: A Free Enquiry into the
Vulgarly Received Notion of Nature. The
act of Creation had, he argued, once and forever, established the Laws of
Nature. Having set the machine in motion
God withdrew and Nature became the legitimate object of study by the new Experimental Philosophy (Johnson 1940,
417). Ironically, Isaac Newton did not
accept the new philosophy and continued to believe in miracles and divine intervention
in the material world (
(v) Houghton Hypothesis: Round Heads and Virtuosi (1941, 1942)
5.17 In my reading, with the founding of the Royal Society it was logical that Bacon’s House of Solomon would finally arise and his History of Trades (Houghton 1941) be completed. Neither was to be. Instead, the marriage of hand and head, of Mechanical and Liberal Arts, quickly broke down. While natural philosophy flourished, its Baconian craft connection was broken.
5.18 After its founding the Royal Society made several attempts to erect its own custom-built House of Experiment (Shapin 1988). It was intended not only to provide facilities for the conduct of experiments but also for the ‘artificial revelation’ (Price 1984, 9) of natural science to the public. All attempts, however, failed and the Royal Society remained a ‘talk shop’ for peer review and publication, in its Philosophical Transactions, of research conducted elsewhere. Similarly, the history of the trades was never undertaken and quickly faded from view.
5.19 According to the Houghton Hypothesis, this turning away from the Baconian vision was the result of certain founding members of the Royal Society known as the virtuosi, most especially John Eveyln.
And what is true of Evelyn is true in general of the virtuosi, for we know that by 1667 natural philosophy had “begun to keep the best Company, and refine its Fashion and Appearance, and to become the Employment of the Rich, and the Great, instead of being [as it still largely was in Bacon’s time] the Subject of their Scorn.” (Houghton Jan. 1941, 72).
5.20 The virtuosi were rich, educated curiosity seekers who sought neither knowledge-for-knowledge-sake nor for utilitarian purpose. Rather they sought divertissement, diversion or entertainment with a passion for the marvelous (Houghton Apr. 1942, 193), i.e., they wanted more and better toys. Scientific experiments were viewed as entertainments together with antiquities, art and collecting exotic seashells.
5.21 These Cavaliers of the mind viewed the crafts as unworthy of gentlemen. They looked down upon the utilitarianism of their Roundhead compatriots who had won the civil war but lost the final battle with restoration of the monarchy and reestablishment of the gentle classes. Thus,
Evelyn … abandoned the history of trades, which Bacon [urged]…, because of “the many subjections, which I cannot support, of conversing with mechanical capricious persons” (Houghton Apr. 1942, 199).
5.22 The Baconian
ideal of the marriage of head and hand was, however, resurrected in
… creation of a new kind of public technical knowledge.
This programme for a public technological knowledge was most fully developed in Diderot’s famous article, ‘Art’. There, the cutler’s son made a plea for the mutual aid that the savant and craftsworker should offer one another. Theoretical training was counterproductive unless combined with a practical knowledge of basic physical properties. In the same breath, however, Diderot showed his appreciation of the organizing power of theoretical science by calling for a ‘Logician’ to invent a ‘grammar of the arts’. He deplored the secrecy and venality of the various guilds, which he felt stifled technical innovation… (Alder 1998, 508)
Kuhn Hypothesis: Paradigm of
5.23 With this break between head and hand, natural or experimental philosophers increasingly distanced themselves from the crafts and utilitarian technology. In 1833 they were renamed ‘scientists’ by William Whewell in response to a request from the poet Samuel Coleridge (Snyder 2000). Thus after absorbing the craft tradition of contributing to knowledge-for-knowledge-sake and adopting the experimental method of superior craftsmen per the Zilsel Hypothesis, natural scientists gradually coalesced into a self-contained community of interest, or what Polanyi called ‘The Republic of Science’ (Polanyi 1962b).
5.24 In my reading, the Kuhnian Hypothesis (Kuhn 1962) represents the quintessential statement of self-encapsulation of the natural sciences as a community of interest, hermetically sealed off from external influences of economics, politics and society, dedicated with almost religious zeal to the objective pursuit of knowledge about Nature. Kuhn’s ‘normal science’ as a puzzle solving paradigm constructed out of instruments, esoteric language, practice and theory results in what he calls ‘incommensurability’, i.e., the inability to communicate outside one’s own community of specialization, even with other scientists. Any lingering links with the Baconian vision of a House of Solomon open to the empirical world of experience were severed in the Kuhnian Hypothesis and replaced by the sealed pelican vessel of the alchemists whom Bacon had wished to displace.
5.25 Epistemologically, normal science can be characterized as Sensation (without Sentiment, i.e., without moral values) subject to Reason. Scientific revolutions, however, can be characterized as Reason subordinated to Revelation. Thus, with respect to the source of initial (and subsequent) paradigms, Kuhn relies on intuition or Revelation describing it in terms such as “scales falling from the eyes”, “lightning flash” and “illumination” (Kuhn 1962, 123). [I1]
(vii) Wiener Hypothesis: The British Disease (1981)
5.26 Within the natural sciences, the craft tradition of instrument making or what Price called “the craft of experimental science” (Price 1984) continued, legitimized by its service to a higher calling. Outside, however, the Mechanical Arts remained appropriate only for the lower classes. Similarly in wider society, two cultures warred. One was the descendent of Puritan Roundheads which “stood for science and technology, economic growth, the spread of cities, the career open to the talents, the pursuit of economic self-interest”; the other, the descendent of Royalist Cavaliers “stood for leisure, the countryside, gardening, arts and crafts, love of the past and disinterested public service. (The Economist April 25, 1981, 111). And, thus it was that:
[t]he men responsible for technological innovations . . . during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution were nonconformists who had been excluded from the universities and learned their science indirectly while pursuing their trade. In other words, the coupling between science and technology was very loose and did not rely on the established system of higher education. (Senate Special Committee 1970: 21)
5.27 In my reading, the Wiener Hypothesis
5.28 That symptoms of this disease exist in
other parts of the English-speaking world was made evident in the last report
of the Economic Council of Canada: A Lot
to Learn (Economic Council 1992). In
comparing apprenticeship training in
5.29 Another term for cultural path dependency is ‘tradition’ which derives from the Latin traditio meaning ‘handing over’. It refers to a handing over of “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom)” (MWO). The Latin, traditio, however, is also the root of the word ‘treason’ meaning a “betrayal of trust”. The paradox of the emergence and cultural ascendancy of the experimental natural sciences together with the continuing epistemological subordination of tooled knowledge exhibits both meanings.
5.30 On the one hand, the superior craftsmen of the late Middle Ages betrayed their conservative traditions by experimenting and passing on new knowledge to successors to advance their craft. Similarly, the small band of scholars who in the early 17th century adopted the experimental method with its commitment to the advancement of knowledge betrayed their scholarly ‘hands free’ tradition with its reliance on authorities such as Aristotle. The result was a social hybridomas, spawned through the marriage of head and hand, and eventually emerging as a distinct and self-contained organism with its own traditions.
5.31 Unlike the bubble in time that witnessed the emergence of the Renaissance Man that eventually burst, the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century took root under the mid-century interregnum of Cromwell’s Commonwealth. Like an emergent process (Emery & Trist 1972, 24-37), the new experimental philosophy parasitically fed on the religious and utilitarian values of the English Puritans gaining sufficient strength to survive restoration of the monarchy with its conservative class structure of noble and commoner. In the transition, however, the living Baconian connection between the crafts and natural philosophy was severed.
5.32 Natural or experimental philosophy,
however, continued to grow and develop. The
increasing effectiveness of its ‘artificial revelations’ based on unmediated
knowledge generated by scientific instrumentation progressively displaced the traditional
revelation of religion, a word deriving from the Latin re-ligio meaning ‘linking back’. Meanwhile the empirical experimental methods
of the crafts, unsupported by the systematic, theoretical insight of scholars, continued
and eventually gave birth to technology and the Industrial Revolution. It was not until the late 19th century in
5.33 Nonetheless, the dye was set. The empirical experimental method of the crafts gave birth to what today is called industrial technology (a reincarnation of the Mechanical Arts). Meanwhile, the natural sciences appropriated the institutional home of the ‘hands free’ Liberal Arts – the university.
5.34 This institutional appropriation, in turn, led, subsequently, to the emergence of another epistemological hybridomas – the social sciences combining commitment to the objective advancement of knowledge but lacking the benefit of scientific instrumentation. Without the unmediated knowledge of scientific instruments, the social sciences, in turn, spawned value-laden ideologies that, in their Marxian incarnation, gave voice to the ongoing clash between the Liberal and Mechanical Arts with its cry: Workers of the World Unite! While Marx has been buried by the Market, the epistemological subordination of tooled knowledge, and its struggle for recognition, continues.
6.01 It should prove historically ironic that the ‘tool making’ animal – humanity – entered its 21st century global knowledge-based economy without ‘tooled knowledge’ in its economic epistemology, i.e., its economic theory of knowledge. Tools are the means by which humanity animates nature. They serve to move and change nature to suit human purpose and ends.
6.02 The animation of nature is not accomplished by chant, ritual or magic. It was, and continues to be achieved by embodying human knowledge into a functional material matrix of ever increasing complexity, dexterity, function and reach.
6.03 As sensors, tooled knowledge has extended the human senses far beyond our natural endowment. We can now see back 200 million years after the ‘Big Bang’ initiated our physical universe some twelve billion years ago (Whitehouse 2003); we can witness the sub-atomic dance of nature traced out in a cloud chamber.
6.04 As tools, tooled knowledge has extended the human grasp into the darkness of space bringing back moon rocks and star dust; to the depths of the oceans retrieving forms of life so strange and alien that they appear to be from another world. Tools have allowed us to reach down and tweak the very genetic fabric whose warp and weave dresses humankind’s consciousness.
6.05 As toys, tooled knowledge has extended the human playpen to the globe and beyond; it has extended our sense of time, place and self beyond the dreams and imaginings of previous generations. Our toys create virtual cyber playgrounds where avatars can meet, compete and cooperate in building new worlds and empires. We fold, mold and shape molecules to fit pleasure receptors in the brain and the erectile tissue of our genitalia to tailor the type and duration of leisure, recreation and sexual experiences.
6.06 Tooled knowledge is like tacit or personal knowledge in that it has purpose and is subliminally applied as if an existential extension of our own physical self. It is like codified knowledge in that it is extrasomatic and fixed in a materially matrix other than our physical self and, like codified knowledge, it has vintage. Tooled knowledge, unlike the analytic and reductive knowledge of the natural sciences, is the result of design through synthesis of different domains and forms of tacit, codified and previous tooled knowledge. It has density: the more tooled knowledge fixed in a material matrix, the darker, more operationally opaque it becomes approaching, at the limit, the user-friendly ‘black box’.
6.07 Tooled knowledge in the form of stone tools provides the earliest evidence of our species. In fact, it environmentally defines and separates our species from all others. It mutated, less than four hundred years ago, from the traditional experiential and tacit knowledge and skill of a craftsperson practicing a ‘mystery’ into the experimental natural scientist whose rationally crafted instruments, objectively and without mediation by a human subject, routinely and mathematically monitor nature at the microscopic, mesoscopic and macroscopic levels of physical reality. It evolved, only two hundred years ago, from craft production by a single craftsperson into mass production technology based on standardized parts production through the division and specialization of semi-skilled labour and application of new energy sources. It evolved, only a hundred and fifty years ago, from ‘rule of thumb’ calculation into the vector calculus of scientific engineering that aids the design of ever more complex and dexterous machine tools that now make the parts and assemble themselves into finished artifacts feeding the ever growing consumer cornucopia that is the global knowledge-based economy. And through reverse engineering, the knowledge tooled into matter is extracted and acquired by competitors driving prices down and quality up.
6.08 In spite of its pervasive presence and impact, tooled knowledge, nonetheless, has remained below the analytic radar not just of economics, but also of the history, philosophy and sociology of science and technology. Like an ancient priest of some long forgotten god, the natural experimental scientist, in a state of grace, is allowed to use the profane in search of the divine. A paradox results: at one and the same time, the experimental or instrumental sciences have risen to contemporary cultural ascendancy paralleled by the continuing epistemological subordination – gentlemen don’t work with their hands - of tooled knowledge except within the natural experimental sciences themselves.
6.09 If as Kenneth Boulding (1966, 9) wrote: “… where knowledge is an essential part of the system, knowledge about the system changes the system itself” then I can but hope that this essay will serve to change the epistemological status of tooled knowledge in a global knowledge-based economy.
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[A] The ultimate repositories of technological knowledge in any society are the men comprising it... In itself a firm possesses no knowledge. That which is available to it belongs to the men associated with it. Its production function is really built up in exactly the same way, and from the same basic ingredients, as society’s. (Graf 1957)
[B] The dramatic new evidence that altered completely the nature of cosmology did so, not by any intellectual prowess on Galileo’s part, but by revealing new evidence, the existence of which had never been suspected. The telescope was not devised to seek such evidence, and it was not used primarily to gain more. Its purpose was to inject each new telescope owner into this world of what can only be called “artificial revelation”. The term is not used lightly. Galileo was not so conceited as to think that he was brighter than all previous authorities; he knew that he had been presented with decisive new evidence of the structure of nature. (Price 1984, 9)
[C] Such is the power of instrumentalities, old and new, that they are probably also the chief agent for the sociological and substantive disaggregation of the chief scientific and technological disciplines into their constituent subdisciplines and invisible colleges. Scientists and engineers seem to be bound together in their invisible colleges, not so much by any communality of their paradigms, ways of thought, and cognitive training, as by a guild-like communality of the tools and instrumentalities that they use in their work. (Price 1984, 15)
[D] It appears also that instrumentation requirements sometimes serve as a powerful device for bringing together research scientists from separate disciplines. X-ray crystallography played such a role in the development of molecular biology, precisely because it is, in effect, an instrument-embodied technique. (Rosenberg 1994, 156)
[E] Think, for example, of the physical knowledge embodied in a thermometer. To contest that knowledge would be to fight on many fronts against many institutionalized activities that depend upon treating the thermometer as a “black box.” Intercalating science or technology into larger and larger networks of action is what makes them durable. When all the elements in a network act together to protect an item of knowledge, then that knowledge is strong and we come to call it scientific. The central modern scientific phenomenon to which attention is directed is thus metrology - the development of standards and their circulation around the world…. (Shapin 1995, 306-307)
[F] Take for example the identification of a thing as a tool. It implies that a useful purpose can be achieved by handling the thing as an instrument for that purpose. I cannot identify the thing as a tool if I do not know what it is for - or if knowing its supposed purpose, I believe it to be useless for that purpose. (Polanyi 1962a, 56)
[G] The polis is the place of art... The magus, the. poet who, like Orpheus and Arion is also a supreme sage, can make stones of music. One version of the myth has it that the walls of Thebes were built by songs, the poet's voice and harmonious learning summoning brute matter into stately civic forum. The implicit metaphors are far reaching: the “numbers” of music and of poetry are cognate with the proportionate use and division of matter and space; the poem and the built city are exemplars both of the outward, living shapes of reason. And only in the city can the poet, the dramatist, the architect find an audience sufficiently compact, sufficiently informed to yield him adequate echo. Etymology preserves this link between “public”, in the sense of the literary or theatrical public and the “republic” meaning the assembly in the space and governance of the city. (Steiner, 1976)
[H] ... all through an organism's existence, from birth to death, it passes through a series of genetically programmed changes. Plainly language growth is simply one of these predetermined changes. Language depends upon a genetic endowment that's on a par with the ones that specify the structure of our visual or circulatory systems, or determine we have arms instead of wings (Chomsky, 1983, 116).
Take for example, the aesthetic sense. We like and understand Beethoven because we are humans with a particular, genetically determined mental constitution. The same thing is as true for art as it is for science. The fact that we can understand and appreciate certain kinds of art has a flip side. There must be all kinds of domains of artistic achievement that are beyond our mind's capacities to understand. Much of the new work in art and science since (the late nineteenth century) is meaningless to the ordinary person.
Take modern music - post-Schonbergian music. Many artists say if you don't understand modern music it's because you haven't listened enough. But modern music wouldn't be accessible to me if I listened to it forever. Modern music is accessible to professionals and may be to people with a special bent but it's not accessible to the ordinary person who doesn't have a particular quirk of mind that enables him to grasp modern music let alone make him want to deal with it.” (Chomsky, 1983, 172).
[I] … the fact that the soldier could [now] choose any bayonet and still fit it on to the muzzle of his gun - even though the two pieces of metal had been manufactured several hundred kilometres apart - testifies to the fact that technical knowledge had been taken out of the domain of private and local knowledge, and moved up to a more general level of organization… It is no accident that these mass interchangeable bayonets proved eminently suitable for the mass army fielded by the French régime during the Revolutionary wars. (Alder 1998, 536)
[J] A central point for Babbage is that an extensive division of labor is itself an essential prerequisite to technical change. This is so for two related reasons. First of all, technical improvements are not generally dependent upon a few rarely gifted individuals, although the more “beautiful combinations” are indeed the work of the occasional genius (p. 260). Rather, and secondly, inventive activity needs to be seen as a consequence as well as a cause of the division of labor. This is so because “The arts of contriving, of drawing, and of executing, do not usually reside in their greatest perfection in one individual; and in this, as in other arts, the division of labor must be applied” (p. 266; emphasis Babbage’s). (Rosenberg 1994, 32)
[K] Before 1854, British gunmaking was concentrated in a
large but complicated structure of handicraft firms, mainly located in
[L] … Nineteenth-century English observers frequently noted that American products were designed to accommodate the needs of the machine rather than the user. Lloyd, for example, noted of the American cutlery trade that “where mechanical devices cannot be adjusted to the production of the traditional product, the product must be modified to the demands of the machine. Hence, the standard American table-knife is a rigid, metal shape, handle and blade forged in one piece, the whole being finished by electroplating - an implement eminently suited to factory production. (Ames & Rosenberg 1968, 36)
[M] Today, artifacts travel with increasing ease over
much of the globe. Transformers adapt
personal computers to local currents; bicycle parts are sized in metric
dimensions (even in the
[O] The economic term 'tied-good' requires explanation. An example is the old 'punch card' computer. The computer could not operate without such cards which, technically, were an output of the pulp, paper and publishing industries, sequentially. The computer and cards were tied-goods in production of computational results. Similarly, there can only be a market for audio-visual software, e.g. records and tapes if there is a market for home entertainment hardware, e.g. cameras, record players, TV sets, etc. They are tied-goods in consumption fitting hand in glove. In this regard, it is likely, but not proved, that the home entertainment center (HEC) is the third most expensive consumer durable purchased by the average consumer after house and car. Similarly, private collections of audio-visual software including phonographs, photographs and video tapes constitute an enormous stock of American cultural wealth. (Chartrand 2000, 24)
[P] At the beginning of this study, Cambrosio undertook a comparison of several different experimental protocols for the production of hybridomas. He had not yet been able to attend a fusion experiment but relied, to a great extent, on his previous biological training. While one might expect that it would be relatively easy to determine variations between the protocols, this was true only in a “mechanical” or literal sense; to the untrained eye, the protocols appeared to be arbitrary lists of instructions lacking any overall sense. The situation changed fundamentally when he was able to attend a training session in the technique. Once these instructions were embodied in a series of gestures, they became confounded with other factors such as the manual skills of a given person or that person’s degree of familiarity with a piece of equipment. The comparison between protocols now became possible, each line of instruction evoking shapes, colors, time spans, and gestures that could be compared. (Cambrosio & Keating 1988, 249)
[Q] It appears also that instrumentation requirements sometimes serve as a powerful device for bringing together research scientists from separate disciplines. X-ray crystallography played such a role in the development of molecular biology, precisely because it is, in effect, an instrument-embodied technique. In a very different way the increasing reliance on supercomputers is serving to bring members of different disciplines together. The impetus in this case is, to a considerable degree, the high cost of the technology and, consequently, the small number of locations where users need to convene. (Rosenberg 1994, 156)
[R] … not only in after-dinner speeches, which are not necessarily to be taken seriously, but also in framing membership criteria for the professional grades of engineering societies, a matter which engineers take with deadly seriousness. The professional engineer is usually considered the creative practitioner, the “real” engineer. In the definition of such a person, the “ability to design” has been almost universally acknowledged as the crucial test, though in practice only the most professionally oriented societies have actually adopted it. It is interesting to note that “ability to design” and “reasoned state of capacity to make” are very similar, both in form and in substance. (Layton 1974, 37)
Referencing Herbert Simon,
[T] … a machine can be smashed and the laws of physics and chemistry will go on operating unfailingly in the parts remaining after the machine ceases to exist. Engineering principles create the structure of the machine which harnesses the laws of physics and chemistry for the purposes the machine is designed to serve. Physics and chemistry cannot reveal the practical principles of design or co-ordination which are the structure of the machine…
… Consequently, and the consequences reach far beyond the example at hand, the meaning of the higher level cannot be accounted for by reductive analysis of the elements forming the lower levels. No one can derive a machine from the laws of physics and chemistry… At each consecutive level there is a state which can be said to be less tangible than the one below it…. (Polanyi 1970)
[U] Design is clearly distinct from philosophy, including natural philosophy. It is, as both Aristotle and modern engineers have held, an attribute of a human being which may be expressed in an object but which is not identical with the object itself. At the outset, design is an adaptation of means to some preconceived end. This I take to be the central purpose of technology… Design involves a structure or pattern, a particular combination of details or component parts, and it is precisely the gestalt or pattern that is of the essence for the designer. (Layton 1974, 37)
[V] Indeed, it is the oldest part of engineering knowledge to be recorded; the early engineering and machine books are in the nature of portfolios of design, and there is a deep kinship between engineering design and art, running back to the artist-engineers of the Renaissance and earlier. The natural units of study of engineering design resemble the iconographic themes of the art historian.” (Layton 1976, 698)
[W] … only … science is already injected in documentary form in a way that mirrors the content of the science. The similar mirroring process in technology gives rise to the artifacts and processes, and it is necessary to transform this evidence into written form through the medium of descriptions which savor of the antiquarian. (Price 1965, 565-566)
[X] One essential aspect of this expansion in use has been modification of design so that instruments can be employed by people with lower levels of training. Often, in fact, it has proven worthwhile to redesign to lower performance ceilings in order to permit the substitution of automatic control for control by a highly trained operator. (Rosenberg 1994, 257-258)
[Y] The basic disparity between science and technology consists in the fact that discoveries and inventions are, in general, quite different achievements. The law grants patents for inventions but not for discoveries. Science relies on observations, old and new, for advancing towards further observations which offer a deeper understanding of nature. Technology also relies on observations, old and new, but with a different purpose, namely to improve the art of producing more valuable objects from less valuable materials. Value, the relative practical value of things, lies at the very core of a technical achievement. (Polanyi 1960-61, 404)
[Z] … Development, of course, covers a range of activities whose content differs widely from one industry to another. It generally includes the designing of new products, testing and evaluating their performance (which in some industries may involve the building and testing of prototypes, or experimentation with pilot plants), and inventing and designing new and appropriate manufacturing processes. In each of these activities, the role of minor modifications and small improvements that better integrate design and production, establish closer feedbacks from users to suppliers, and more effectively “tune” existing production methods, are critically important. Individually, each of these modifications and improvements will bring about some slight reduction in cost or improvement in performance. Their cumulative effects may, however, be immense. (Rosenberg & Steinmueller 1988, 230)
… These activities are not well appreciated when, as is commonly the case, development is thought of as the application of scientific knowledge. Development in fact incorporates knowledge from many sources. Even in those instances in which new scientific knowledge does provide the initial stimulus for a new product, the subsequent development process will draw upon a wide variety of sources, the most common of which is likely to be the existing “in-house” engineering knowledge. (Rosenberg & Steinmueller 1988, 232)
[A1] … A technology claiming acceptance irrespective of economic considerations is meaningless. Indeed, any invention can be rendered worthless and altogether farcical by a radical change in the values of the means used up and the ends produced by it. If the price of all fuels went up a hundredfold, all steam engines, gas turbines, motor cars, and aeroplanes would have to be thrown on the junk heap. Strictly speaking, a technical process is valid, therefore, only within the valuations prevailing at one particular moment and at one particular time…
By contrast, no part of science can lose its validity by a change in the current relative value of things. (Polanyi 1960-61, 404)
[B1] … The body of knowledge that is called “science” consists of an immense pool to which small annual increments are made at the “frontier.” The true significance of science is diminished, rather than enhanced, by extreme emphasis on the importance of the most recent “increment” to that pool. (Rosenberg 1994, 143).
[C1] Reverse engineering is fundamentally directed to discovery and learning. Engineers learn the state of the art not just by reading printed publications, going to technical conferences, and working on projects for their firms, but also by reverse engineering others’ products. Learning what has been done before often leads to new products and advances in know-how. Reverse engineering may be a slower and more expensive way for information to percolate through a technical community than patenting or publication, but it is nonetheless an effective source of information. Of necessity, reverse engineering is a form of dependent creation, but this does not taint it, for in truth, all innovators, as the saying goes, “stand on the shoulders of giants” as well as on the shoulder of other incremental innovators. Progress in science and the useful arts is advanced by dissemination of know-how, whether by publication, patenting or reverse engineering. (Samuelson & Scotchmer 2002, 70-71).
[D1] … the achievements of technology are always subject to economic criteria…. Strictly speaking, a technical process is valid, therefore, only within the valuations prevailing at one particular moment and at one particular time. (Polanyi 1960-61, 404)
[E1] We have now seen that three kinds of scientific study - the analysis of technology, the theoretical principles of engineering, and the technically justified natural sciences - lie in between the main bodies of science and technology. (Polanyi 1960-61, 405)
[F1] The men responsible for technological innovations... during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution were nonconformists who had been excluded from the universities and learned their science indirectly while pursuing their trade. In other words, the coupling between science and technology was very loose and did not rely on the established system of higher education. (Senate Special Committee 1970: 21)
He acknowledged that his own work was simply “a collection of original engineering statistics with the general laws deduced from them.” But he insisted that “science is nothing but a similar collection of statistics.” Isherwood similarly imputed to science a strongly utilitarian cast. To him sound theory consisted of “the whole of the knowledge we possess on any subject, put in such order and form that we can make a reliable practical application of it.” While Isherwood was proposing to limit drastically the idea of science and general law in one direction, he was expanding it in another. The general laws which he had deduced from his statistical tables were not statements about nature at all but rather rules for the design of a man-made object. In short, Isherwood incorporated engineering principles into the laws of science. (Layton 1976, 692-693)
[H1] William Gilbert’s De Magnete appeared in 1600, six years before Galileo’s first publication, five years before Bacon’s Advancement of Learning; it is the first printed book, written by an academically trained scholar and dealing with a topic of natural science, which is based almost entirely on actual observation and experiment. (Zilsel January 1941, 1)
[I1] … the new paradigm, or a sufficient hint to permit later articulation, emerges all at once, sometimes in the middle of the night, in the mind of a man deeply immersed in crisis. What the nature of that final stage is - how an individual invents (or finds he has invented) a new way of giving order to data now all assembled - must here remain inscrutable and may be permanently so. (Kuhn 1962, 89-90).
[J1] One of our principal conclusions is that the options for the nonacademic student have been neglected and that the general disrepute in which vocational programs are held is damaging. Partly, the problem is one of misplaced expectations: most parents, and students themselves, aspire to prestigious positions via university or college... Many youngsters do...[eventually] find their niche in well-paying trades and technical positions [but] after more or less fruitlessly dabbling in postsecondary courses and/or part-time jobs (Economic Council 1992, 17-18).