Kirjailijakuva
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This book hits squarely at the center of my thinking. I have been dreaming of a Buddhist Philosophy of Science. This book works as the foundation. Edwards quotes Harry Collins on the need for a third wave in philosophy of science. Wave 1 is absolutist science: science as facts, truth. Wave 2 is relativist science: science is some kind of mutually reinforcing network of beliefs. Wave 3 is some kind of middle ground, recognizing that science is connected to belief and perception, but also that perception is connected to reality. This is the middle way of Buddhism. Edwards returns again and again to the shimmering quality of data. It's not fabricated from whole cloth, but there is no way to cut through to raw reality either.

I studied physics in school, including a couple semesters of geophysics - more about the oceans than the atmosphere, but close enough. I spend my working life developing software for electrical engineers, including a variety of system simulators etc. I've kept my toe in the waters of history and philosophy of science and technology. I found this whole book quite fascinating. The title comes from John Ruskin in the 1830s, envisioning a global network of weather stations. Edwards tracks the implementation of this vision right up to the turn of the millennium.

Even though this book hits right at the heart of one of the most critical issues of our time, it's hard to say what the right audience for it is. Climate scientists know all this, because it's their lives. For most folks, the basic facts churned out by the vast machine, the consequences of burning fossil fuels, are sufficient. The way that such diverse measurements get incorporated into climate models is really quite remarkable but also a bit subtle. I imagine most folks won't come away with too clear a notion. I think I could write some code based on this book, but I'm sure there are many crucial details left out here. It's a high level sketch, but quite comprehensive if the impression I come away with is correct.
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kukulaj | 2 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Jun 5, 2019 |
In The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America, Paul N. Edwards “argues that we can make sense of the history of computers as tools only when we simultaneously grasp their history as metaphors in Cold War science, politics, and culture” (pg. ix). He develops three sub-arguments: first, “the historical trajectory of computer development cannot be separated from the elaboration of American grand strategy in the Cold War”; second, Edwards links “the rise of cognitivism, in both psychology and artificial intelligence, to social networks and computer projects formed for World War II and the Cold War”; third, Edwards suggests “that cyborg discourse functioned as the psychological/subjective counterpart of closed-world politics” (pg. 2). Edwards draws largely upon the work of Donna Haraway, specifically her focus on cyborgs, as well as Bruno Latour, Steven Shapin, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and James Clifford.

Edwards works to “balance problems in the social construction of technology with their converse, which is to say the technological construction of social worlds” (pg. 34). In discussing the rationale underlying the construction of computers, Edwards writes,
I will argue that military support for computer research was rarely benign or disinterested – as many historians, taking at face value the public postures of funding agencies and the reports of project leaders, have assumed. Instead, practical military objectives guided technological development down particular channels, increased its speed, and helped shape the structure of the emerging computer industry. I will also argue, however, that the social relations between military agencies and civilian researchers were by no means one-sided. More often than not it was civilians, not military planners, who pushed the application of computers to military problems (pg. 44).
He supports these arguments with an analysis of SAGE, ENIAC, and analog computing systems during World War II. Edwards argues, “The most essential legacy of SAGE consisted in its role as a support, in Michel Foucault’s sense, for closed-world politics” (pg. 103). Discussing the discourses of the Cold War, Edwards writes, “It was quite literally fought inside a quintessentially semiotic space, existing in models, language, iconography, and metaphor, embodied in technologies that lent to these semiotic dimensions their heavy inertial mass. In turn, this technological embodiment allowed closed-world discourse to ramify, proliferate, and entwine new strands, in the self-elaborating process Michel Foucault has described” (pg. 120). Edwards links the space race to this closed-world system. He writes, “A heavy irony lay behind the discursive décalage between the frontier imagery and the Cold War competition: most of the swarming satellites and spaceships were sent up only to look down. With every launch another orbiting object drew its circle around the planet, marking the enclosure of the world within the God’s-eye view from the void” (pg. 135).

Examining cybernetics, cognitive psychology, and artificial intelligence, Edwards argues, “the cyborg discourse generated by these theories was from the outset both profoundly practical and deeply linked to closed-world discourse. It described the relation of individuals, as system components and as subjects, to the political structures of the closed world” (pg. 147). He continues, “Symbolic computation did not emerge mainly form theoretical concerns. Instead, its immediate sources lay in the practice of the programming craft, the concrete conditions of hardware, computer use, and institutional context, and the metaphors of ‘language,’ ‘brain,’ and ‘mind’: in other words, the discourse of the cyborg” (pg. 246). According to Edwards, “In the early 1980s, discourses of the closed world and the cyborg found their apotheosis” as “the most controversial military program of the period, the Strategic Defense Initiative, relied to an unprecedented degree on centralized computer control, while its rhetoric employed extraordinary closed-world iconography” (pg. 275). Of the realm of popular culture, Edwards writes, “These fictional constructions captured the political and conceptual connections among information tools, war machines, and artificial minds within a single cultural gestalt. In displaying the relation between the closed-world stage and its subjective spaces, science fiction enacted the subjectivity of cyborg minds” (pg. 276). Finally, Edwards writes, “The closed world, in both politics and fiction, represents a special kind of dramatic space whose architecture is constituted by information machines. As a stage or space, the closed world defines a set of subject positions inhabited – historically, theoretically, and mythologically – by cyborgs” (pg. 304).
 
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DarthDeverell | 1 muu arvostelu | Dec 10, 2017 |
"This is first rate intellectual history. Not an easy read, but worth it if you want to understand how science in the modern age works. Turns out that theory is the easy part. Data and models (in particular, computer models) are at the center of all the controversies around global warming. You could take the conceptual framework Edwards develops and apply it to any number of public policy problems, starting with education. Highly recommended."
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atortorice001 | 2 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Mar 4, 2012 |
The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America is a 1997 classic
 
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vegetarian | 1 muu arvostelu | Aug 22, 2011 |
A comprehensive, informative, and accessible account of the history of the development of climate models, of the infrastructure that sustains them, and of their epistemological underpinnings.
 
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jorgearanda | 2 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Nov 21, 2010 |