Jürgen Renn


Born
in Moers, Germany
July 11, 1956

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Jürgen Renn is a director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, where, together with his group, he researches structural changes in systems of knowledge. His books include, with Hanoch Gutfreund, The Formative Years of Relativity: The History and Meaning of Einstein's Princeton Lectures and The Road to Relativity: The History and Meaning of Einstein's "The Foundation of General Relativity". ...more

Average rating: 4.07 · 192 ratings · 20 reviews · 46 distinct worksSimilar authors
The Evolution of Knowledge:...

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Albert Einstein - Chief Eng...

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The Globalization of Knowle...

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Albert Einstein, Chief Engi...

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Wie Einstein seine Relativi...

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Auf Den Schultern Von Riese...

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Das Anthropozän - Zum Stand...

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Einstein on Einstein: Autob...

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The Genesis of General Rela...

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Herausforderung Energie: Au...

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“While the technosphere concept stresses that most humans lack the potential to influence the behavior of large technological systems, the ergosphere concept makes this possibility dependent on the existence of appropriate social and political structures and knowledge systems, and also on the individual perspectives of human actors. One cause for hope is that a knowledge economy produces and distributes not only the knowledge needs for its functioning (and often less) but, to varying degrees, an excess of knowledge (an 'epistemic spillover') that may trigger unexpected developments.
Humans must certainly maintain and preserve their tools, technologies, and infrastructures, but they also change them with each implementation. The material world of the ergosphere consists of borderline objects between nature and culture that may trigger innovations as well as unpredictable consequences. The ergosphere has a plasticity and porousness in which materials and functions are not so tightly interwoven as to exclude the repurposing of existing tools for new applications. In principle, each aspect of the ergosphere can be transformed from an end into a means, which is then available to emerging intentions and functions. Repurposing a given tool is, however, a double-edged sword - it may have disastrous consequences. Thus, the responsibility for using and developing technical systems must always be assumed anew.”
Jürgen Renn, The Evolution of Knowledge: Rethinking Science for the Anthropocene

“But however desirable an evolutionary framework for a history of knowledge may be, the important questions is whether it is actually possible to recognize an evolutionary logic in the historical records - without imposing it by an exaggerated analogy with biology and without ascending to a level of abstraction where all cats become gray. I believe that the historical findings examined in the preceding chapters point in such a direction, in particular the long-term, cumulative aspects of knowledge development, its dependence on contingent societal contexts, and the profound transformations of the architecture of knowledge.
Examples are the emergence of new systems of knowledge from a reorganization of preceding systems; the sedimentation and plateau-building processes of knowledge economies; the transformation of contingent circumstances and challenges into internal conditions for the further development of knowledge systems, accounting for the path dependency and layered structure of this development; and the feedback mechanisms that may arise between knowledge economies and knowledge systems, giving rise to the emergence of new epistemic communities.
Just like the evolution of life, knowledge development has direction but us not globally uniform. It is neither deterministic nor teleological. Chance events may have long-term effects by becoming incorporated into the developmental process. Knowledge development is self-referential insofar as it contributes to shaping its own environment by processes of sedimentation and plateau formation corresponding to niche construction in biology. It is also a layered process, in the sense that later forms of knowledge do not necessarily replace earlier ones. External representations shape the long-term transmission of knowledge, ensuring its continuity, while their exploration under different circumstances opens up possibilities for variation and change.”
Jürgen Renn, The Evolution of Knowledge: Rethinking Science for the Anthropocene

“Looking back at the knowledge economies discussed earlier, we can recognize that the dynamic coupling of human societies and the Earth system not only depended on the generation of knowledge, but enhanced, in turn, the significance of that generation. In a process extending over millennia, scientific knowledge eventually became a crucial component of economic growth; it is now becoming no less important in coping with its consequences. Substantial anthropogenic change on a global scale was evidently already characteristic of the Holocene and the late Pleistocene, from the human-induced extinction of great mammals via Neolithization and urbanization to the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions. What characterizes the Anthropocene is the need to actively prevent the Earth system from transgressing planetary boundaries. The emergence of this need is closely related to the cascade of evolutionary processes described above. Just as cultural evolution started as a side-show of biological evolution before it became the conditio humana (the essential condition of human life), epistemic evolution, that is, the growing dependence of human societies on knowledge economies producing scientific knowledge, was, for a long time, no more than a tangential aspect of cultural evolution. But with the onset of the Anthropocene, the survival of human culture as we know it hinges on this.”
Jürgen Renn, The Evolution of Knowledge: Rethinking Science for the Anthropocene



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