System and Serendipity

3179/R-D05 (CERN)



Show room on map

This workshop is entitled 'System and Serendipity' and its purpose is to explore from various angle the philosophy of innovation. Since this is not (yet) a recognised sub-field of philosophy perhaps this needs explaining a little in advance. The idea is that after our workshop we might have something more concrete and programmatic.

Two of the generative insights of the German philosophical tradition of the early nineteenth century are, first, that although all meaningful patterns of human action are governed by rules, there cannot be rules for following rules, on pain of infinite regression and, second, that 'reason' (that is, making sense of things) is typically a retrospective endeavour. Various figures insist persuasively that to make sense of human action one must specify both spontaneity and system, that is, one must recognise that freedom and limitation belong together, with neither element absorbing the other. This insight governs a range of domains of human action from language (individual use and grammar) to political life (love and law). It is not possible to 'bottle serendipity' because this would mean absorbing freedom (serendipity) by order (the bottle), but it is possible to gain clarity on the indivisibility of the terms in some kind of relation (by analogy with 'language' which is the relation between use and grammar, or 'politics' which is the relation between love and law (or, interestingly, law itself which is or can be the relation between mercy and justice). It is not possible to produce accounts in advance, but it is possible to notice things about the past that can inform how we approach the future. That, at least, is the point of our workshop.

Our workshop explores different dimensions of 'system and serendipity' in the domains of German philosophy (Andrew Bowie), the nature of research in universities (Robert Gibbs), the connection of radical technological innovation with social changes (Tim Jenkins), obstructions to innovation in the structure of funding (John Wood) and unusual fundamentally new shapes of thinking under theological pressure (Nick Adams).