Scientific visualisations and aesthetic grounds for trust

Ethics and Information Technology 10 (4):243-254 (2008)
Abstract
The collaborative ‹Big Science’ approach prevalent in physics during the mid- and late-20th century is becoming more common in the life sciences. Often computationally mediated, these collaborations challenge researchers’ trust practices. Focusing on the visualisations that are often at the heart of this form of scientific practice, the paper proposes that the aesthetic aspects of these visualisations are themselves a way of securing trust. Kant’s account of aesthetic judgements in the Third Critique is drawn upon in order to show that the image-building capability of imagination, and the sensus communis, both of which are integral parts of aesthetic experience, play an important role in building and sustaining community in these forms of science. Kant’s theory shows that the aesthetic appeal of scientific visualisations is not isolated from two other dimensions of the visualisations: the cognitive-epistemic, aesthetic-stylistic and interpersonal dimensions, and that in virtue of these inter-relationships, visualisations contribute to building up the intersubjectively shared framework of agreement which is basic for trust.
Keywords Scientific visualisations  Kant  Social epistemology
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