Thursday, June 21, 2012

Small comfort to HOPOS 2012 that they didn't hear Lincoln at Gettysburg either

    The very first science that historians and philosophers of science need to devote themselves to , is the science of microphones and public address systems.

int'l conference philosophy history of science
from all over the world's universities to Halifax 
    The international society of scholars devoted to the history of the philosophy of science has teamed up with, among other partners, Gordon McOuat and the Situating Science crew at Kings College University in Halifax.

      Situating Science  (Situsci) seeks to situate the practise of science into a human, public, context - finding new ways to let scientists and the public interact while avoiding the traditional top down approach of learned scientist to unwashed laity.
   This may be why I - a mere member of the public - managed to avoid a conference fee and yet got to attend a very good lecture by the distinguished scholar Professor Heinrich von Staden from Princeton.
    I went partly because my book ( Dr Martin Henry Dawson and the Invention of "GP" Penicillin) is , by necessity , not a biography of words and theory but rather a biography of deeds and actions.
   Professor von Staden said in his lecture that while Galen and other very early experimental scientists (early as in Before Christ early !) wrote little theory on their experimental approach, we can still discern - 2000 years later -a fair bit of their theory, by looking at their more extensive words about their actual practise.
  I particularly like to hear this, because academics are human-like in their weaknesses and so are rather more inclined to take seriously what a  person said (particularly if it is wrapped in a one nice big book or article) rather than to do the much harder task of seeing what that person actually did in practise.
    But this blog is more about the difficulty I and many other members of the audience in the relatively small Kings Alumni Hall had in clearly hearing the speaker and his questioners.
   I have attended other lectures at the hall (usually put on by Situsci) and can always clearly heard speaker and the audience's questions.
   Von Staden had a great speaking voice and he was miked - but at a level too low  while the questioners did not have a mike stand that they were directed to.
  Most people seemingly have lost the art of pitching their voices  (a combination of volume, an edge to the voice and clear, short logical statements) to fill a small but crowded hall.
    I have no talent in any area of physical activity but I pride myself that from a very young age, you could always hear me clearly ,un-miked, in even big halls.
  The art is gone - fair enough - hence the need for a mike stand in the hall, where speakers must line up to speak at close range into the mike.
   I attend a fair number of philosophy lectures and find a lot of expensive speakers are wasted when they arrive in Halifax and then mumble their way through the lecture.
   This only plays to the impression many of us ( but not I !) already have about the wooliness of philosophers.
   Perhaps it is judged unprofessional philosophically to pitch your speech, use rhetoric and body gestures and speak in polemics - fair enough.
    But please use a mike so every thoughtful nuance is clearly heard.
   True, no one heard Lincoln either at Gettysburg when he gave  probably most famous speech in any language, in the age before microphones.
   It never got any acclaim until newspaper editors saw the text on paper and started re-printing it in their newspapers.
  But HOPOS 2012 is unlikely to have that luxury --- I was probably the only 'media' there......

1 comment:

  1. I awoke this morning with the thought that the aversion to audience mikes at the smaller academic convention lectures (of the sort I usually attend here in Halifax) may simply reflect a wish to have the conversation contain 'the appearance' of a free-wheeling discussion between equals and colleagues.
    But if the speaker has a mike and the audience members don't, this is hardly equal in audio terms.
    And if the hall and size of audience makes the debate hard to hear, I think a mike stand in the audience, combined with a requirement the speakers identify themselves briefly,would certainly help forment a genuine debate.
    Particularly if an academic Society decides to moves gingerly into the 21st century, by live-streaming the sessions out to the known universe via the internet.
    Secretiveness is all very well for our public officials down at City Hall (shout out to Peter, the mayor of Will-power !) , but no academic should support it, when the free dissemination of knowledge is their very raison d'etre....