Science & Technology Dynamics
Department of Communication Studies
Kloveniersburgwal 48, 1012 DX Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Scientific communications are expected to search for truth, while the Truth is no longer given as in (religious) belief systems. Truth can then be considered as a code or a meta-heuristics of communication. In this dynamic system of rationalized expectations new ideas can be entertained and tested, while communications in a belief system must be normatively integrated. Scientific communications in different fields do no longer need to be organized hierarchically: during their further development, the hierarchies may have been inverted. The concept of a "unity of science" can from this perspective be replaced with a dynamic within and among the sciences. This dynamics is both complex and non-trivial. Inter-human communication is expected to contain uncertainty, and it can be provided with (interactive and reflexive) meaning. Languages allow for the codification of these relations. Higher-order codifications (e.g., the paradigmatic control of the use of language) can endogenously be developed.
keywords: translation, probabilistic entropy, expectation, sociology
Social order is not a given, but it remains an expectation. Sociology, therefore, cannot begin with an observation. The message of positivism notwithstanding, sociology has to begin with a reflection on an expectation. For example, one can raise the question as to whether social systems can be expected to contain a center of control? Can one expect the sciences to be hierarchically organized, or should one perhaps consider them as heterarchical? And if so, in which respects is the one or the other characterization applicable?
The sociology of science may enable us to answer these questions because the sciences have been thoroughly reflexive about their constitution in the sense that they have been socially constructed as discursive systems of rationalized expectations from the 17th century onwards. Crucial to the constitution of modern science was the confrontation with religion about truth (Galilei 1632). A belief system must be normatively integrated in contrast to a system of expectations. Integration requires hierarchical organization with reference to a codified meaning of Truth (such as the Bible). "Truth" in science, however, remains a theoretical notion; each truth is provisional and the truth of a statement remains debatable. The truth can be investigated, and thus, the search for truth can function as a code which guides the communication (Luhmann 1990a; Leydesdorff 1995).
The Scientific Revolution can be considered as part of a larger social development involving the individualistic revolutions of the 16th and 17th centuries (e.g., Westfall 1958; Cohen 1994). The existential experience of Luther—"Here stand I, I can do no other—"  is reflected a century later in Descartes’ "cogito" (Discours de la méthode, 1637) or Galilei’s "mente concipio"(Discorsi, 1638). The Reformation (and Counter-Reformation) provided these scientists with a mandate for thinking and debating freely, that is, without the risk of religious ex-communication (Leydesdorff 1997a).
One major problem remained unresolved in the new philosophy. How can one explain in mechanistic terms that the soul is eternal if the body is running out of time? Particularly in 1685, when the Edict of Nantes was reinvoked in France and James II acceded to the throne in England, this remaining disharmony between the new philosophy and the new religion had to be resolved. In 1686, Leibniz published his Discours de la métaphysique claiming a pre-established harmony between the Word and the World (Leibniz 1966 ). Leibniz considered this the best hypothesis relating to "the communication of substances, and of the union of the soul and the body" (Leibniz 1695).
Newton’s Principia (1687) no longer followed the format of an argumentative discourse ("Discours," "Discorsi"). The principles and laws about the physical world were formalized mathematically. Thus, discrete experience reflected by a (transcendental) subject could be translated into a universal claim. The universe was mentally constructed, and the project of modernity (Heidegger 1962) could be launched. The transcendental apperception "is" in harmony with reality. In the limit case, the infinitesimal transition (Newton) or the differential calculus (Leibniz) of a discrete observation refers to God’s continuous time (Leydesdorff 1994a).
This modern cosmology restored order by introducing time as a virtual dimension for integration. This universe ("Nature", according to the Christian Revelation) can no longer be hierarchically controlled from Rome; yet the cosmology remains deeply embedded in a belief system. Einstein and Infeld (, 21966, p. 296) formulated the cosmological assumption as follows:
The Theory of Evolution
"What a book a Devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horridly cruel works of nature!" (Darwin, 1856).  What happened metaphysically when the biological sciences came of age? The concept of "nature" itself changed. Nature was no longer conceptualized as a given variety in the data ("order and beauty which we see in the world" in Newton’s wording),  but in terms of the principle of "natural selection." Natural selection operates on fitness as a function, not in terms of underlying structures. "Nature" thus had come to be considered as an operation: from the perspective of evolution theory the observable data and the structural relations among them are themselves subject to change in a "natural" history. In other words, the observables are no longer "given," but should be considered as a result of an (hypothesized and researchable) operation over time.
Herbert A. Simon (1973) explained why this biological model of explanation (which he labeled "Mendelian") is incompatible with the "Laplacean" model of the natural sciences. The phenotypes cannot be reduced to, nor can they fully be explained in terms of the genotypes. One has to specify the system of reference, the subsystems for the explanation (and sometimes the supersystem), but one has to ground oneself by choosing a perspective. While there may be formal analogies among the systems operating, these systems at various levels can also be expected to be different.
The specification of the system of reference is particularly pertinent if one wishes to eschew "social darwinism" when using notions from evolution theory to explain social and scientific developments. Darwin (1856, [1869, ch. 3]) himself borrowed from the sociologist Herbert Spencer the notion of the "survival of the fittest." Spencer, however, had a moral notion of selection (e.g., Spencer 1857). Darwin’s contemporary Karl Marx used an evolutionary model for explaining society in terms of social selections:
The "Unity of Science"
The further differentiation of science into disciplines and specialties, and the increasing number of industrial and military applications led to a gradual erosion of the unity of science during the 19th century. The social diffusion of science during the scientific-technical revolution (1870-1890; cf. Braverman 1974; Noble 1977) made the question urgent as to how science is different from other subsystems of society.
In the last decades of the 19th century, the philosophy of science emerged as a natural successor to epistemology and metaphysics, but with a focus on this "question of demarcation." As the sciences came to be understood as organized knowledge production and control systems (Whitley 1984), the problem of demarcation became an important question: what makes science different from industry, religion, or politics? Note that these intellectual developments were caused and reinforced by social developments such as the introduction of R&D laboratories in industrial contexts, patent legislation, etc. (Leydesdorff 1997b).
Philosophers in previous centuries had asked questions about the foundations of knowledge as ideas, that is, epistemological and metaphysical questions. Following Comte’s doctrine of positivism, the philosopers of science now appealed for logico-positivism with the question: what are the fundamental principles and the building stones of science as a collective enterprise? What makes science so reliable? What makes science different from politics and religion? Why can Marxism not be considered as a science? How could one reconcile the message of evolutionary theory with the Book of Genesis? What is the status of psycho-analysis?
The "scientific worldview" of the Vienna Circle celebrated the Enlightenment as a defence against fascism and communism (Neurath et al. 1929). The three grand world systems laid claim to their own "sciences" guided by political principles. But in the latter half of the 20th century, this threat to liberal democracy faded away. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) introduced the notion of potential "incommensurability" between scientific paradigms. Scientific thought systems are historical: they enact a life cycle. Incommensurable systems, however, can no longer be ordered hierarchically. What is progressive in one period may become traditional in another. How can one understand these dynamics of science?
The sociological approach must remain radically analytical and empirical, while Popper’s Three Worlds concept (e.g., Popper 1972) failed us as a philosophical idealization. The sociologist is able to observe the historical variation that Popper labeled "the context of discovery." The scientometrician can trace the retention of scientific communication in literature; the historian is able to reconstruct the institutionalization of science, and the build-up of research systems. But the "context of justification" itself, the flow of ideas, the purification of arguments and counter-arguments seems to remain more volatile. The norms of the communication can be specified (cf. Merton 1942), but how do the norms operate and change the cultural codes? Is one able to specify the selective operation of a specific codification of communications? The so-called "linguistic turn" in the philosophy of science (Quine 1953; Rorty 1967) enables us to study the generation of code in communication as a property of discourse.
The code is communicated by operating (Arrow 1974). One expects the code to be more stable than the coded communications, but the relation may change historically. For example, a paradigm enables us to distinguish at the supra-individual level who is contributing to the scientific discourse and who is not, at a certain moment in time. Cultural evolution, however, can be expected to operate differently from natural evolution as studied by biologists. Communication can be observed in the one dimension while remaining virtual in the other. Whereas biological theory is based on careful observations, the geometrical metaphor fails to capture the fluxes of cultural exchange and reproduction. These are based on the expected information contained in the messages. One has to move from a geometrical metaphor to an algorithmic understanding of the recursivities involved. Precisely here, information calculus (that is, entropy statistics) can be most useful for the development of a potentially mathematical sociology of science which studies scientific communications as reflexive and dissipative systems (Bar-Hillel 1955; Leydesdorff 1997c).
Kuhn used the Gestaltswitch as a model for explaining the "paradigm shift" as a change in one’s mindset. The Gestaltswitch, however, is a psychological phenomenon at the level of individual perceptions. The paradigm shift can be considered a social phenomenon, that is, at the level of social communication. After a paradigm transition, one is no longer able to understand easily what the previous generation meant with their scientific statements. Why should one assume the existence of phlogiston? Why should one let a patient bleed? We find it hard to explain these concepts because we have to translate their meaning from the past into our contemporary understanding and language.
The sciences develop as systems
of both communication and translation—changing and updating the meaning
of previous communications (see below)—within and among specific codes.
The codes may have been specified as axiomata, basic assumptions and definitions,
heuristics, central problems. For example, the specialty of Artificial
Intelligence contains a scientific programme in its very name. Other
specialties can be defined in terms of specific domains (e.g., limnology)
or in terms of specific approaches (e.g., aquatic ecology). Is the number
of specialties infinite? Is there a limit to specialization?
The Dynamics of Science
Specialization should not be considered as speciation because no hierarchy is implied. The sociological model transcends the hierarchical model of organization by assuming an overlay of communications that continuously reorganize social order. Fields of science can be recombined creatively by playing with the degrees of freedom in this complex dynamic. The institutions that are historically constructed can be evaluated on their functionality hitherto, and they can be reconstructed under given historical constraints.
The relations among the different codes can also be considered as conditions among degrees of freedom: by operating the codes communicate through mutual information, but this covariation is complemented with remaining variation (that indicates continuity at the same time). New meaning can be generated in this non-trivial machinery of social communication: each of us is both a participant and an observer, and there is room for playing with these different roles in a "dual hermeneutics" (Giddens 1979). Communication can be meaningful, and statements are expected to contain information. The reflexive communication layer can be considered as a selective "hyper-cycle" on top of the systems that have been generated historically, and this reflection enables us (as carriers) to improve on our communicative competences. By providing new meaning one is, among other things, able to bring together what has been previously apart. This can be considered as the epistemological basis of knowledge-based innovation.
For example, the neuro- and brain sciences have been defined in terms of their subject matter. The new metaphor enabled practioners in this field to combine insights from medicine, biology, pharmacology, and psychology. In other disciplines diverging specialties may recombine differently, such as "chemical physics" and "physical chemistry." The institutional classifications may still keep the specialties apart for administrative purposes of control while the communication patterns have already been merged (Cozzens & Leydesdorff 1993).
Nowadays, one can witness the creation
of techno-sciences in university-industry-government relations—for example,
vaccinology. Some of these new fields both exist and do not exist at the
same time, in different dimensions. Whether one sees a field or not depends
on the perspective chosen (Leydesdorff & Van den Besselaar 1997). Vaccinologists,
for example, may not identify with their field if they think of themselves
as bacteriologists, virologists, molecular biologists, etc. But scientific
journals and conferences, reward structures, and career patterns are organized
at the level of "vaccinology" (Blume and Geesink, 2000). Professors in
biochemistry are sometimes able to turn into entrepreneurs in biotechnology,
while industrial practitioners can be important partners in organizing
higher education (Tobias et al. 1995). The institutional divisions
tend to become increasingly blurred, and the categorizations are sometimes
obsolete before they are codified. What has happened to the system of scientific
The Complex Dynamics of Scientific Communications
All inter-human communication has always been complex and dynamic. Our reflexive awareness of this complexity has changed so that we are increasingly able to use this complexity as a resource in understanding social relations and reflexive communications. The language of complexity theory may enable us to achieve a new understanding of this predicament and thereby also of our philosophy of science (Kauffman 1995). The implied paradigm shift does not necessarily make the world a better place, but it opens up new lines of research and theorizing, and will probably result in new applications.
The new paradigm is sustained by daily life experiences like hypertexts on the Internet, globalization, potential lock-ins into sub-optimal technologies (Arthur 1989), the role of the media in making news, etc. We are increasingly aware that the same message can mean different things to other audiences; that the information is provided with meaning during communication; and that the possibilities for further communications can be dead-locked by an unexpected feedback. But what precisely is involved in the dynamics of communication? What does it mean to say that communication as the mechanism of social coordination has itself become complex?
Biology has provided us with a model of segmentation, stratification, and (potentially functional) differentiation. The social system is one layer more complex than the biological one: the differentiation of the communication can be functional, but this functionality can also be changed. Thus, the medium of communication contains one more degree of freedom. If we consider language as the prototype of human communication (Grant 2000), we can understand that a statement is expected to contain an item of information, but the information remains uncertain until it is be provided with a meaning.  Meaning can again be communicated.
In biology, one is able to distinguish clearly between an observer within the system under study and the biologists who use human language from the position of super-observers (Maturana 1978). This distinction is blurred in sociology: the sociologist is both an observer and a participant, and one can translate between the one and the other perspective. Analogously, the sociologist of science develops his/her field by translating participants’ experiences and discourses into sociological discourses, and vice versa. The reflections of the scientists involved are the subject matter. It should be noted that the communications under study are expected to contain information and to be provided with meaning by the actors involved. The meaning can be considered as communication with reference to a code.
Can sociology be considered as a meta-biology, while philosophy has traditionally used the model of metaphysics (Habermas 1987)? In metaphysics, interrogation focused on origins and the fundamentals, basic assumptions; this model is contained in an analytical geometry. In a metabiology, the emerging order has to be explained in terms of an interacting (and recursive) dynamics. As noted, the model is algorithmic. But is one able to specify the operation?
Given the limits of a single chapter, let me now move forward to the specification of this operation from the perspective of a mathematical theory of communication. Shannon (1948) proposed to equate the uncertainty in the communication with "probablistic entropy." The generation of probabilistic entropy is a basic operation in the epistemological sense: when something happens it is expected to inform us (Theil 1972). More precisely: the message that an event happened informs that a case was deselected given the assumption of prevailing uncertainty. These definitions are formal and, therefore, yet content-free. The specification of a system of reference can provide them with meaning.
It can be noted that variation and selection can thus be considered as two sides of the same coin: what we see is the variation, or uncertainty, and we can consider it as based on a selection. However, the selection mechanism has the status of a hypothesis. Furthermore, this operation is recursive: a probability distribution occurs with a probability; a selection can be selected. In terms of the model the recursion can be written as a second (e.g., grouping) variable. Thus, the distribution is no longer to be described with S pi, but with S pij.
As long as the vectors are stacked, the resulting matrix represents a segmented system of communication. Rank ordering leads to a stratified system, and grouping to differentiation. Rank ordering implies a repetition over time, and thus three degrees of freedom in the probabilistic entropy (S pijk) have to be declared to describe this system. In my opinion, a self-organizing system can be modelled as a four-dimensional communication system (S pijkl) since this network system is able to change its specific historical arrangements with hindsight (Leydesdorff 1994b). From the perspective of such a complex system, the historical network can be considered as a structure that is organized recursively by the distributed system itself (Maturana 1978).
Three dynamics (that is, four degrees of freedom of the probabilistic entropy) are sufficiently complex to contain the various species of chaotic behaviour. There is in evolution theory no reason to assume a fifth degree of freedom (in the probabilistic entropy) given Occam’s razor: the description in four dimensions seems sufficient and parsimonious. As noted, the additional complexity of the social system (in comparison to the biological system) can be considered as a consequence of the variability of the interaction between information and its codification in human languages (Leydesdorff 2000). In biology, the fixation of this relation drives the life-cycle, while a social system cannot be considered "alive" in the biological sense of the word (Luhmann 1986).
In conclusion, the differences between the sciences can be specified. As long as one considers the data as given, the dominant metaphor is geometrical and the prefered operation is observation. The reflexive model depicts a representation of an externally given reality like in a mirror. The model is then based on a simplification. As soon as one assumes that the data represents identifiable facts, the dominant metaphor can be formulated in terms of (first-order) operations; the preferred operation is expectation, and theory guides the observation. The model is then based on an abstract reduction.
If one expects that the data remain
distributed variation, the "facts" obtain the status of subsymbolic expectations.
The dominant metaphor can be specified in terms of a complex dynamics and
construction is increasingly the preferred operation. While the expectation
is now expected to be counter-intuitive (that is, unintended consequences
are expected to prevail), this communication can only be grounded in a
paradigmatic codification that is reflexively declared: "reality" can then
be considered as an external referent which disturbs scientific communications
and their codification (Luhmann 1990b). The exploration of this external
referent requires specification within the discourse. The model of a "phase"
space of possibilities, however, is more complex than the "reality" of
the observable events (that is, the deselected cases). Henceforth, one
is able to envisage the possibility of experiencing a paradigm change and
thus to extend the realm of imaginations which can legitimately be entertained
|nature||entropy; disturbance||extension; network||localized trajectory||identity or regime|
|character of operation||probabilistic; uncertain||deterministic; structural||reflexive; reconstructive||globally organized; resilient|
|appearance||instantaneous and volatile||spatial; multi-variate||historically contingent||hyper-cycle in space and time|
|unit of observation||change in terms of relations||latent positions||stabilities during history||virtual expectations|
|type of analysis||descriptive registration||multi-variate analysis||time-series analysis||non-linear dynamics|
Organization of concepts in relation to degrees of freedom in the probability distribution. (From: Leydesdorff 1994b).
The specification is guided by—and potentially reinforces—the semantics of a special theory. Special theories provide windows for the appreciation of subdynamics. The semantics, however, are expected to be different along the various axes involved. I have specified some of this semantics in Table 1 (Leydesdorff 1994b). But this methodological formulation still abstracts from the specific substances. Substantively, one expects incommensurabilities given different perspectives. For example, scholars in institutional and evolutionary economics are interested in change over time and (provisional) stabilization, while neo-classicaleconomics has focused on the operation of the market as a selective instance at each moment in time. Structural sociologies are interested in network dynamics, while symbolic interactionists are interested in what these dynamics mean, not only for the actors involved but also for the development of "situational meaning," that is, at the network level. Each perspective opens a window on the complex dynamics by reducing its subject to a geometrical metaphor. By doing so, the communications necessarily generate one "blind spot" or another (Luhmann 1984).
Can one entertain a metaperspective
using the mathematical theory of communication? The metaperspective (like
a metabiology or a metaphysics) develops on top of the other perspectives
by reflexively selecting. Thus, the positive theories are considered as
deselected instances, and the dynamics of the distributions becomes the
subject of investigation. The metaperspective generates its blind spot
in terms of the substance under discussion. Special theories of communication
are needed for providing the variation; the metaperspective may reflexively
help to clarify by adjusting the translations illustrated as a hypercycle
in Figure 1.
If one takes the central circle out of the plane in Figure 1, one is able to construct a tetrahedron (Figure 2). Then, each corner is equivalent, because one can roll this geometry over. Thus, there is no longer the expectation of a hierarchical order between the various possible discourses. For example, the formal discourse of mathematics can also be considered as a special one, notably, the one which fails to appreciate the substance of the variation. Integration and stabilization of codes remain dependent on (localizable) coevolutions between dynamics of communication.
The historian may wish to argue that one needs the generation of a system before the next-order system is able to emerge. However, it can be shown that the latter in time is formally equivalent to the more aggregated (Leydesdorff 1995). Order is emergent. Where one positions the priority, depends on one’s metaphors. No order is given, but scholarly discourses construct and reconstruct themselves continuously in terms of rationalized expectations.
At the reflexive level one is continuously
aware of the historical contingency of the operation. We are locked-in
into the sub-optimalities of our paradigms. The sub-optimality is a consequence
of our failure to behave like Godlike beings. (Scientific) knowledge is
based on geometrical metaphors which presuppose a position. Different specialities
and disciplines highlight perspectives. The reflexive interaction between
the fragments provides us increasingly with the surplus value. Like the
terms fractal and fragile, the term fragment is derived from the Latin
verb "frangere" (that is, to break). Nowadays, the derivatives of "frangere"
have driven out those of "esse" (e.g., "ontology"). Prigogine’s (1979)
metaphor "From Being to Becoming" was still metabiologically based on an
ontology. Yet, the discourses fail to be complete because one remains entrained
in the frictions of a transition.
I have argued that the transition from the hierarchical world system of Roman cosmology was inverted by the new cosmology of the Scientific Revolution. The new cosmology (inspired by protestant religion) placed the underlying subject on top of the hierarchy by considering it as a transcendental subject. The differential equation can be considered as a symbol if this cosmological integration. The return to eternal time was part of this cosmological resolution (Prigogine and Stengers, 1988).
The possibility to use computers for the study of analytically impossible or unlikely solutions has shifted the focus of our attention to non-integratable disharmony and chaos. All systems are expected to tick with their own clocks but they disturb one another while they can be expected to develop into near-decomposability for evolutionary reasons (Simon 1973). The network system of social communication can be modeled as such a system: it can be integrated locally, but the integration can be considered as fractally differentiated at lower levels.
Because of the incompleteness, misunderstanding and puzzles can be expected in the case of inter-human communication. The sciences as codified systems of communication are expected to generate frictions in relation to each other. As the communication is reflexively refined, one may be able to refine an emerging axis of recursive communication. This enterprise can be stimulated by developing reflexive translations between perspectives. Translative enterprises, however, cannot claim a meta-position without abandoning their operative assumptions of reflexive transformation. Like the other discourses, these systems of scientific communication generate variation by selecting and reflexively translating their hypotheses.
What are the normative implications of this thesis for science, technology, and innovation policies? Elsewhere, I have elaborated the model of a Triple Helix of University-Industry-Government Relations in collaboration with others (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 1997 and 2000; Leydesdorff and Etzkowitz 1998). The codification of new axes for the communication may help us to fight against the metonomies of the lock-ins of the trajectories in which one happens to be discursively enmeshed. The institutionalization can be expected to lag behind discursive codification in further development in the manner of a retention mechanism, continuously selecting from the selected meanings.
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