On the relationship between instrument and specimen in chemical research

Foundations of Chemistry 1 (3):255-268 (1999)
Abstract
Based on the design of many modern chemical instruments, information about a specimen is retrieved after the specimen undergoes agitation, manipulation and disturbance of its internal state. But can we retain the traditional ideal that instruments should reveal properties that are definable independently of all modes of detection? In this paper I argue that the capacity of chemical instruments to convert experimental phenomena to information places constraints on the way in which the specimen is characterized. During research, the specimen is defined by those properties which permit its detection. Based on modern instrumentation, this constraint necessitates a conception of the specimen as a reactive system of dynamical properties. The dream of a purely transparent detection process violates the design of chemical instruments. This mutual dependence of instrument and specimen is illustrated by empirical studies of the geometrical configuration of DNA.
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