ISHPSSB 2001 || Quinnipiac University, July 18-22, 2001

Visual Images in Biology I & II

This pair of sessions will present papers on the use of visual images in biological inquiry and in representing attitudes toward the living world. A range of approaches are used from an analysis of the interplay of image and experimental data to the relationship between the empirical and the aesthetic in representing the natural world. The rhetorical and explanatory uses of images are also explored as is the ability of images to create awe and wonder. The session provides a broad range of investigations into the use of images in areas of biological inquiry from the molecular to the physiological, from zoology to evolutionary biology.

Organizer and Chair: Robert Hendrick

C.U.M. Smith, Aston University
"Images of the Cerebral Cortex"
How should the cerebral cortex be 'seen'? In this paper I review the images which have guided our thought over the two hundred years since the times of the phrenologists. Although phrenology was soon discarded interest in the microscopical structure of the cerebral cortex remained. That a layering parallel to the pial surface existed had been recognised by Gennari as long ago as 1776, but it was not until the end of the nineteenth century that the six-layer schematic with which we are familiar today became established. At about the same time the careful histological investigations of Golgi and Ramon y Cajal provided the foundation for the concept of vertical chains of neurons in the cortex. This concept was placed firmly before the neuroscientific community in the chapter Lorente de No contributed to Fulton's 1938 (and subsequent editions) textbook Physiology of the Nervous System. With the advent of micro-electrode recording first Vernon Mountcastle and then David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel gave these putative units physiological validity. The anatomical reality of columns of activity in the cortex was established by clever histochemical techniques in the 1970s and the cellular histology culminated in Szentogothai's brilliant iconography of the late 1970s. This paper reviews the counterpoint between image and anatomical/physiological reality as our understanding of the structure of the cerebral cortex developed over two hundred years.

Laura Perini, Connecticut College
"Explanation in Two Dimensions: Diagrams and Functional Analysis "
Molecular biologists and biochemists often use visual representations to express hypotheses. This is interesting, because diagrams can be given a linguistic translation. Such a linguistic translation may contain too much information to be comprehensible to a human being (for example the list of atomic coordinates for a model of a protein structure). But often diagrams are used even when a fairly concise linguistic representation could be used instead. I explain this phenomena by showing how diagrammatic representation is especially well suited for a particular kind of explanation common in molecular biology and biochemistry: functional analysis, in which a capacity of the system is explained in terms of capacities of its component parts.

Maura C. Flannery, St. John's University
"A Brief History of Imaging Proteins"
As the structures of more and more proteins are explored, images of protein molecules have become commonplace in research articles in molecular biology. Computer programs are now routinely used to create three-dimensional representations of proteins, and these programs are designed to provide precise information on the position of each atom within a molecule. There seems little room here for aesthetic considerations and artistic expression. But in this paper I argue that this is hardly the case, that in fact, aesthetic judgments play a large role in what these molecules look like and that within the bounds of scientific accuracy there is still a great deal of room for artistic expression. I will also show how molecular imaging has changed over the past 50 years as computer imaging technologies and information about molecular structure have become more sophisticated. This presentation will include a look at the work of the artist Irving Geis who made major contributions to the early imaging of protein structures at the atomic level and of the molecular biologist/artist David Goodsell who is doing some of the most accurate, as well as aesthetically attractive, molecular imaging today.

David W. Rudge, Western Michigan University
"The Role of Photographs and Film in Kettlewell's Popularizations of the Phenomenon of Industrial Melanism"
H.B.D. Kettlewell's early work on the phenomenon of industrial melanism is routinely referred to as the classic demonstration of natural selection in textbooks and the popular press, despite reservations by Kettlewell's peers and contemporary evolutionary biologists. A central question for historians of this episode is accounting for why public perceptions of the importance of Kettlewell's work have diverged from those of researchers who work on the phenomenon. Joel Hagen draws attention to Kettlewell's role in idealizing his investigations as an example of controlled experimentation in several retrospective popular accounts. The present paper discusses the important role photographic and film depictions of differential bird predation played in Kettlewell's popularizations. While agreeing with Hagen's contention that these visual representations were deftly and strategically used by Kettlewell to command assent to his interpretation of the phenomenon and shore up claims about the scientific legitimacy and importance of his work, I nevertheless dispute that the photographic and film evidence supports Hagen's specific contention that they were intended to portray Kettlewell's experiments as an example of controlled experimentation.

John R.H. Andrews, Victoria University of Wellington
"Poetry, Learning and Skill: Biological Illustration from 18th and 19th-century New Zealand"
Discovery and description of New Zealand's plants and animals by European explorers and scientists in the late 18th and 19th centuries spanned some critical periods in which there was substantial development in scientific understanding of biotas, their relationships, distributions and general biology, as well as development in the techniques of illustration. These developments interacted in ways that led to substantial improvements in the aesthetic appeal of the illustrations as well as their ability to contain useful or accurate scientific information. This situation was assisted by an increasing desire, in some cases, for illustrators to go into the field and observe live material and natural habitat. It was also the illustrative component of scientific publication that tended to be more tightly held by the imperial center, in terms of skilled craftspeople and technologies. It was not until the close of the 19th C that the colony (New Zealand) became more self-reliant in these areas, by which time the "Golden Age" of biological illustration was almost over. The presentation will cover the foregoing and related issues using some illustrated examples.

Robert Hendrick, St. John's University
"From Theology to Ecology: The Use of the Grotesque in Biological Imagery, 1450-2000"
In aesthetic theory, the grotesque is a mixture of the normal with the abnormal or degenerate. It is a combination of easily recognizable forms with those that seem impossible and which are nonexistent in nature. In his study of the grotesque, Geoffrey Harpham contends that this mixture awakens in us a "civil war of attraction and repulsion." It is this tension which gives grotesque forms their appeal. Because the incongruity of their forms makes them particularly fascinating to us, the use of grotesque biological images has had a long history. Using slides, my paper examines some of the ideological considerations lying behind the use of such images. I begin by examining the work of such later medieval artists as Dirk Bouts and Hieronymus Bosch to show how Christian theology played a crucial role in the iconography of their grotesque organisms. I then look at ideological factors that lead to the creation of images of grotesque animals in the bestiaries of the sixteenth and early seventeen centuries and at the bogus monsters that were so prevalent in the "cabinets of wonder" up to the time of the Enlightenment. After a period of decline in the nineteenth century, the creation of grotesque visual images was revived by the Surrealist movement. Numerous contemporary artists have employed the use of grotesque creatures to protest the degradation of the environment and to make a plea for ecological sanity. Among the artists considered, I will concentrate on the work of Alexis Rockman and Sue Johnson.

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