Thursday, September 15, 2005

back to Fleck

I never got around to posting last week, so...

I like the part in of his primer for understanding the Wasserman reaction where he talked about antibodies. Antibodies cannot be made to exist “independently”; “antibodies” names an effect of a serum (a mixture of cells?)…: “To establish better understanding of the nature of antibodies, attempts have been make to prepare them in a chemically pure state. All these attempts, however, have thus far failed. The chemical nature of antibodies is unknown. We do not even know whether what we call antibodies consitute independent chemical structures at all. All we know is the serum effects. Thus antibodies represent only the mentally accomplished materialization of these serum effects” (58). If nothing else, I think this is a rather clear and very concise example of the imaginary nature of 'facts'.
I'm also wondering if this concept of “antibodies,” which apparently had been present in biomedical thought collctive for some time before Fleck's writing, could be understood as what Fleck calls a “pre-idea” for what he says is an issue for he future of biology, namely, the reconceptualization of the “individual organism.” The organism was, at his time, understood as a closed, self-sustaining entity, that could do what ever it could do without any significant dependence on other organisms. Fleck argues that this is a limited understanding that will become obsolete. The reconceptualiztion of the "organism" that he sketches has it radically contingent, open, with unstable, barely definable boundaries. The antibody is "an entity" that was currently understood in a way that corresponded to the not-yet-accepted understanding of organisms generally. Would the study of antibodies lead toward the acceptance of the new definition of organisms?

I also think Fleck's theory does allow for fundamentally new things (facts and/or thinking): “Knowledge, after all, does not repose upon some [finite, limited] substratum. Only through action can that drive be maintained which yields ideas and truths” (51). I also like that he links truth not only to actions, but to a drive.


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