Kearnes, M. B. (2008) 'Informationalising matter : systems understandings of the nanoscale.', Spontaneous generations : a journal for the history and philosophy of science., 2 (1).
Themes of mastery, domination and power are familiar to any scholar of modern technology. Science is commonly cast as enabling the technological control over both the natural and physical worlds. Indeed, Francis Bacon famously equated scientific knowledge with power itself—stating that ‘knowledge itself is a power’ (Bacon in Montagu 1825, 71). Bacon’s now ubiquitous phrase—commonly repeated as the banal ‘knowledge is power’—was an attempt to combat three heresies in scriptural interpretation by asserting the conjunction between biblical knowledge and divine power. Opening his critique of the heresies he states: ‘You err, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God’. In this sense the equation made between knowledge and power is of cosmic significance for Bacon in that knowledge is fundamentally associated with divine power. This image of scientific knowledge, method and rationality is deeply seductive. In this Baconian mode scientific method is irreducibly associated with human mastery over natural systems and the material world. In this image science and technology are defined as a kind of power over the physical world—the power of knowledge, method and the logos over nature, myth and irrationality (Winner 1978). In its original Latin sense—ipsa scientia potestas est—the word that translates in English as simply power is a in fact a specific type of power. Potestas is defined as ‘power over’—with particular resonances with political and juridical traditions in Roman law. That is, knowledge is equated not simply with personal capacity. Rather, knowledge produces the power of mastery, domination and coercion...
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