transmediale Marshall McLuhan Lecture 2013 with Ian Hacking

Wed 30.01.
Wed 30.01.
Conference Festival format
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Doors Open: 18:00, Lecture 18:30 (please allow sufficient time for Embassy security)
Address: Embassy of Canada, Leipziger Platz 17, 10117 Berlin


transmediale Marshall McLuhan Lecture is a cooperation between transmediale and the Embassy of Canada.


This is a free event and the lecture will take place in English. To RSVP please register via Please be prepared to present valid photo-ID at the door.


Pluto, Plutocrats & Plutonium


With Ian Hacking (ca)
Respondent Lorraine Daston (us/de)


The transmediale Marshall McLuhan Lecture 2013 will be held by Ian Hacking. In his lecture Pluto, Plutocrats & Plutonium, the world renowned Canadian philosopher Ian Hacking will root out the importance of classification and naming to our ways of inhabiting and acting in the world.


Name-games and reality. (Yes, Virginia, there is a reality.) This year’s theme for transmediale, Back when Pluto was a Planet, has lots of cautionary tales about both. Planets were so-named by the Greeks as “wandering stars.” In 1900, American plutocrats vied with each other to found the biggest and best observatories, each with a fantastic mission. Percival Lowell’s aimed at finding Planet-X. What it found became, in 1930, Pluto, the (dwarf)-planet: so-named by an 11-year-old girl. (Pluto the God of the Underworld had the skill to make himself invisible.) The following year Disney named Pluto-the-Pup after the then sensational new planet. A decade later a new and terrible element was man-made, Plutonium, also named after Pluto the planet (and given the symbol Pu because pronounced in American that resembles the sound for “it stinks”). But there’s a big difference between Plutonium and the planets. The wandering definition of the latter is a convenience. Plutonium is not arbitrary and is real enough to destroy life on Earth if abused by maniac science.


And now the important questions. What kinds of things are like Plutonium, and which are more arbitrarily classified, like planets? That really matters when we come to kinds of people. This talk ends with a meditation on a half-truth of Nietzsche’s: “What things are called is incomparably more important than what they are.”* Half-truth? It is much more true of kinds of people than of kinds of things.


* Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, §58: “Nur als Schaffende! – Dies hat mir die größte Mühe gemacht und macht mir noch immerfort die größte Mühe: einzusehen, dass unsäglich mehr daran liegt, wie die Dinge heißen, als was sie sind.”