Beaver Dams, Spider Webs, and the Sticky Wicket: An Investigation on What Counts as Technology and What Counts as Knowledge

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Philosophers of technology have often considered only the tools and processes used and conducted by humans, but natural structures and man-made structures are not always easily discernable from one another. The complexity of a spider web is not matched by many human-made technologies. Beaver dams, beehives, and ant hills are great creations made by non-human animals. Davis Baird has argued that our scientific instruments bear knowledge in important ways, and the idea of technological knowledge bears interestingly on discussions of natural artifacts. Baird thinks his argument for instruments bearing knowledge can be extended, but how far can it be taken? Do ‘natural’ technologies, like spider webs, bear technological knowledge of some sort? This move to consider whether natural artifacts might bear knowledge rubs interestingly against current definitions of technology which include human agency or progression as important. If we find that some natural artifacts seem to bear knowledge in the way Baird describes, technological knowledge would not be the exclusive domain of humans. Our current definitions of technology seem incongruent with our view of knowledge and our knowledge of natural artifacts. The purpose of this paper is to sort out the inconsistencies between current philosophical literature on knowledge and on technology.


Keywords: Natural Artifacts, Technological Knowledge, Thing Knowledge, Technological Behavior, Spectrum of Technology, Tool-use vs. Technology
Stream: Knowledge and Technology
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Ashley Shew

PhD Student, Department of Science & Technology in Society
Department of Philosophy, Virginia Tech

Blacksburg, Virginia, USA

I am a student at Virginia Tech in STS and Philosophy. I recently earned my masters in STS with my masters thesis on the epistemic status of natural artifacts. I am still working on my masters in Philosophy and my PhD in STS. My work centers on philosophy of technology with a specific interest in the relation of the epistemology of technology to technological ethics. Formerly, I did work on instrumentation and nanotechnology at the University of South Carolina, where my Honors Thesis worked toward creating a professional code of ethics for nanotechnology.

Ref: T08P0038