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Between Symbol and Technology: Edgar Wind’s Cosmological Theory of Measuring Instruments

Virginia Woolf Building, Strand Campus , London

23 Oct Part of the German Department Research Seminars

This research seminar will be led by Dr Benjamin Dawson (English, UCL) and chaired by Lizzie Stewart from the Department of German at King's. 

The talk will focus on a neglected document from the history of humanistic engagements with science, Edgar Wind’s Das Experiment und die Metaphysik: Zur Auflösung der kosmologischen Antinomien (1934). A student of Ernst Cassirer and Erwin Panofsky, Wind is better known today as a historian of art in the Warburg tradition. But in 1929 he submitted this historical and philosophical interpretation of modern physics as a Habilitation thesis to the University of Hamburg. By this time, Wind had returned from a period at the University of North Carolina, where followers of John Dewey had introduced him to pragmatist ideas, and was working as a research assistant to Aby Warburg—whose library he would be instrumental in moving to London a few years later. As Wind explains in its Preface, Das Experiment und die Metaphysik appeared, almost from its inception, as a work belonging to a bygone period in which it had seemed possible to thwart the ‘disciplinary border guards’, as Warburg himself put it. Wind’s reconstruction of the new physics develops a bold new cosmological theory of measuring instruments which combines a pragmatist metaphysics, closely akin to Sidney Hook’s contemporary work, with iconological approaches to symbol formation associated with the Warburg group. The paper will seek to set this theory in some of these intellectual and cultural contexts, and also to suggest that Wind’s departure from basic premises of his teachers’ Neo-Kantianism is both highly political and intriguingly reminiscent of certain Romantic models of the relations between symbol and technology. 

Free and open to all to attend. No registration is required. 


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