Chapter 5: The epistemology of biomaterials: how biomaterials become embodied
This chapter examines the capacity of biomaterials to assist and complement the human body in various ways to restore or support its functions. This analysis is embedded in the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon, introduced in Chapter 2, who conceived of biological organisms as actively responding to and interacting with stimuli in the environment in a process that he calls ‘transduction’. Simondon’s philosophy is of importance for the understanding of biomaterials and medical devices because it offers an analytical framework not based on scientific reasoning; it is a materialist philosophy that resists idealist explanations. For Simondon, individuation is a process whereby heterogeneous elements are brought together and jointly constitute the meta-stable individual. Human individuals may thus include other elements that enable certain practices and skills. For instance, in the case of dental implants and prostheses discussed below, patients are given new teeth that can help to restore the vital biological function of chewing food. Simondon by no means advances any ‘post-humanist’ position in that he is ready to declare the human being to be decentred or, more radically, less relevant in social thinking. Instead, he offers an entirely original position in which, for example, biomaterials can be fruitfully understood as part of the process of transduction and individuation. The first half of this chapter addresses the case of dental implants, the insertion of titanium screws in the jawbone to support dental prostheses.
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