Molecular Capture

The Animation of Biology

2021
Author:

Adam Nocek

Molecular Capture

How computer animation technologies became vital visualization tools in the life sciences

Molecular Capture reveals how popular media consumption and biological knowledge production have converged in molecular animations to produce new regimes of seeing and knowing. Adam Nocek weaves together speculative media philosophy, science and technology studies, and design theory to investigate how scientific knowledge practices are designed through media apparatuses.

Thoughtful and deeply researched, Molecular Capture brings together history of science, media theory, and philosophy of representation, power, and governmentality to present a provocative argument about the relation of entertainment and science as crystallized in the form of molecular animation.

Kirsten Ostherr, director of the Medical Futures Lab and the Medical Humanities Program, Rice University

Who would have thought that computer animation technologies developed in the second half of the twentieth century would become essential visualization tools in today’s biosciences? This book is the first to examine this phenomenon. Molecular Capture reveals how popular media consumption and biological knowledge production have converged in molecular animations—computer simulations of molecular and cellular processes that immerse viewers in the temporal unfolding of molecular worlds—to produce new regimes of seeing and knowing.

Situating the development of this technology within an evolving field of historical, epistemological, and political negotiations, Adam Nocek argues that molecular animations not only represent a key transformation in the visual knowledge practices of life scientists but also bring into sharp focus fundamental mutations in power within neoliberal capitalism. In particular, he reveals how the convergence of the visual economies of science and entertainment in molecular animations extends neoliberal modes of governance to the perceptual practices of scientific subjects. Drawing on Alfred North Whitehead’s speculative metaphysics and Michel Foucault’s genealogy of governmentality, Nocek builds a media philosophy well equipped to examine the unique coordination of media cultures in this undertheorized form of scientific media. More specifically, he demonstrates how governmentality operates across visual practices in the biosciences and the popular mediasphere to shape a molecular animation apparatus that unites scientific knowledge and entertainment culture.

Ultimately, Molecular Capture proposes that molecular animation is an achievement of governmental design. It weaves together speculative media philosophy, science and technology studies, and design theory to investigate how scientific knowledge practices are designed through media apparatuses.
Molecular Capture

Adam Nocek is assistant professor in the philosophy of technology and in science and technology studies and is director of the Center for Philosophical Technologies at Arizona State University. He is coeditor of The Lure of Whitehead (Minnesota, 2014).

Molecular Capture

Thoughtful and deeply researched, Molecular Capture brings together history of science, media theory, and philosophy of representation, power, and governmentality to present a provocative argument about the relation of entertainment and science as crystallized in the form of molecular animation.

Kirsten Ostherr, director of the Medical Futures Lab and the Medical Humanities Program, Rice University

Putting aside traditional film history models, Molecular Capture theorizes the time-based molecular model’s emergence across the science-entertainment divide. Part history of animation and part speculative visual theory of science imaging, Molecular Capture shows us the extent to which our fascination with the molecular, and molecules themselves, move fluidly across the science-entertainment divide.

Lisa Cartwright, University of California, San Diego

Molecular Capture

Contents

Introduction: On Speculative Media Philosophy

Part I

1. Molecular Entertainment

2. Visuality and Experimental Knowledge Practices

3. A Feeling for Theoretical Biology

Part II

4. Eco-social Media

5. Governing the Social

Part III

6. The Animation Apparatus

7. Epistemic Capture

Postscript: A Prolegomenon to Governmental Design

Acknowledgments

Notes

Videography

Bibliography

Index