Accepted Paper:

Technology's Non-Neutrality: A Case from the Neurosciences  


Bas de Boer (1989)

Paper Short Abstract:

It is often argued that technologies are non-neutral. However, it is less clear how this non-neutrality manifests itself. Drawing from a case study in the neurosciences, I suggest that technologies are non-neutral in myriad ways, as different technologies constitute the human brain differently.

Paper long abstract:

In philosophy of technology, it is common knowledge that science is heavily dependent on the use of instruments in observational practices, and that they are no neutral extensions of human vision. On the contrary, they modify and shape the objects of scientific research such that specific ways of seeing need to be developed in order to work with them. However, it is less clear how scientific instruments create new objects of research and how they instantiate particular ways of seeing rather than others. In the present paper, I will examine how different measurement techniques in the neurosciences give rise to different, and even conflicting, conceptualizations of brain activity and human behavior.

As is indicated by the empirical research that I conducted at a prominent TMS laboratory in The Netherlands, combining TMS and fMRI gives rise to several problems. Drawing from Technological Mediation Theory and Conversational Analysis, I suggest that human behavior and the working of the brain are differently understood when different technologies are used. From this perspective, the brain is not an independent object that is out there, and of which a neuroscientist can have knowledge, but comes into being in the mediated relation with the scientist. Consequently, technologies in science are non-neutral in very specific ways As I will show in this paper, neuroscientists do not explain the workings of one brain, but different brains are constituted in relation with different kinds of technologies.

Panel T131
Science has always been technoscience