Editorial Guidelines


Narrating science: biographies and autobiographies of scientists between chance and necessity. From the academic to the popular wisdom in the literature, in the movies, in the video, in the cartoons.

Castello Guevara, Bovino (Foggia-Italia) 7-11 August 2013


XIIth Symposium of the scientific Observatory of the written, oral and filmic memory and of the autobiographical patrimony


The abstract submittal closes on the 15 th of April 2013. The abstract has to be submitted with a CV (abstracts should contain maximum 250 words, 100 for the short CV) to the following address: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


From Archimedes to Isaac Newton, from Enrico Fermi to Albert Einstein, autobiographies and biographies of scientists narrate about their extraordinary adventures in each one specific field, but also about the poetic to construct science, a process in which chance, passion and imagination do play an essential role. The world ‘science’ refers here to patrimony of knowledge traditionally developed in the fields of philosophies of natural, physical and mathematical sciences. The one of scientists’ lifestories is a vast heritage, which is opening a window onto the world of literary expressions in science.

A vast bibliography reports about the forming of the scientific spirit and attitude. Starting from Gaston Bachelard, La formation de l’esprit scientifique, Paris, Vrin, 1996; to the fundamental close examination by Karl Popper in the The logic of scientific discovery, London, Hutchinson, 1959; to the narration of the intellectual adventure of the community of nuclear physicists who revolutionized the idea of physical science itself: Etienne Klein Il était sept fois la révolution, Paris Flammarion, 2008 (2005); countless journeys of scientific personalities have been narrated. Moreover the arguments of the rhetoric sustaining the legitimation and self-legitimation of science are important to understand the role that the scientist assigns to himself, as illustrated by Pierre Bourdieu in Science de la science et réflexivité, Paris, Raisons d’agir, 2001. Bordieu shows how on the one hand, reporting about his/her work, the scientist uses a particular register as his/her work has to appear objective; and on the other hand he shows how the same scientists in different contexts tend to report about their results in a subjective way highlighting the role of their own intuition and creativity. As in former times the anecdotes emphasized the role of chance, reducing then the importance and the role of the human factor. Marcel Jousse observes in the L’anthropologie du geste, referring also to Newton, that “chance” is the results of the obsessive observation of many different scientists (Marcel Jousse, l’anthropologie du geste, Paris, Gallimard, 1974). We know as well that Newton, who nevertheless sustained having inherited scientific methodology and findings from Copernico and Galileo (If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants) wanted his contemporaries to have an image of himself as the one of an intuitive scientist: he told to four different persons before dying the story of the connexion between the observation of the falling apple and his finding the law of gravitation. « Tout processus d’invention - writes Etienne Klein -  puise également dans l’imaginaire, s’appuie sur l’intuition, sur des métaphores ou des analogies qui constituent en parallèle des concepts et des énoncés, comme une ‘poétique’ de la science en train de se faire. La courbure d’un tempérament, la force d’une conviction, l’obsession d’un questionnement peuvent porter une découverte, parfois même y conduire». E. Klein, Il était sept fois la révolution, p. 16.

Klein remembers us as Arthur Schopenahuer’s work, The World as will and representation, is a part of many scientists life. Schopenauher was a constant reading also for Ettore Majorana, the physicist who mysteriously disappeared in 1938, a complex and vibrating figure, main topic of Klein’s intervention during our last year Symposium.

Next year Symposium intends also to give space to the popular literature – see point 3b here below. The Symposium intends to address both well-known personalities and popular wises. The latter define their “success” and their individualities on the actual practise of their knowledge in a specific context, which identifies them as healer, agronomists, interprets of the cosmos.

1)      Subjectivity and science. It is mandatory to refer to Foucault’s essay “Classer” and his analysis of the turning point in the scientific speech. The passage from the encyclopaedic enumeration to a renovated point of view on science takes place for a precise reason and in a precise moment in the history of philosophy: «c’est que les signes  faisaient partie des choses, tandis qu’au XVIIème siècle ils deviennent  des modes de la représentation».   Michel Foucalt,  “Classer”,  in Id. Les mots et les choses, Paris, Gallimard, 1966, p. 141. Few passages after, Foucault affirms that the deduction, le manque, curtailing the eccess of information, constitutes the a priori grids which allows a structured classification. In the preface Foucault quotes Borges’s Fictiones, to highlight how an exasperated taxonomy corresponds paradoxically to zero information. If the knowledge does not need to be only revealed but also represented, then the role and mediation of the individual assume a primary importance.

2)      The ethical aspect. What is today the connection between science and ethic? How important is in biographies and autobiographies the awareness of the consequences of scientific findings and applications? Today with the division of science in a multitude of specialized areas the responsibility of the single becomes obscure. The correspondence Einstein-Freud pointed out the war and the influence that wises can have on the whole humanity. Foucaults’s long consideration about the moral condemnation of Oppenheimer by the USA government as he did not express favourable opinion on the use of atomic energy, as well as Foucault’s consideration on the power of science after World War II, let a lot of unanswered questions about the legitimacy of the relation science-power. Friederich Dürrenmatt in the comedy Die  Physiker  (1961) deals with science responsibility as Bertolt Brecht already anticipated in Galileo.

3)      – a) Seeking for legitimacy concerns academic as well as popular wisdom. In both cases there is the anxiety about giving credit to a work aspiring to be recognized as ‘scientific’ with objective descriptions and explanations. This anxiety about scientific recognition characterizes the exemplary autobiography of Nikola Tesla (My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla, 1919), which reports about a strong desire to claim findings and primacy that were denied to him, but the same anxiety regards the popular or farm-wise, agronomists or interprets of the cosmos, who using different modalities postulates the broad recognition of his/her wisdom, at least in his/her specific domain of competences.

3)      – b) Recently Dario Fo (nobel prize in literature in 1997) while talking during an interview about his grandfather, an expert agronomist, highlighted that a farm knowledge was close to mythology: “he knew a lot of things through empiric rules, the repetition of four seasons or the repetition of atmospheric events. Grandfather Bistin knew how to identify connexions in natural systems, a skill that is often disregarded by scientists in their studies, as what cannot be explained by rules is certainly not science. He wanted me to taste a piece of peperone and then he asked me how it tasted. It was a sweet one, and he explained me that this was because it was so close to the tomatoes. Plants speak to each other, they influence themselves mutually”. “Le voci della terra. Dialogo sulla Natura con Dario Fo”, Interview by  Carlo Petrini, La Repubblica, 12 of August 2012.

A classical in popular literature is “The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth Century Miller”(1976) by Carlo Ginzburg, which examined the beliefs of an Italian heretic, the miller Domenico Scandella, who was processed twice in 1532 because of his cosmogonical conception. In his book preface Ginzburg reports the analysis of the methodology for studying the  popular history.

The process of understanding the narrating structure adopted by a farm-wise or by a healer obliges to recall the innate and primordial connexion between man and science, natural sciences above all.



This upcoming Symposium intends to continue developing the topic initiated by the 2012 Symposium of our Observatory, about the Ethos of the scientist, focusing in particular on the autobiographies of common people, and it is for some thematic connected to the 2011 Symposium, Tessere i racconti del sé fra fato e teleologia.

Proposals can concern literature, movies, video, and cartoons. As a summary, the central topics will be: the connexion between chance and necessity; individualism and sense of belonging to a scientific community; memory, writing, autobiographical construction; construction of the ethos.

In the frame of the Symposium a Round Table will be organized: the scope will be to summarize and discuss the common points treated by single interventions involving experts in different areas. Please if interested in taking part to the Round Table, mention it explicitly while submitting the Proposal.

The symposium will take place at the Guevara Castle premises in Bovino (Foggia, Italy) from the 7th to the 11th of August. Interventions should last 30 minutes, with 10 additional minutes for discussions.

Anybody can use his own language. A simultaneous translation service will not be provided; nevertheless in case of understanding issues consecutive translations will be done. The contributions will be peer reviewed and accepted papers will be published in special symposium proceedings: Mnemosyne o la costruzione del senso edited by Presses Universitaires de Louvain


Registration fees: 80,00 euros



Few bibliographical references:

-Gaston Bachelard, La formation de l’esprit scientifique, Paris, Vrin, 1996.

-Karin Knorr Cetina, The Manufacture of Knowledge : An Essay on the Constructivist and Contextual Nature of Science, Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1981.

-Friedrich Dürrenmatt,  Die Physiker, 1961 (Torino Einaudi, 1972).

-Michel Foucault intervistato da Alessandro  Fontana et Pasquale Pasquino, Microfisica del potere: interventi politici, Torino, Einaudi 1977, pp 3-28), Intervista ripresa in M. Foucault, Dits et écrits, Paris, Gallimard, v. II, 1976-1988, Édition  établie sous la direction de  Daniel Defert et François Ewald avec la collaboration de Jacques Lagrande, pp. 155-156.

-Carlo Ginzburg, Il formaggio e i vermi, Torino, Einaudi, 1976.

-Etienne Klein,  Il était sept fois la révolution, Albert Einstein et les autres, Paris,  Flammarion,  2005.

 -Marcel Jousse, l’anthropologie du geste, Paris, Gallimard, 1974.

- Karl Popper, The logic of scientific discovery, London, Hutchinson, 1959.


As for the methodology for analysing and conserving auto and biographical texts:

- Beatrice Barbalato, Albert Mingelgrün, dir., Télémaque-Archiver et interpréter les temoignages autobiographiques, Presses Universitaires de Louvain, 2012.

- Philippe Lejeune, Le Pacte autobiographique, Paris, Seuil, 1975.

- Jean Starobinski, « Le progrès de l’interprète », in Id. La relation critique, Paris, Gallimard, 2001 (1970).


Auto/biography / culture / science. New sessions.

XIIth Symposium of the scientific Observatory of the written, oral and filmic memory and of the autobiographical patrimony - Castello Guevara Bovino (Foggia-Italia), 

7 -11 August 2013.               

 The abstract (max 250 words), containing at least two references and a short CV (max 100 words), can be sent by the 15th of April 2013 to:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.                                    

The new sessions proposed hereby will be held in the already announced Symposium Narrating science: biographies and autobiographies of scientists between chance and necessity. From the academic to the popular wisdom in the literature, in the movies, in the video, in the cartoons (2nd Symposium dealing with a similar theme, the first being The èthos: the autobiographical memory of the scientist).

On our website at the voice Symposium, you may find the summaries of last year sessions.

A mathematician, a physicist or an expert of natural science narrate about themselves for different reasons: by adopting a different rhetoric from the one they manipulate daily and that remains accessible to specialists only, they probably want their knowledge to be accessible to the common public. This is the case, as an example, of Charles Darwin’s autobiography, or more recently of Eric Kandell’s and Rita Montalcini’s ones, as well as of many other scientists. Nowadays thanks to TV and cinema the possibility to narrate and narrate about themselves are expanded the most.


Polyhedral images focusing on scientists’ ethos arose from 2012 Symposium: those images suggest us the sessions below for 2013 Symposium:

1-      Anecdoctes and history; biographies imagined or reinvented: from Archimedes to the present days representations of scientists are often arbitrarily reconstructed. This happened especially for extraordinary discoveries marking as milestones the history of science. Ettore Majorana’s mysterious disappearance inspired many biographies (see symposium 2012): was he guided to commit suicide by his commitment for atomic physics or did he will to hide himself for the rest of his days? We remain with nothing but assumptions on his disappearance, but pages and pages have been written on this tragic event.

2-      Science and power; this theme is frequently treated in novels, in theatre, in cinema as well as in documentaries. We remind works in which the connection science-power plays a central role: Fritz Lang’s movie Dr. Mabuse (1922 > 1960), Bertolt Brecht’s theatre piece Galileo (1938 > 1955), Friederich Dürrenmatt’s comedy  Die  Physiker  (1961> 1962) where Möbius pretends to be insane to avoid his findings falling into the wrong hands, Stanley Kubrick’s movie Dr. Strangelove (1964).

3-      Autobiography and science; personal notes populate scientific works: Vesalio, Cuvier did stick personal notes and thoughts in their own written reports and works. The desire and the hurry to (autobiographically) communicate are thus powerfully revealed.

4-      Science and media; many documentaries narrate about scientists’ lives: how their lives are represented? What kind of plots are weaved to narrate Marie and Pierre Curies’s stories, or Charles Darwin’s, Margherita Hack’s and Rita Levi Montalcini’s ones? The plots of their lives are shaped by means of interviews, short movies etc.

5-      Literature and science; what are scientists’ favourite readings? Do they love literature? In Rita Levi Montalcini’s works Rilke e Yeats’ poetry is omnipresent, and The World as Will and Representation seems to be a reference reading for many scientists. Eric Kandell interfaces his autobiography as neuroscientist (awarded with the nobel Prize in 2000) with Proust’s la Recherche.

Presenters can use their own language, as long as the auditorium will be able to follow the talk (until now main languages of exchange have been Italian, French, English and Spanish).

Proposals can be published (after peer review) on next year issue (number 7) of the thematic journal Mnemosyne o la costruzione del senso, Presses Universitaires de Louvain.


Scientific Committee:

Beatrice Barbalato,  Directeur de la revue Mnemosyne, o la costruzione del senso, PUL,     

Université catholique de Louvain.                                                      

Fabio Cismondi, Fusion for energy, European Commission. 

Albert Mingelgrün, Université Libre de Bruxelles

Giulia Pelillo, Universität Heidelberg

Edgar Radtke,  Universität Heidelberg


Irene Meliciani, head of management asbl Mediapolis Europa

Michele Lenoci

Sipario, Società cooperativa Bovino



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