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SystemThe Shaping of Modern Knowledge$
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Clifford Siskin

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780262035316

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262035316.001.0001

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Prologue: “The Most Primitive Question”

Prologue: “The Most Primitive Question”

(p.1) Prologue: “The Most Primitive Question”

Clifford Siskin

The MIT Press

The Prologues argues that the question “What is a system?” is a fundamental question across the disciplines, from quantum mechanics to the social sciences and humanities. To answer the question we need to see system not as an “idea” needing a definition but as a genre—a form that works physically in the world to mediate our efforts to know it. We can then identify features of that genre, such as scalability, that explain why system came to play such a central role in efforts to know the world for so long. We can also count systems and account for their becoming something to blame, as in “blaming the system,” and for the role they play in constituting infrastructure. The Prologue then begins this tale of how system has mediated knowledge by turning back to Galileo’s discovery of Jupiter’s lunar system, the entry of “system” into English, and a discussion of the role of The Re:Enlightenment Project’s touchstones—past and present, mediating technologies, connectivities—in shaping this book.

Keywords:   Quantum mechanics, Genre, Scalability, Blaming the system, Infrastructure, Galileo, Computable universe, Francis Bacon, Literary history, Re:Enlightenment

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