Meet Stefan Helmreich.
Following his acclaimed, award-winning book, Alien Ocean, Stefan Helmreich, Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology at MIT, has turned his attention to the world of wave science, the study of periodic, oscillating, and undulating phenomena.
Why would an anthropologist study waves?
Wave science finds application in fields such as oceanography, cosmology, electrical engineering, biomedicine, sports, and social science.
In his new research, Helmreich shows how waves are not only facts of nature, but a phenomenon mediated by considerable scientific and cultural interpretation. In fact, the very definition of waves is currently in transition, as waves are explored by new scientific modes of measurement and description.
Cultural influences on science, and our understanding nature
Scientists’ understanding of waves depends on infrastructure, Helmreich explains, such as proper equipment and training, which are predicated on human values, norms, and histories. In addition, the use of “wave” as a metaphor for the movement of ideas and trends through societies, cultures, and time gives the wave special anthropological importance.
“The cultural work of analogy in the sciences — natural and social both — fascinates me,” says Helmreich. “And waves are excellent vehicles for tracking that work.”