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"Technoscience" in information society: methodological problems of the development of theoretical research in engineering sciences

"Technoscience" in information society: methodological problems of the development of theoretical research in engineering sciences
Project team:

Gorokhov, Vitaly (Project leader); Gotthard Bechmann

Start date:


End date:


Research area:

Knowledge society and knowledge policy

Project description

During the second part of the 20th century, many new scientific disciplines came into being that did not fit into the traditional frame of theoretical knowledge (system engineering, technical cybernetics, engineering economy, engineering psychology, petrophysics, etc.). Many of these sciences have just consolidated as standalone research areas. For this reason, it becomes increasingly important to reconstruct the architectural "pattern" (or "patterns") of modern scientific theories, especially of the ones concerning technical sciences, by using methodological ways and means. The elaboration of such a "pattern" must be based on a methodological analysis of development mechanisms coming from the already existing technical theories so that it does not degenerate into random constructing. Such an analysis is the core of this project.

In the last few centuries, a lot has changed in the field of technical sciences. These changes bear witness to a qualitatively new “non-classical” stage in their development. This kind of research and its share among all scientific research is increasing enormously right now. Second, new forms of organization aiming at a higher efficiency of scientific work are just evolving, whereas experts of the different science fields are being integrated in this research. This serves to a stronger orientation of modern science towards finding solutions to the different practical problems existing, especially to problems regarding engineering technology. At the same time, methods coming from engineering technology and projecting sink more and more into the area of "pure" science and, thereby, fundamentally change the traditional standards and value orientations of scientific research. An entire block of new technical science has evolved that uses systems theoretical ideas, methods, and concepts (cybernetics, systems engineering, systems analysis, etc.). In this project, radar systems engineering was selected as an important object of methodological analysis. Another example is nanotechnology in which case scientific research is strongly connected to engineering activities and even to nanofabrication.

Final report

At present, a shift of social priorities in science and technology can be observed. Therefore, it is important that general statements on science, technology, and society will be developed by experts. But these general statements will be too abstract without understanding the real history of science. The particular history of the different specific science branches can be represented in case studies as different general models of historical development of science and technology.

The subject of the social and methodological analysis in this project was the emerging and the development of the theory of mechanisms as a classical scientific and engineering discipline, on the one hand. On the other hand, the emerging and the development of radar science and technology as a special discipline of scientific engineering (as distinct from the engineering industry) was the subject of social and methodological analysis. Radar theory is discussed not as much as a specific engineering science but as a model of development of an engineering discipline. On the one hand, it is an object of systems study; on the other hand, it has given an impetus in modern science and engineering to the development of methodological principles for the systems approach. This is not only about adding new details to the stories of this particular sphere of science and technology but rather about using this example as a case study to uncover the social and methodological structures connected to the origination of new sciences and technologies. This approach was propagated by the philosophers of science in the middle of the 20th century. For this reason, it was possible to apply in this project the results of the social and methodological analysis done by scientific engineering disciplines, results which were elaborated for the investigation of radar science and technology, and for the philosophical analysis of another modern science, namely of nanotechnology.

The scientific technological disciplines already have founded or are founding at present disciplinary organizations and, meanwhile, they have a stable position in science. In addition, as shown in the project, by the second half of the 20th century, a majority of the scientific technological disciplines had begun their own theoretical studies that have received the status of a technical theory, by now. Today, there is more interconnectedness between science and technology (also in the basic research spheres) within the scientific community. We already say "technoscience". In the modern scientific landscape, we can find increasingly a special type of scientific discipline – the scientific technological discipline. These new scientific technological disciplines are unique in that they emerge at the interface between scientific and engineering activities, and are supposed to ensure the effective interaction of both of these fields. We already speak of "technoscience". Three main levels of the theoretical (ontological) schema within a nanoscientific theory can be discerned: namely, mathematically-oriented functional schemes, "flow" schemes reflecting natural processes occurring in the system investigated or constructed, and structural schemes representing its structural parameters and engineering analysis, i.e., the system’s structure. In nanotechnoscience different models (equivalent circuits with standard electronic components) of electric circuit theory are used for the analysis and synthesis of nanocircuits, and a special nanocircuit theory is elaborated. The implementation of technological theory is carried out by using the iteration method. First, a special engineering problem is formulated. Then it is represented as a structural diagram of the technical system. To calculate and to model this process mathematically, a functional diagram is drawn up. Consequently, the engineering problem is reformulated into a scientific one, and then into a mathematical problem that is solved by the deductive method. This path from the bottom to the top represents the analysis of models. The opposite direction – the synthesis of models – makes it possible to synthesize the ideal model of a new technical system from idealized structural elements according to the appropriate rules of deductive transformation, to calculate basic parameters of the technical system, and to simulate its function.

In nanocircuit structures, we find traditional electronic components at different levels realized on the basis of nanotechnology. In nanotechnoscience, the explanation and prognostication of the course of natural processes (as in natural sciences) is just as important as the multiplication of structural nanosystem models (as in engineering sciences). Electron beam lithography is, at the same time, an experimental system of investigation and is used in nanofabrication. So nanotechnology is simultaneously a field of scientific knowledge and a sphere of engineering activity – in other words, NanoTechnoScience includes, similar to Systems Engineering, the analysis and the design of complex micro- and nanosystems. In nanotechnoscience, constructs from various scientific theories – classical and quantum physics, classical and quantum chemistry, structural biology, etc. – are used, whereas, in nanosystems, different physical, chemical, and biological processes take place.

Today, it is impossible to separate knowledge production not only from knowledge application but also from ethical reflection. That is why in this project problems related to technological catastrophes are analyzed: Hereinafter, an example for nuclear reactor accidents follows. After the Chernobyl catastrophe the scientific worldview has changed. The related problems are the problems of the whole world community. This incident has changed significantly the way how the safety of nuclear power engineering and the responsibility for that safety borne by scientists, engineers, and politicians, are discussed. No reference to the public, economic, or technological expedience or to higher scientific interests can justify the moral and material damage that can be done to human beings and to the environment. The immensely intensified potential impacts of technology will require an entirely new ethical orientation not only regarding behavior rules but also with regard to responsibility and provision as well as to providence and caring for the future. This would require new norms, in part, changed values and frames of reference. The ruling elite in the USSR and in the USA had limited the information access for general public and for the free press regarding the technological risks of large-scale technological installations in military-industrial complexes. The disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power station is a most illustrative example. That is to say, the technological risk is not only a technical one but it also bears a social problem which is also a moral problem. General remarks are not made about the objective character of social investigation, but about the investigation of the concrete exemplary of a historical individual and particular phenomenon which must always correlate with the value ideas (Max Weber). The nuclear accidents of Chernobyl and Fucusima have demonstrated the necessity to reflect on the social problems of modern technoscience from an ethical point of view by employing post-non-classical scientific rationality.



Prof. Dr. Vitaly Gorokhov
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe