Durkheim:religion and science

12 11 2007

I got in contact with the professor Massimo Rosati, who is the curator of the italian translation of “The elementary forms of religion” by Durkheim, Meltemi editor. He is a sociologist and he works at the University of Salerno, in Italy.

I asked him to explain one concept I found in the Conclusion of Durkheim work:

“…the main notions of scientific logics are of religious origin…”

This is a summery of what he answered to me.

“Durkheim thinks that between us and the primitives there is not such a big gap. The evidence of it is the scientific and logic way of thinking. The use of logic categories of thinking, for example, space, time, cause and force are at the basis of the scientific thinking and they originate from religion. Nowadays religion has lost its cognitive function, since we try to explain the origin of the world not through Genesis, but through evolution theory. But not because of this religion has no longer any function in society.

Religion as a pragmatic, dynamic function that Science doesn’t at all. Religion can move the individuals and the collectivity, Science cannot because it requires time. Opposite to Comte, Durkheim doesn’t think that science could be sacralized and become religion. In Durkheim opinion, rituals cannot be originated from Science. He believes instead in a complementary relationship between Faith and Reason, Religion and Science. And this is particularly important in the age we live nowadays.”


Alternative uses for biotechnologies

8 11 2007

Here I report one interview I read in the Design Interactions Catalogue 2007 from RCA. The speaker is Richard Ashcroft, Professor of Biomedical Ethics, Queen Mary, University of London.

#    What does it mean for you when designers/artists create or design alternative uses or intentions for biotechnologies? 

Science and technology never exist or develop in vacuum: the meaning of scientific discoveries, it has been said, lies in the hand of future users. In debates about the ethics of science and technology, it is enormolusly helpful to have concrete designs to focus thinking about these future meanings by looking at how these technologies will be put into use. We can greatly expand the sophistication and indeed the realism of ethical debates by applying the combination of imagination and sound engineering principles which underpin interaction design: it can help us tease out the ways the social is embedded  in the technical , the conscious and unconscious desires new technologies perform, and the moral choices that lie in design pathways. By imposing the discipline of product design on the biotechnological imaginary, we can better understand the space of both moral and technical possibilities. This is a great enrichment of and improvement upon the sometimes banal, and sometimes hysterical (and sometimes both) debates about the new technologies of life that are being played out in both the media and the academy.

Calling for scientists for cultural probing

23 10 2007

It has been a week yet that I’m emailing scientists from different disciplines related to Biotechnology in order to get them involved in my Cultural Probes, (for an insight about what the cultural probes consist of, click the following links: gaver_dunne_interactions_1999.pdf and gaver_interactions_2004.pdf) .

Up to now this are the recruited people:

– Neville Cobbe, he is a research fellow at the University of Edinburgh, Queen’s Medical Research Institute in Evolutionary Biology. He also writes articles for the magazine Zygon, about Religion and Science;

– Neli Prota, Ph.D in Biology at the Wageningen University, The Netherlands;

– Francesca Kone, Master in Marine Biology, Polytechnic University of Ancona, Italy.

The research I’m going to do with the scientists, as I said,  is called Cultural Probes and it is meant to give me some inspirations. It is quite different from the scientific method, that’s because it is a creative process of the design descipline.
It consists of a few tasks I ask them to do (I design this task by myself according to what I want to know more…the aim is to be surprised by thier answers) and as you will see, if you accept my request, the tasks seems to be not linked each other and not focusing on particular problem. It is all normal! I will use this probes to better know the human side of scientists researching in labs.
The probes will consists of prints out and other material I will send to them by regular post, obviously I will pay for everything. Then they will send me back the material as soon as they complete the tasks.

If there is any scientists reading right now and who would like to take part of this research, I would be very happy! Just leave a message in the way of “comment”.

David Lynch and Jonathan Bishop

20 10 2007

Saturday morning, preparing deliveries for my mid term. New mind maps… I know, I’m terribly late but I’m confident.

Internet on, I started to google and I came across David Lynch. And one of his first short movie, The Grandmother, 1970. It’s the history of a young boy who makes his grandmother resuscitate from a seed in order to run away from his parents abuses.

I love the crypticism of his work and I was happy to find this movie because it is linked to my project somehow. 

david-lync.jpg      david-lync2.jpg      davidlynch5.jpg   

david-lync3.jpg      david-lync4.jpg

Yesterday I also got to knew the work of Jonathan Bishop from RCA, Future rituals. I was a little upset but also happy to see the similarities with my ideas. His work his amazing. He managed to make a project like story telling supported by still pictures,. videos, leaflets and narrative itself. The topic is about private rituals to celebrate inner human feelings in daily life, based on science development and its magic opportunies. 

additional-phantom-limb_jonathan-bishop.jpg      paperfoot_phantom-limb_jonathan-bishop.jpg       enactment_phantom-limb_jonathan-bishop.jpg   

I emailed him before reading the stories from which eacah project originates, I was scared to find too many similarities with my project.  Jonathan Bishop is really great.

Relationship between science and religion

18 10 2007

The biologist Neville Cobbe gave me some quotes to reflect on about the relationship between science and religion:


“When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing – they believe in anything.”

by G.K. Chesterton


“…in all our lives, in all we work and strive for it is of first importance to know as much as we can about what we are doing, to learn from the experience of others and, not stopping at that to find out more for ourselves so that our work may be the best of which we are capable. That is what Science stands for. It is only half the battle, I know. There is also the great driving force which we know under the name of religion. From religion comes a man’s purpose, from science his power to achieve it. Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that thumb and
fingers are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped.”

by Sir William Bragg, quoted in Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 17, No. 2, Dec., 1962, pp. 169-182


I’m very impressed by the fact that, as said in the quotes, religion is the driving force that leads us to discover more about our life, our work, about basically who we are and science would be the expression of this personal research.

Hacking the Human Body_Picnic ’07

7 10 2007

 On the 28 sept I went to the conference “Hacking the Human Body” at Picnic ’07 in Amsterdam thanks to the free ticket Regine gave me for present (thanks Regine! I promise you that with my thesis I will make money not art).

picnic pass

Picnic ‘o7 is an annual event highlighting the latest cross media content and technology developments. I joined the meeting about the introduction of biotechnology in art and design, hold by Regine Debatty, Adam Zaretsky and Michael Burton.

Regine introduced the topic with some visions of modified bodies and she asked her guests to give their forecasts on the topic… 

Adam Zaretsky_ he is a teacher and practiotioner of VivoArts, a politically charged field that combines art and biotechnology. Here there are some reflections on his work:(to update)

Michael Burton_ he graduated in Interaction Design the RCA. He has been developing a project called The Race, questioning our future evolution as super organism responding of the change of our own environment in the current age. We are more than our DNA, we are a complex symbiosis with bacterias, micro-organisms and we should try to adapt to the new conditions considering them as part of our body and ecosystem. The biotechnology so should be a mean to modify bodies to better host them since they are essential for our health.

Michael Burton focused its design in improving the transmission of these bacterias to humans, such as:

 # new kind of bioengineered pets that could favourish the transmissions of bacteria to humans thanks to their fur;


# bioengineered human bodies that could store a large amount of micro-organisms in their cavities, surfaces, hair; 

 fingernails.gif          fingernails2.gif          praying_mantis_wig2.gif                                                   

# objects/clothes thanks to which humans could be more easely infected by the animals near them. 

wearable birds feeder            cow-inocu.gif          maggottherapyselfharm2.gif         

What I really like of Michael Burton project is:

# his deep research in the developing biotechnology and its consequences on society;

# his way of questioning the relevance of DNA: “are we only our own DNA?”;

#  his rethinking the use of biotechnology for a purpose that differs from the usual scientific purposes;

# his vision about the changing of behaviour of mankind due to the changing environment and the modified body;

# the real need he finds in the current age of manipulating the body in order to follow our evolution and let men live in this environment;

# with his project he affirms that the application of science is justified only by humanity needs;

# his taking position, even ethical;

# his mixture of last biotechnologies with the symbiotic” healing” relationship between man and animals, which comes from the old use of maggots in wounds;

# his project is not a simple object, but is a vision, a social fiction, an in-progress plot of future scenario that involves the change of behaviour from men;

# his direct and not complex way of present/show his project with pictures, videos, texts (see his website at http://www.michael-burton.co.uk).

The tissue culture king_by Julian Huxley

7 10 2007

Thanks to the answer I got from Oron Catts of SymbiotycA, I knew this science fiction work by Julian Huxley, actually the sister of the famous Aldous Huxley.

It talks about one scientist, Hascombe, who became a prisoner of an African tribe and turned his role as a religious adviser of the kindom thanks to conducting experiments of biotechnology deeply linked with the collective religious rituality of the tribe.

The scientist got to know the religion and superstitions of the population and tried to exalt the details of these rites and of the whole physical side of its religiosity in lab experiments with living organisms. To the tribe, everything he made was perceived as a miracle from God and he eventually introduced a kind of reformation in the national religion.

That is actually my first intuition about religious faith as a biotechnic process, but I still need to formulate the right question to make my concept clear. I need both to research biotechnology and religion and also elaborate why I have this intuition, its relevance.

The read of Huxley text rose some personal reflections and questions. You will find them below:

# turning from the role of doctor/scientist to the one of religious adviser is very closed if science rapresents the physical side of spirituality;

# the ones who do not share the collective values of the tribe, like the writer who tells to meet Hascombe in the tribe, find all the rituality as a “circus business and menagerie of monstrosities”;

# when religion permeates the social life, every act of the population is made like an elaboration of cerimony;

# thanks to the microscope, Hascombe was able to reveal the hidden nature of blood, widely used in tribe rituals. He explained that blood was composed of little peoplea and to spy upon them gave us new powers over them;

# the tribe starts to look at the “white man” as somebody holding magic powers  and wants him to be a special servant for the village;

# the elder statesmen of the tribe, Bugala, was a kind of Prince-Bishop, for his combination of the qualities of the stateman and the ecclesiastic and he is interested to amplify his influence thanks to the white man powers;

# a radical change in the national religion, a sort of reformation based on Hascombe lab experiments could be involved. Could it rapresent Comte third stage of evolution, in which he says that society develops in a scientific/positivistic way and evolves as a living organism trough the biologic, metaphisic and scientific stage? In Comte opinion, religion as a cohesive strenght also follows these stages, so we would end up with the transfiguration of traditional religion into a positive theology, science like religion;

# the tissue culture of the King connective tissue, established by Hascombe, is a way to preserve and even increase the divine principle of royalty and so the welfare ot the whole tribe;

# Hascombe introduces the mass production of the King tissue: eveybody in the tribe could have his own culture at home, like a dometic ritual. Does everybody start to have his own part of Royal Majesty? Could everybody hold a power over the State? Is this a democratic sharing of power by owing the scientific process of tissue culture?

# if biotechnology is a kind of industry that involves great power over society, could the mass production among common people mean a way of using it in a democratic way? 

# the ancestry worship is also experienced by the tissue culture of defunts: not a cementary, but a place of ethernal growth in your own house;

# artificial parthenogenesis  (for self reproducing organism) is one of the main field of research by Hascombe regarding the role of cult initiated women of the tribe;

# the scientist always affirms that his work must match the benefit of the national religion and he believes that this point is the same you meet in each state aided research in whatever democratic state;

# Hascombe emphasizes the animal cult developing double headed snakes or toads through experimental embriology;

# how powerful could biotechnology be if its outcomes are sublimed at the stage of miracles? which involvment in society?

# could biotechnology risk to be seen as a act of faith? are we risking of believing in it without questioning its progress?

# how is biotechnology development/ outcome communicated to the “illeterate people”? Is it like a prophetic speech or a kind of Apocalypse announcement?

# what could our society look like if biotechnology mass production was justified by a collective sense of spirituality?