For some time now, my good friend and colleague Ron Wakkary has talked about the book "Thing knowledge - a philosophy of scientific instruments" written by philosopher Davis Baird. Ron has made the case that this is a book worth reading. I finally ordered the book a few days ago and have now read a couple of chapters.
Baird makes the argument that scientific instruments are knowledge in themselves. He draws on a large number of historical and contemporary examples and he makes a convincing case for his thesis. His exploration has led him to develop an 'instrument epistemology'.
What is interesting and as far as I can understand quite unique is that Baird pushes the argument of instruments as knowledge further than others who have made similar arguments. He is highly critical to the common 'text bias' that science or at least studies of science suffers from. Baird is very clear that his materialist account of epistemology does not mean a critique of traditional word based knowledge. And, as he also writes, there 'is no single unified account of knowledge' that fully can serve science and technology studies.
A key argument in the book is that an instrument creates a "phenomenon" that in many cases is indisputable, even though it may not be possible to explain or theorize with established knowledge. Instruments express 'working knowledge', another key concept that Baird introduces.
Overall, I find this approach extremely interesting and a possible way for a field like HCI research to explore and develop further its practice. Or maybe it is the opposite, maybe HCI research in many ways already are living with an 'instrument epistemology' and with 'thing knowledge'. So, while being stuck within a 'text bias' paradigm, HCI research is desperately trying to escape it based on some intuitive understanding that there are other ways of knowing that maybe are better suited for our field.
So, I am very much looking forward to read the rest of the book and also to see how these ideas can be developed to support a field that constantly work with 'instruments', that create and develop 'instruments' and in so many ways is trying to understand how these instruments express knowledge.
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