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Guesswork: System, Science, and the Advancement of Knowledge

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The second of two Leverhulme Re:Enlightenment Lectures by Clifford Siskin (Henry W and Alfred A Berg Professor of English and American Literature, New York University; Director, The Re:Enlightenment Project; Leverhulme Visiting Professor at CRASSH ).

These lectures examine how knowledge gets stuck and the strategies for restarting it. Ranging from past to present—and back—they link Galileo’s and Bacon’s efforts to advance knowledge to efforts to scale up to new possibilities today. The first lecture highlights the “good fortune” (Bacon) of new tools, by debuting one. Like Galileo’s spyglass, “Tectonics” zooms in—in this case, to clarify how our modern disciplines emerged from Enlightenment. The second lecture zooms out to reconsider the history of science in terms of Newton choosing “system” as his tool for guesswork.

Together, these lectures explore the conditions of possibility for a centre such as CRASSH —a collaborative effort to reconnect the arts, social sciences and humanities. The first condition is the division of knowledge into those categories, with their second-order divisions into the narrow but deep disciplines of modernity. The second condition is that we think that there’s something to gain by this reconnect—that knowledge needs new forms of guesswork now. That thought—that we have a historically-specific opportunity for reorganizing and advancing knowledge—is also central to the The Re:Enlightenment Project’s effort to explain and transform our Enlightenment inheritance. These lectures are not an effort to study Re:Enlightenment but to enact it.

Video of the first lecture and more details:

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