Foundations of Chemistry

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 187-202

First online:

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On the boundary between laboratory ‘givens’ and laboratory ‘tangibles’


From the 4-part Procedure/Observations/Data/Analysis structure of a laboratory report (generalized from Italian, Chinese and US sources), we distill a fifth flavor, the givens, whose flip side is the freedoms or tangibles of an experiment. (Stated in terms of computer science, we are trying to find inputs and outputs, but these turn out to be surprisingly vague in chemistry.) Then, in the service of a white-boxing ethos (which sounds less severe than ‘anti black-boxing’), we establish a movable boundary between givens and tangibles, with implications for ‘ontological attitudes’ and for the future of chemistry. Next, in revisiting a 2002 exchange between Schummer and Laszlo, which might be paraphrased as the chemist-as-philosopher versus chemist-as-artisan, we apply a second kind of sliding scale which seems to harmonize the discussion. Finally, on a possibly quixotic note, we look briefly at a third kind of sliding scale, now aimed squarely at ontology itself. For illustrative purposes, we adopt an atomocentric viewpoint (as distinct from atomistic), and assign it the provisional name ‘Fuzzy CH4 Ontology’.


Ontology Laboratory procedure White box Imagination Basic chemistry Atomocentric