Forging Nature
April 5, 2017 9:23 AM   Subscribe

This is great, thanks for posting.

Related to the story of Ganda, there is a small sculpture of him on the "prow" of the iconic Torre de Belem in Lisbon (built 1514-1520)
posted by chavenet at 9:29 AM on April 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

This looks rich. Interesting that the Kindle costs more than the hardcover.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:29 AM on April 5, 2017

Thanks. Interesting read. Historical context and social conventions obviously play a role in our interpretations of science, but unfortunately some people use that recognition to assert that science is therefore merely subjective. A similar story to Ganda is that of Zarafa -- the first giraffe to be seen in France:
posted by binturong at 10:55 AM on April 5, 2017

Nice piece. Here's a key passage:
As Pimentel repeatedly reminds us, we see the natural world best through some level of distortion. “The imagination, the capacity to produce images that can be perceived by the senses and that materialize the ideal, is a faculty that often depends on distance and abstraction, the free association of data, features and forms,” he writes. “To produce knowledge it can be helpful to detach yourself from events.” Both the rhinoceros and the Megatherium could become known only by being rendered into representations: false ones, perhaps, but what human representation of the nonhuman world isn’t false? “Sometimes forging an image of things, making it possible to see them, requires really imagining them.”
Which leads us to this:

> Historical context and social conventions obviously play a role in our interpretations of science, but unfortunately some people use that recognition to assert that science is therefore merely subjective.

Not that many people, and they're easily dismissed. What pisses me off far more is the many (usually smart and educated) people who take the opposite tack, nitpicking every statement about the world to find some little error or unusual perspective or simply something they don't like or wouldn't have put that way and triumphantly announcing "this is a piece of shit." I see this a lot at MetaFilter, and I would implore people to recognize that the momentary thrill of being able to dismiss something and look smart in the process is not really worth the cost, which is limiting oneself to what one already knows and understands—or, more accurately, thinks one knows and understands. The world is huge and incomprehensibly various and we will never know more than a tiny corner of it, and the only chance we have of climbing out of our individual burrows is to really listen to other points of view, even if (from our point of view) they have flaws or limitations. Because, trust me, our own point of view has at least as many flaws and limitations. We just don't see them.
posted by languagehat at 11:35 AM on April 5, 2017 [11 favorites]

The Rhinoceros and the Megatherium, he writes in the book’s opening pages, “proceeds rather like one of those experiments of old in which assayers exposed materials to strange conditions simply to see what happened.”

A friend of mine worked in a laboratory in some kind of service company and one time I asked him to explain what he did. After getting him to define some of the technical terms, my understanding was that he basically managed automated machines that took one "target" substance and systematically mixed it with thousands of other substances and observed the results to see if anything chemically interesting appeared to have happened. Evidently the largest application of this was in research to find new drugs.

So, it would seem that experimentally exposing materials to strange conditions isn't so old-fashioned a practice as one might think. (Or at least, I was surprised that someone's job and entire company was dedicated to speculatively mixing stuff together en masse.)
posted by XMLicious at 11:52 AM on April 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Durer's rhino is not half as fantastic as it seems if you compare it with actual Indian rhinos rather than the African ones we normally think of.
posted by Segundus at 2:55 PM on April 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

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