Homer in the laboratory: an introduction

Published on: Author: Mark Erickson 2 Comments

I love science, its workings, its practitioners, its methods and results. I have spent much of the last 20 or so years researching science from a broadly sociological / cultural studies perspective and have thoroughly enjoyed doing that. I’ve published a few books and papers based on my research (most recently Erickson 2015), and I continue to investigate science in society using a range of methods.

My reasons for investigating science from a sociological perspective are, to some extent, personal. When I first went to university I studied Biochemistry. I was good at doing experiments and lab work, but pretty bad at the book work aspect. I couldn’t really see the point of much of it: why did I have to memorise Lubert Stryer’s textbook Biochemistry (first edition 1975, 8th edition 2015 and, yes, still in print) to become a biochemist (and pass my exams)? I didn’t complete my Biochemistry degree and, some years later, started a degree in Sociology.

When I first encountered sociology and philosophy of science I had a proverbial ‘lightbulb moment’. Reading Thomas Kuhn (1962) I understood what vade mecum science was and how normal science required a large shared stock of wholly accepted knowledge for its operation. Kuhn has stood me in good stead, up to a point at least. However, it was the work of Paul Feyerabend, particularly his ‘anarchist’ theory of knowledge, that had the longest effect on me and my research.

In recent years, that Feyerabendian influence has taken me into rather strange waters. I’ve always been interested in laboratory science, particularly how science work is done, and I have used forms of ethnographic working to investigate this, inspired loosely by Feyerabend’s dictum that ‘anything goes’ (1978). This applies to both the formal scientists I was watching and working with (even though they would often claim to be following a strict and shared method), and to me as a researcher.

In recent years in revisiting Feyerabend, and particularly with the publication of two posthumous works (2011; 2016) I became more and more intrigued by his persistent return to archaic ancient Greek culture and writing (particularly Homer’s works), and his identification of the advent of Presocratic thought as being an irrevocable turning point in Western thought. There is very little comment on this aspect of Feyerabend’s work: Helmut Heit (2016) is one of the few scholars who has investigated it in any detail.

For Feyerabend, and also for Karl Popper, everything changed with, firstly, Parmenides (c. 500BCE) and then became entrenched with the influence of Plato’s philosophy. For Feyerabend it is at this point that Western thought took a catastrophic turn and compacted the abundance of the world by imposing fixed concepts and categories and by privileging theory over experience.

Re-reading this started me thinking; is there a way of escaping this 2500 year old mode of thought? Could we go back in time, back to the pre-Presocratics, and reconstruct a way of understanding our world that was starkly different to our current mode of thought and writing? This was the starting point for my attempts to try and find Homer in a laboratory.

This blog will provide an account of that journey with some reflections on what I found and made, and what I think it means. Posts will be irregular, but I hope that they are of some interest to readers. I look forward to hearing from readers of this blog – email me at m.erickson@brighton.ac.uk



Erickson, M. (2015) Science, culture and society: understanding science in the twenty-first century. 2nd edition, Cambridge: Polity.

Feyerabend, P. (1978) Against Method, London: Verso

Feyerabend, P. (2011) The tyranny of science, Cambridge: Polity, and Feyerabend, P. (2016) Philosophy of nature, Cambridge: Polity.)

Heit, H. (2016) ‘Reasons for relativism: Feyerabend on the ‘Rise of Rationalism’ in ancient Greece’, Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A.

Kuhn, T.S. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Popper, K.R. (2012) The world of Parmenides : essays on the Presocratic enlightenment, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York: Routledge.

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2 Responses to Homer in the laboratory: an introduction Comments (RSS) Comments (RSS)

  1. Bravo, Mark – you’ve popped your blog cherry! A fascinating read and looking forward to more.

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