December 2, 2022

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Women and Science “Thinking Hearts”

Fifteen years later, several researchers won the Wolf Prize for Chemistry and Biology such as Caroline Bertozzi and Bonnie Basler and nearly half a century later for physicist Anne Lhuillier, a fact that has attracted some attention in some newspapers and blogs; But less importance was given to the fact that in 2015 the United Nations designated February 11 as the “International Day of Women and Girls in Science” with a call for the implementation of various initiatives to eliminate historical prejudices and aim to better know their role in the history of thought and scientific and educational policies aimed at bringing them into the world of research Scientific.

The goal is not to make them “feel like immigrants in a completely foreign world,” said Sarah Sisti in a recent interview, a member of Women and Science and author of several works such as Scientists over time. 100 CVsShe wrote jointly with Liliana Moreau about the role of unrecognized female characters, although they have achieved significant results in various fields and in some cases have been made by male colleagues and then Nobel Prize winners.

“Matilda Effect”

In the history of science there have been such episodes, one of which relates to the case of Nettie M. her research. , such as the one on gnat, of the founder of genetics Thomas Morgan, winner of the 1933 Nobel Prize for Medicine, who brought it back without acknowledging the debt. The other is what happened in the field of atomic physics in the 1930s because of the pioneering role of research by Lise Meitner and others, whose work met the same fate only because it was carried out by women, not to mention that group of African-American researchers in physics and mathematics who made a crucial contribution to the agency NASA, which is the subject of a recent movie.

To better understand this phenomenon, prominent literature labeled “feminist epistemology” developed above all in the United States until the 1980s and 1990s and less in Europe, an important chapter of so-called social epistemology that examines the role of cognitive actors and related institutions, even if It was at the editorial level especially in Italy, that it had not yet received due attention in translations of the works of the main characters.

Besides this field of research, in recent decades, the historiographical work of some scholars such as historian of science Margaret W. Rossiter who spoke of the “Matilda effect,” a suggestion already made by the activist, has proven very fruitful. American feminist Matilda Jocelyn Gage, to understand the historical and social dynamics of the various episodes identified as “gender thefts” that have occurred over the centuries, beginning with the case of Trotola de Ruggiero in Molares Salernitana (11th-12th centuries), one of the proponents of the School of Salerno of Medicine, and the author of many later works of a certain doctor “Trottus”.

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The feminine view of reality

What is more important in terms of research strategies, is not so much present in male characters, but it has been carried out more by female characters working in various fields and especially in the field of the living sciences, which many have mentioned even if it is not sufficiently taken into account from the historical-conceptual aspect , is what might be called the “feminine epistemological view” or “the feminine view of reality”.

It consists in the ability to interact with the subject of one’s own investigation through sympathetic entry into its underlying foundational causes such as, for example, Nettie Stevens’s plant, a cornflower that does not produce single chromosomes to Barbara McClintock, Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1983, who “poetry One that he is among friends” to understand their uniqueness and their flaws and those aspects that Rita Levi-Montalcini would later call “the edges of reality,” which were not easily understood using the only quantitative analytical approach implemented by male figures.

To paraphrase a phrase made famous albeit in the drama of Etty Helsom (1914-1943) for trying to understand the focused universe, the female scientists almost programmatically made “thinking hearts” for their subjects to get them to come up with differently “meanings” more hidden in the sense of Simone Weil, a real character of The Heart of Thinking in the Philosophy of Science “to illustrate some methods in the same scientific path (cf. Antonio Mosaro, “Thinking of hearts: the need for feeling and reason», September 21, 2019).

Sometimes the “edges of reality” seem reluctant to be taken with the analytical mind alone which, though necessary, needs the heuristic help of the “heart” at the moment of discovery in certain contexts. It turns out that this is a condition indispensable condition Especially when the real is structurally complex as an organism, in need of a combination of methods and the “continuous interplay of quantitative and qualitative thinking,” as Barbara McClintock states thanks to her cytogenetic research, but also from the fact that this approach is built on “a true love of the parts that come together.” (…) Experiences that are difficult to convey to those who did not participate.

The meeting between thought and life

This path also proves fruitful when one grapples with reality in general, as Albert Einstein said of relativistic realism on several occasions, even if this unknown call by him to communicate with it in a “sympathetic manner” is not taken into sufficient consideration.

And if even those closest to us are in the past, this position is inappropriately called ‘Sophie’ and then ‘McClintokian’ specifically to refer to the lack of scientific and rigor since it is almost the prerogative of some female characters who have found themselves working as ‘immigrants’ in the universe The scientific, albeit slowly and with difficulty, appears in all its theoretical strength in the cognitive and philosophical field, to the extent that it takes shape as an approach based on a structural basis on “the encounter between thought and life”.

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A project of this kind is being implemented by Catherine Malabo in various works such as in to become shape. Ingenuity and rationality 2014 (Milan-Udine, Mimesis, 2020), the work aims to recognize “equivalence and interchangeability between the two dimensions of rationality: the biological and the philosophical” following a renewed vision of Kantian philosophy, where criticism They are seen as closely intertwined with different meaning being given to the same crucial question of transcendentalism, intersectionality, and hilarity of scientific philosophical thought.

Complexity and the life sciences

If in the past centuries and even a few decades ago mathematics and physics were the reference model for philosophical discussions, then it can be said that thanks to work no longer secondary to female figures, the biological disciplines are exploding with all their power. The theater of knowledge, really the basis of the complex thinking of the variable weather They inserted them into his networks, as Mauro Cerruti explained in many of his works; The various effects put into an in-depth discussion many of the dominant reductionist approaches that lead to the establishment of a true biological season or justified biology In the sense of French tradition, it began already in the eighteenth century.

A philosophy of knowledge centered around biology in many respects, a research program in which even male figures themselves participate on several fronts from defining the fact that “the starting point of any philosophical reflection is the ‘world of life’” is being worked out, Franco Fabro wrote in the text Biological foundations of philosophy from 2021.

Giuseppe Longo’s attentive and attentive view of the world of life then extends his extreme fluctuations to the same mathematics while working on a different view centered on “meaning”, for example, in Mathematics and meaning also for 2021, and to other sectors that aim to define “new features of the human being,” in the words of Miguel Benasayag at The uniqueness of the livingwork in 2017.

A female point of view is more able to make people talk geommetrie . spirit And spirit of ingenuityrevealed even today more strategically than ever before given the ability to look at “the forest and not at the individual trees”, as Einstein himself emphasized, that is, to have an overview of the problems that, on the one hand, at a methodological level, based on dialogue To build between different disciplines having the same reality as its subject, and on the other hand to lay the foundation of the research itself as an inspiring source an ethical factor capable of better understanding its meaning, such as the meaning of nature and its destiny since we forcefully entered the Anthropocene age.

Learning from plants

This fundamental option both as an epistemological and a “thinking heart” is found, for example, in today’s research by marine biologist Barbara Mazzolai at the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa and a member of the Planck Institute, author of two recent volumes named genius nature And The future is told by plants. What can we learn from the plant kingdomthe main idea of ​​Stefano Mancuso is revealed in his most famous text plant nation (2019).

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This method of research has led to the application of the indicators provided by Barbara McClintock and has allowed us to better understand the so-called “distributed intelligence” of plants, to know in depth the structural and “ingenious” interactions of all the inhabitants of the Earth, from animals to plants even in their less complex forms such as bacteria, fungi and reefs. Corals and earthworms, and to emphasize the “debts” that we humans owe to the vegetable kingdom, such as the process of photosynthesis that led to the construction of the environment by providing oxygen without which there would be no life.

And Barbara Mazolai, by combining strength and duty in objective scientific research that is becoming ever more central to the same research programs in every field, has not only attempted to understand, for example, how root grows in the search for ‘water and find’ its nutrients, but it has introduced the causes of life forms into the machines themselves directing us to be first and foremost the “guardians of the planet”.

In order to become a bioengineer, along with others, he has contributed to the so-called “bio-inspired robotics” by building a Plantoid, a robot capable of controlling the level of soil pollution, and other miniature robots applicable in multiple sectors such as Project I- SEED, it has been enabled to explore places that are not easily accessible like the depths of the sea and also in the medical field. In this way, the conditions for learning from plants are determined which, if carefully listened to in their photosynthetic processes, give us the tools to respect them and to have innovative machines capable of planning the future with more responsibility and with less predatory occupations.

In this way, the female view of the world and reality, as well as occupying an insignificant place in our epistemological heritage in allowing us to make more “facts of law the facts of reality”, to use Gaston Bachelard’s expression, offers us a path immersed in the causes of life and at the same time stabilizing thought And humanity as a whole has more precise responsibilities that can no longer be postponed. Thus Simon Weil’s idea of ​​the fact that man does not have much power, but always a lot of responsibility, returns in all its existential-theoretical depth.

  • From the electronic magazine odessoAnd February 17, 2021.
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