Thomas S. Kuhn

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is this thread an entry for the highest words:posts ratio competition?

Frank could prob write a better entry in the wikipedia than http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Samuel_Kuhn

Hurray for incommensurability. "College reading lists reunited" You know I never got round to reading The Order of Things, so I've bought it again. I wish I knew whether it's the translation that's annoying or Foucault really was a prolix twunt.

Alan (Alan), Wednesday, 12 March 2003 13:42 (seventeen years ago) link

(Does no-one like Foucault? I can remember really liking what he said, ie, found it interesting.)

Cozen (Cozen), Wednesday, 12 March 2003 20:59 (seventeen years ago) link

I like him, more than I like many of his contemporaries.

I see him as the second great 'writer' of that generation / period / movement, (a long way) behind Barthes. I don't have much evidence that this intuition is correct, but it helps me get by.

I admire Mr Kogan's efforts on this thread, but don't feel able to keep up with them. I tend to agree with his point re:

>>> E.g., if you say "Kuhn undermined Popper," state a Popperian idea, and say how Kuhn's idea undermines it.

I think - and I think Kogan agrees - that brisk claims that 'thinker x finished off thinker y, after all' are usually poor things.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 12 March 2003 21:42 (seventeen years ago) link

He's also a great 'thinker', too, PF. Admit that he's a better 'writer' than a lot of those hoary old bores (Derrida, Habermas). But I'm making Kogan's eyebrows creep up his brow, to the point they almost fall off the back of his head. Sorry Frank. I'll step off.

Cozen (Cozen), Wednesday, 12 March 2003 22:06 (seventeen years ago) link

I hope you lot can keep this thread going long enough that I get the chance to read it carefully (it needs that, at least for me) before it fades away. Don't know that I'm likely to contribute, but I appreciate the existence of a thread like this.

Martin Skidmore (Martin Skidmore), Wednesday, 12 March 2003 22:24 (seventeen years ago) link

Martin, you can always revive it (and email us to tell us that you have, if you do it many moons from now; I'd be curious to know what you think). Actually I don't mind that you guys mention Foucault et without stating his ideas, since you're not claiming a connection between him and Kuhn, I don't think. Really, I'm more interested in your ideas. (And I'm trying to set aside time to read all the Cozen stuff I've bookmarked.)

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Thursday, 13 March 2003 01:32 (seventeen years ago) link

So here's a question: if discussing Kuhn in the realm of Absolute vs. Relative etc. is unproductive, what other realm IS there to discuss him in aside from his concrete historic descriptions of various scientific innovations etc.?

Incommensurability, paradigms, whether his model of scientific change is a good one, whether his model can be extended to nonsciences, whether I'm full of shit when I say that an effect can't cause its cause, how to use Kuhn's advice to understand the thought of others (e.g., people on the P&J Stats thread reading you as if you were a "populist" and discovering "contradictions" when what you'd written didn't match the "populism" that they'd read into you; Kuhn's advice to them would have been to hypothesize not that you were contradicting yourself but that they had so far failed to grasp how your ideas hung together). Those are just a few.

I don't think "absolute vs. relative" is a realm I find interesting for now, though I'm interested in people who were interested in it in the past.

Also I want to contribute more but actually feel significantly out-of-depth compared to Kogan right now and need to read more Kuhn beyond the obv. first.

Damn. I was hoping I'd written my posts well enough that you could comment on them even if you hadn't read Kuhn. Really, I'm not looking at anyone's credentials. (Of course, if you want to comment on how well I've presented Kuhn, you'll definitely want to read him, and I'd hope that you'd want to read him anyway. But you can comment on the ideas even if they turn out not to be Kuhn's. Hey, maybe Kuhn as I've misread him is better than Kuhn as he was.)

I was uncertain when normal science becomes extraordinary science. Is it like a great naval battle when a single flagship is sunk and one decisive battle usually determines the outcome of the campaign?

I like the metaphor, but I don't understand it. I'd say it's like, you're mending a thread, and in doing so you've fixed up one square inch of cloth, and suddenly you realize that you've inadvertently unraveled the rest of the suit and it has to be rewoven to fit your square inch, and your square inch needs more work after that, to fit with the retrofits, and so on.

foucault is a historian mainly

Kuhn is a historian.

M. Williams' latest book 'Problems of Knowledge'

I'm wondering (and assuming the answer is "Yes," since the M is for Michael) if this Michael Williams is the same guy as the Michael Williams who appears in this footnote in Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature: "As Michael Williams has pointed out to me, Kuhn is simply not concerned with skepticism, either pro or con, but is always read by philosophers as if he were advancing skeptical arguments." I think the Williams of the footnote is right, which makes the Williams of Problems befuddled in believing that Kuhn is overstating skeptical conclusions or failing to distinguish between radical and non-radical skepticism. Actually, I'm damned if I know what Williams means by non-radical skepticism here: "It is one thing to say that, when theoretical choices have to be made, there is no algorithm that singles out a uniquely right answer; it is something else again to say that it never matters what choice we make, or that any choice is always as good as any other." The first thing simply isn't skepticism at all, and the second isn't something Kuhn ever remotely suggested. In epistemology, "skepticism" means more or less that you can't know if you know anything. The lack of an "algorithm" -whatever - merely means that you don't have a sure-fire way of knowing right off if the theory you've chosen is the right one. I don't see how this is any different (or any more philosophically interesting) than your not having an algorithm that tells you right off if you've chosen the right marriage partner. You may never know if you have, but this doesn't mean that you can't ever conclude that you have. And since Kuhn writes at length about how scientists do come to consensus about theory choice, I'll reiterate what Michael "The Footnote" Williams said in the first place: Kuhn doesn't give a fuck about skepticism. And Williams goes on to say pretty much the same thing here, when he starts to talk about Putnam. Williams would have been better to say flat off: "KUHN DOESN'T EVEN RAISE SKEPTICAL ISSUES." There's nothing in Kuhn that concerns itself with what we can't know. So whether Kuhn is incautious or not in whatever it is he says about "meaning" (Williams doesn't tell us what Kuhn says), he's not even considering the idea that we can't in principle figure out what something means. Which doesn't imply that we shouldn't consider it, except that I can't think why we'd want to.

What I wonder about Williams is what he's getting at. Since Kuhn has told an interesting story about scientific revolutions, and you can read this story without even thinking about skepticism or about whether or not facts are "found" rather than "made," or whether or not you should distinguish between "nature" and "convention" (those aren't two words that I would normally pose as opposites, myself), just where does Kuhn impinge on Williams's concerns? (Would help if I knew what Williams's concerns were, I guess.) I mean, "Problems of Knowledge"? What problems?

I'm not claiming that Kuhn didn't know that such questions were out there, since a motive for writing Structure was to knock down some of the answers to those questions. But it seems to me that not only did he knock those answers, he knocked down the questions.

A few more comments about the Williams stuff: a lot of it is stupefyingly vague, and only some of this vagueness can be excused by his referring back to what he'd written earlier. Section I is too summarily wispy to be useful, in later sections Williams doesn't explain what's "theory-laden" in Galileo, the phrase "mandated by nature" doesn't tell us much, the paragraph beginning "Kuhn also objects to Popper's idea..." is accurate and useful ("the existence of anomalies is not a signal to reject a theory but a challenge to develop it further"), some of the rest (before Williams starts arguing) waves its hands in the right direction but is too generalized to make much sense ("the grounds for preferring it will not be straightforwardly observational but will also involve broad holistic considerations of economy and elegance" - like, is there a law against giving examples?), and the following paragraph is dead wrong:

Kuhn has a tendency to emphasize the non-rational elements in scientific change. For example, he notes that older scientists who have given their lives to a certain type of research may be unwilling to abandon it.

First off, the mere fact that scientists won't give up old projects doesn't tell us anything about whether the change that they're resisting is rational or not. It might imply just the opposite (the change is rational, and the old men aren't), except that this is what Kuhn wrote: "Though the historian can always find men - Priestley, for instance - who were unreasonable to resist as long as they did, he will not find a point at which resistance becomes illogical or unscientific." (This sentence sort of wavers, doesn't it?) As I've said six or eight times, I don't think "rationality" even gets raised as an issue in any interesting way in Structure. I think what raises it for some people is that rational people sometimes choose different premises. From this the leap is made to, "If rational people can disagree, there can be no rational reason to choose one premise over the other," by which point the word "rational" is buzzing around in Goo Goo Ga Ga Land, for all it matters.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Thursday, 13 March 2003 01:39 (seventeen years ago) link

I'm flattered by your interest in my views, Frank, but I was saying a day or two ago that my vision of my own intelligence importantly includes knowing when I'm out of my depth. This isn't just intelligence, this is a complete lack of any philosophical education, except reading a random handful of books on philosophy. I knew only the tiniest fraction of this stuff about Kuhn for instance.

In the tiny and simplistic slot in my mind allotted to this stuff, I kind of thought of Popper as a Modernist, accepting that after Einstein (arbitrarily) a new world view had been justified, and science accordingly shifts to a more correct paradigm. I sort of see Kuhn in more Postmodern terms, claiming that the privileging of one particular metanarrative is not soundly justified in the scientific method but instead happens for a complex conglomerate of reasons, some or all of which might have little to do with the scientific method as it is understood. I should add that I think this is a pretty pointless and dubious link to a pet interest of mine (PoMo), and what little truth there may be in it is useless.

I went to a lecture recently at UCL, the university where I work, that was more or less about a major paradigm shift in museum studies. The lecturer read out an old and new mission statement for one institution, and the shift was from (paraphrasing) "collecting and safeguarding artefacts for study, plus showing them" to "serving the public by" doing that stuff - she went on to explain what this meant in practice. Not science precisely, but a clear example of how a paradigm shift in something not so far from science can be entirely sociological. It's hard to see how that element could be wholly removed from the menu of causes as we move towards more purely scientific arenas, even if its impact is diminished.

As for the idea of an effect causing its own cause, this as expressed is scientifically contradictory (though I half expect quantum physics to disagree). In psychological terms, we can think of goal-based thinking as having an effect on the framing of any account, scientific or otherwise, and on the studies and experiments which try to support that account. Bringing up the quantum level again, it is well established that if you look for wave-like properties in subatomic particles you will find them; and if you look for them to behave as physical particles, you'll find that too. I do see the evolution of scientific studies as a kind of cybernetic operation in a way, in its original scientific sense (I am not bringing Kevin Warwick into this!) - I'm envisaging scientists (maybe collectively as well as individually) as having goals in mind, and aiming research to fulfil those aims. I'm not necessarily suggesting that they distort findings because of their aims (though that is certainly not unknown), but that they choose areas and direct experimentation with such goals in mind.

For instance, at the 'top' level of theoretical physics, one of the great directing ideas of recent years has been what used to be called the unified field theory. There was a notion that in the same way as scientists have brought the electrical and magnetic forces together, the other three forces can be merged with the electromagnetic, perhaps with effects as spectacular as electromagnetism produced. There was a secondary idea (not restricted to this area) that this answer would have a mathematical elegance and simplicity (of a sort), in some sort of 'truth is beauty' assumption. This research and thought has led beyond unifying those forces towards theories unifying far more (space and time and matter and energy all at once with those forces), and we've all heard at least a little about superstring theory and m-branes. We might easily argue that the shared ideas in these constructions, that there is some underlying 'substance' that composes time and space as much as matter and energy, amounts to a paradigm shift. I should emphasise that I don't think there is anything wrong with this as science - these people are building theories that account for the facts as we observe them, that are falsifiable and that make useful and accurate predictions, which are the criteria of good science. Nonetheless, their relationship to 'truth' is a very slipery one indeed. The point I am trying to make is that these ideas have gained wide acceptance as useful and fruitful, with arguably nothing to prove them 'true', and certainly with a motivation that is linked to desired end results.

The key difference here is that the end result is only something that is in the minds of the scientists. Whether scientists find an elegant and simple answer at the end of this is irrelevant in that sense, since the effect has already happened - the cause is what the scientists had in mind, what they intend, not at all what actually comes about because of this.

To be honest, it surprises me that teleology, the belief that things naturally move towards goals, has had the legs it has. It's not just this kind of sloppy scientific/philosophical thinking, it's there all the time in the talk of ordinary people, both in the way they understand science (evolution and the gaia idea are particularly prey to this) and the way they see the world. I think, with the very limited exception of intention as discussed above, it's a foolish idea.

One final point. Frank rather dismisses the applicability of this to music criticism. While I accept that there is no ruling paradigm, I think there is something close to one, debated only by a minority. We might call it 'rockism', except I'm loathe to muddy the waters so. What I mean is that I think that the Beatles, more than any other single cause, did produce a paradign shift in how we assess the worth of pop musicians, and that this shift is audible in the insistence that singers who do not write their own songs are of vastly less artistic value, in the privileging of the album as a measure of achievement, in the striving for an artistic legacy - some of this (the last one, really) is the inevitable growth of a young form, maybe, but the first two (songwriting, albums) are part of the prevailing paradigm and were not before, and there is no purely rational reason why this newer paradigm is superior to the old.

I was briefly talking last night, while we walked to Trafalgar Square to get our night buses home after the FAP, to The Pinefox about something related to this. I'm hoping he might contribute something here on paradigm shifts in literary criticism, as he might have studied this kind of thing (not just in literature) in more depth than anyone else here.

Good grief, this is a thread that brings out long posts!

Martin Skidmore (Martin Skidmore), Friday, 14 March 2003 18:02 (seventeen years ago) link

(i will write something here i will i will)

(but fist i believe i need to read something)

mark s (mark s), Friday, 14 March 2003 18:12 (seventeen years ago) link

Nah, just ramble pointlessly from a position of ignorance, Mark. It 'works' for me.

Martin Skidmore (Martin Skidmore), Friday, 14 March 2003 20:59 (seventeen years ago) link

Martin - I am happy about your response. Here are some points I want to highlight.

(1) Kuhn's most crucial idea is incommensurability. His eureka moment as a young man was his suddenly seeing how Aristotle's physics cohered once you realized that Aristotelian concepts of "motion" and "space" don't match ours. "Paradigm shift" is derivative of this. If the new paradigm is commensurable with the old, then it isn't a new paradigm, just an extension of the old. Your museum example isn't a Kuhnian paradigm shift given that both roles (museum as repository vs. museum as exhibition space and public service) co-existed and aren't incompatible. The shift in museums has been one of emphasis; seeing one role from the perspective of the other doesn't make the other role seem to fall into incoherence.

Among other things, Kuhn the historian uses the phrase "paradigm shift" to alert himself to the fact that he needs to suspend his new mode of thought in trying to understand the old, to remind himself that the old cannot be understood as prelude to the new. Now, though the museum-studies people are being non-Kuhnian, their use of the phrase "paradigm shift" nonetheless helps them to identify changes museums have undergone. But I don't imagine that they're using the term to alert themselves to the necessity of suspending their modern-museum mode of thought when they want to understand an old-museum mode of thought.

(2) The concept "paradigms" eliminates "scientific method." Scientists use models not methods (according to Kuhn).

(3)...not soundly justified in the scientific method but instead happens for a complex conglomerate of reasons, some or all of which might have little to do with the scientific method as it is understood

But all of which are necessary for science, believes Kuhn. So what he's saying is that what scientists do is science, since it produces scientific knowledge, which it obviously does (well, not obviously to me, since I don't know much science, but obviously to Kuhn). And if scientists want to keep on doing science (says Kuhn), they should continue to do variants of what they are doing.

Be careful of the word "sociological." Yes, Kuhn is sociological or anthropological, in that he's studying how scientific communities and subcommunities achieve what they achieve, what the group dynamic is, individuals' relations to the group, and how the group loses and gains consensus. But you could say that Darwin is being "sociological" too, since Darwin talks about how species evolve, and both he and Kuhn emphasize that the group must have a variety of individuals with somewhat different characteristics or else there's no evolution, nothing for selection to select. (That will be the subject of a different post, if I get the chance.) The point here is that calling a process "social" or "sociological" doesn't make evolution any less evolutionary, or science any less scientific. This is the spot where people's reading comprehension of Kuhn collapses most frequently. He tosses "scientific method" onto the scrap heap for not being applicable to science, and with it he tosses "the correspondence theory of truth" (that a theory is true when it corresponds to reality). But some readers want to conclude from this that what scientists do is somehow less than scientific because it doesn't conform to "scientific method" or to the "correspondence theory of truth." The radical hope and the conservative fear that Kuhn is undermining science are equally conservative, in that both the "radical" and the "conservative" are committed to conserving the old notions "scientific method" and "correspondence theory of truth" as definitive of science, whereas Kuhn will take science over either notion, thank you.

Kuhn is not pomo: he does not derive from and then break with modernism. He derives to some extent from Darwin, and has similarities to Dewey - e.g., sees science as a problem-solving activity, hence like Dewey he sees it as a social activity rather than as a description of an antecedent reality. And I can't make sense of Darwin or Dewey being called "postmodern," and don't think the narrative "Modern-To-Postmodern" can be made to fit philosophy.

[Kuhn is also infected by neo-Kantianism, a fact that I do my best to ignore.]

(4) I'm envisaging scientists (maybe collectively as well as individually) as having goals in mind, and aiming research to fulfil those aims.

Crucial point, actually: Without goals and expectations there simply would be no science. An expectation that's confirmed helps to bolster a hypothesis, an expectation that's disconfirmed gives a science a wonderful problem to work on. I'll add this, rather cryptically: If, as Kuhn says, science is a problem-solving activity, the scientist is trying to find and make problems, not facts (facts are useful only insofar as they help to solve and create problems). Looking for problems means looking for things that need to be tested or for which current explanations are inadequate. And I'd say that the scientific spirit (whether the thus-spirited person ends up in science or not) involves creating the unknown. So a good paradigm is one that, among other things, helps to create and order the unknown.

Future magazine editor-in-chief, age 6: "I will sit down and try to describe the feel and texture of talcum powder."

Future scientist, age 6: "What will happen if I throw this lit match into the talcum powder?"

So the young scientist is creating questions for herself: All right, I got this flame, will I get the same color flame if I try another powder? If I add cooking oil? If I use an electric grill rather than a match? (I actually don't know if you do get a flame, since I've never tried it. Maybe just some smoke and a weird smell.) Anyway, in the course of burning up most of her house, the young scientist creates explanations and expectations for herself, and when things don't go as expected she has to either modify her explanations or figure out what she did wrong; in any event, she needs both consistent results and unexpected results, since without the former you can't have the latter, and the latter not only expand her knowledge but expand the amount of the unknown that she's in touch with; e.g., "I didn't expect the perfume to smell like cotton candy when burning; I wonder if there are other things in this room that will smell like burning candy." So the editor has got his little bit of talcum powder and he's got it down on the page, and got it right, while the scientist discovers in the same powder ever more worlds of the mysterious and the not-completely explained, right at the tip of her nose.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Saturday, 15 March 2003 06:30 (seventeen years ago) link

Yes, you're quite right about the museum example - it doesn't fit with Kuhn's meaning. Really, it's a major shift of emphasis, of weight, rather than any kind of incommensurable change of thinking.

I was trying to address the point that reasons for scientific shifts of thinking that are aside from the 'scientific method' aren't necessarily a bad thing or a weakness or anti-science in what I said about all the superstring/m-brane stuff. They obviously have to argue and justify these theories on the grounds of scientific method, but the direction and focus of the work is driven by things entirely different. There are fashions in science - I've heard Hawking talk about how when he started getting interested in black holes, hardly anyone else was, whereas now they are a widespread hot item - and this is the major hot area at present (along with complexity, maybe). I am perfectly happy with this, and I am convinced that it has launched new ideas that will shift the scientific paradigm in major ways - and if the ideas prove 'true' (in scientific terms - I'm not bringing in some idea of correspondence with reality here, I'm meaning that they fit what we experience and predict other behaviour accurately) they will be as revolutionary and important as electricity, say. The ideas of time alone will certainly force the incommensurability that is crucial to the Kuhn idea - and I think there is a great deal more in m-brane theory that is as catastrophic a change.

I'm rambling. I'm interested in this stuff, but I'm very ignorant. I find myself in conversations with people about the status and meaning of scientific theories or truth pretty often, and I am keen to better understand what I try to talk about in these conversations.

Martin Skidmore (Martin Skidmore), Saturday, 15 March 2003 12:14 (seventeen years ago) link

Here's an excellent chapter-by-chapter summary of 'Structures' (I wish all books came in condensed versions like this):

http://www.emory.edu/EDUCATION/mfp/Kuhn.html

(Your comments on the Williams piece were interesting Frank. I haven't responded because I feel I need to read up some more on Khun first.)

andy, Wednesday, 19 March 2003 11:45 (seventeen years ago) link

learning to spell his name might be a start..

andy, Wednesday, 19 March 2003 11:52 (seventeen years ago) link

Kuhn isn't pomo, but a radical view of incommensurability does manifest itself as the "no priveleged meta-narratives" thing.

Alan (Alan), Wednesday, 19 March 2003 11:57 (seventeen years ago) link

after further reflection i have a bit of a gripe -- the examples seem too pat perfect and only suited to particular moments in physics and in particular bound to the trad-stodgy "scientific" method as demonstrating a set of hypotheses while plenty of hard (i.e. not social) science is investigation into non-reapeatable conditions: evolution, for example. here the idea of a dominant paradigm seems much less the case, because there investigation of reality rather than confirmation of theoretical mechanisms is primary. really the "revolution" idea seems mainly to be "we assumed this was a discrete unit but in fact we need to examine its inner workings" which occurs time and again in physics partly just coz we get better and better instruments. also there are "partial" paradigms which say "look we don't have a place to start, so we KNOW there's more going on but lets make these obv. silly assumptions to give us a foothold and then question those silly assumptions later" -- lots of the harder psych stuff seems to work at that level.

and look at cold-war science and ask -- was the pattern of investigation/research really determined by a disciplinary matrix etc. generated from scientific worldview or from the needs of the mil/industrial complex? I mean were the things necessary to make fancy nukes the same bits which were the most important from a "pure science" pov?

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Wednesday, 19 March 2003 22:47 (seventeen years ago) link

Sterling, I haven't read the Structure summary (and tend not to trust such things, so might not get to it), so don't know if your gripe is with their examples or with mine, Sterling; but in any event I don't understand how the gripe could possibly be relevant to Kuhn, since his examples of scientific revolution involve not the supposed "scientific method" of testing your hypotheses against data, but of, e.g., changing your definition of motion, or moving the Sun to the center of the solar system, or deciding that you're dealing with energy quanta rather than with average energy, and so forth, all of which are moves in which the new paradigm changes the data, so you can't compare two competing paradigms against a set of data that is independent of each.

And I don't get your point about the cold war at all. Again, I recommend that you state your idea, not just allude to it. Obviously, cold war politics motivated and financed some research, just as calendar reform helped to motivate Copernicus; what you need to do, if you're trying to make a Kuhnian point, is to show how a particular cold-war doctrine or policy contributed to, say, some important physicists' understanding of the makeup of the atom, and how this new understanding led to a revolution in the field. (This would be analogous to Copernicus's and Kepler's neo-Platonism predisposing them to believe that the Sun could be the center of the Universe.)

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Thursday, 20 March 2003 17:50 (seventeen years ago) link

Okay: briefly, Kuhn argues that an accumulation of anomalies creates the conditions for a new paradigm, right? but here's the problem: don't those accumulations grow more as an aspect of refinement of methods of investigation into the world than anything else? I mean his examples are good and all, but of limited use. Like I appreciate his points about not reading back into history and seeing it on its own terms but is there any point for the now or is this just an exercise in history? Which is my point about the cold war. I'd argue that the necessities of big boom weapons drove research more than any particular paradigm of atoms etc but that the *notion* that a paradigm of "pure science" WAS driving research was in itself vital to driving the research.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Friday, 21 March 2003 07:00 (seventeen years ago) link

Sterling, what you say about the cold war still seems like a non sequitur. The question isn't whether scientists are working for Ivory Tower University for the sheer fun of it or whether they're working for Dow Chemical in the expectation of big bucks, it's how their field or subfield responds to a series of anomalies: Does the field explain the anomalies without having to change its axioms etc., or does it make a wholesale readjustment? One can assume that anomalies in the areas financed by Big Bucks Inc. get lots of attention while interesting anomalies elsewhere might languish, but so what?

You're expecting the verb "drive" to convey far too much.

Your sentence confuses me for that reason, and for two others: (1) The necessities of atomic-bomb manufacture didn't run counter to a "particular paradigm of atoms"; bomb manufacture was dependent on the paradigm (I don't understand the physics very well, but my laymen's belief is that there's been no fundamental paradigm shift in atomic theory since Bohr and those guys). (2) You're using "paradigm" in two drastically different ways: first, a model of the atom, which is a scientific paradigm; and second, "pure science," which is not a scientific paradigm at all but at best a vague stand-in name for some no doubt bad philosophical theories about how scientists conduct themselves; at worst, it's just a buzz word. This doesn't mean that scientists can't take heart in buzz words and bad philosophy; but "vital" is a vast overstatement; how about "mildly encouraging to some researchers, even though it had no bearing on the research"?

As for your first few sentences, you write, "here's the problem," but I don't see a problem. Kuhn would say that scientists confront anomalies all the time but that they usually manage to explain them or ignore them (a lot of normal science consists of the former). It isn't as if no astronomer in the 1,400 years between Ptolemy and Copernicus had noticed that planets weren't quite where Ptolemy said they'd be, or that no one between Copernicus and Kepler noticed that Copernicus still hadn't gotten it right. But people could assume that Ptolemy or Copernicus were on the right track, since observations weren't all that accurate anyway. By Kepler's time, the observations were accurate enough for him to believe that Copernicus's model needed changing - which is what he wanted to believe anyway, but he couldn't have changed it without the accurate observations. For a paradigm shift, not only must anomalies be persistent, they must be seen as significant, someone must come up with an alternative explanation that isn't a mere refinement of old ideas but rather overthrows a lot of them, and there must be at least some advantage somewhere in adopting the new explanation.

As for your question about "Is there any point for the now?" - excuse me if I gape for a moment.

[gapes]

[done gaping]

OK. If Kuhn's model is good, then, among many other things, he's done something utterly new: created a model of human cultural development that actually works (though of course it takes in only a restricted facet of culture). I can't think of another historian who's done this. Not Marx. Now, assuming that neither science nor history is at an end, if Kuhn's model is good it also ought to help us explain scientific paradigm shifts of the present, and those of the future. I don't necessarily assume that it will help us manipulate those shifts, but then I doubt that Darwin had any idea that future generations would be able to manipulate natural selection.

By the way, I enjoy arguing with your posts, so that's another benefit for the now: to provide me with entertainment.

Which leads naturally to Martin's posts, and of ideas of how to apply Kuhn to the nonsciences, and I hope to respond one of these days.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Thursday, 27 March 2003 00:41 (seventeen years ago) link

one month passes...
I was uncertain when normal science becomes extraordinary science. Is it like a great naval battle when a single flagship is sunk and one decisive battle usually determines the outcome of the campaign?

"Could Newtonian mechanics withstand revision of the second law, of the third law, of Hooke's law, or the law of gravity? Could it withstand the revision of any two of these, of three, or of all four? These are not questions that individually have yes or no answers. Rather, like Wittgenstein's "Could one play chess without the queen?" they suggest the strains placed on the lexicon by questions that its designer, whether God or cognitive evolution, did not anticipate its being required to answer. What should one have said when confronted by an egg-laying creature that suckles its young? Is it a mammal or is it not? These are the circumstances in which, as Austin put it, 'We don't know what to say. Words literally fail us.' Such circumstances, if they endure for long, call forth a locally different lexicon, one that permits an answer but to a slightly altered question: 'Yes, the creature is a mammal' (but to be a mammal is not what it was before). The new lexicon opens new possibilities, ones that could not have been stipulated by the use of the old."
--Thomas Kuhn, "Possible Worlds in History of Science," 1986. [He points out in a footnote that the Wittgenstein quote appears nowhere in Wittgenstein's writings, so it's something that Wittgenstein either said but didn't write, or could have said even though he didn't.]

Kuhn isn't pomo, but a radical view of incommensurability does manifest itself as the "no priveleged meta-narratives" thing.

Well, I'll put aside the pomo question altogether (except to wonder how an idea that's probably hundreds of years old can be "postmodern," especially if some of the supposed "postmodernists" don't abide by it). Your statement is interesting, Alan, but I'm far from understanding it; this is another instance where it would have done me good if you'd stated the idea rather than just alluding to it.

As far as I know, Kuhn never addressed the question of "meta-narratives" directly, but my guess is that he'd say that he didn't believe in "meta," period. In any event, speaking for myself, I don't believe in meta, and I'll speak for myself not Kuhn in the rest of this entry, though I don't claim any originality for what I say.

There's lots of confusion about the prefix "meta": the dictionary defines it as "beyond, transcending," but most people on this board and elsewhere use it to mean "about," so that a meta-grammatical discussion would be a discussion about grammar but it would still be grammatical, hence in no way transcends grammar. But nonetheless the term "meta" is uttered with the sense (usually derogatory) that in being meta we're not quite doing the thing itself but are merely hovering in the air near it. So "meta" actually confuses the two usages, gives us "about" but with a whiff of being transcendent or unmoored.

When I say that I don't believe in "meta," it means I don't believe in transcendence - don't believe it exists - though this is a merely philosophical point and doesn't have any interesting implications beyond philosophy, as far as I can tell. And in modern philosophy the metaphors tend to have to do with depth and foundations rather than heights and transcendence.

So, here's the attack on "meta":

"Independent" and "dependent" are comparative terms.

That's it. (Sky splits, planets hit, the world as we know it is, um, whatever, or something.) Oh, and "comparative" is a comparative term to, but we needn't go into that.

So, if you take two somewhat-related phenomena A and B, to say, "A is independent of B, but B is dependent on A," is to mean that A is less dependent on B than B is on A. "Independent" and "dependent" are comparative terms, like "loud" and "soft" (a sound is loud by virtue of being louder than some other sound), rather than either/or terms like an on-off switch.

Where this universe-shattering insight impinges on philosophy is that philosophy tries to transcend the comparative use of the concepts "dependence" and "independence" by trying to make them into superdependence and superindependence, where B would not exist if not for A, whereas A would remain unchanged if there were no B. So if something is to serve as the ground for something else, it must be superindependent of what it is grounding, so much so that if the thing it were grounding did not exist, the ground would nonetheless remain unchanged. You could sheer off the mountain without affecting the bedrock. So, in normal comparative usage, "natural selection" and "genetic drift" can be called the grounds of evolutionary biology without anyone assuming that this means that the concepts "natural selection" and "genetic drift" could play a role if there were no evolutionary biology; and evolutionary theory can be grounded in observation without our needing to assert that the observations would be available without the theory. Whereas for evolutionary biology to be grounded philosophically, it would need to be grounded in something such as "empiricism" or "logic" or "scientific method" that would be valid in principle even if there were no biology. So the dogmas of philosophical empiricism that Quine and Davidson attacked (the division between analytic and synthetic truths, the division between scheme and content, and the idea that to be meaningful a statement must be equivalent to a logical construct upon terms that refer to immediate experience) were supposed to underlie the sciences but were also supposed to be true in themselves and unaffected by discoveries in paleontology. Anyway, Kuhn has told a story in which a science is grounded by paradigms within the science rather than by a universal scientific method, and he has theory grounding observation as well as observation grounding theory (that was a point of my discussion of "motion," that your concept of motion determines which observations count as observations of motion). Presumably he'd think it silly to assert that a ground can't be somewhat grounded in the things it grounds. "Ground" and "thing being grounded" denote relative importance, not different levels of being.

Anyway, as for a radical view of incommensurability manifesting itself as the "no privileged meta-narratives" thing, I still don't know what you mean. Quantum mechanics isn't grounded in a metadiscourse, but nonetheless it's a privileged discouse in comparison to Aristotelian mechanics, in that quantum mechanics rules and Aristotelian mechanics is extinct. That two things are incommensurable doesn't magically put them on equal footing. As I've been saying, a meta level isn't a science's footing, so its absence (and therefore its unavailability as a common measure) leaves things unchanged.

Be careful of The Bearded Man fallacy:

(1) God is not a bearded man in the sky.
(2) There is no bearded man in the sky.
(3) Therefore, there is no God.

(1) A ground need not be utterly independent of the practice it grounds.
(2) Grounds are not independent of the practices they ground.
(3) Therefore, there are no true grounds and everything is equal.

The two syllogisms are identically fallacious, but the latter has somehow wormed itself into otherwise intelligent minds.

By the way, if you have trouble understanding something I write, you can ask me about it.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Monday, 28 April 2003 19:04 (seventeen years ago) link

"comparative" is a comparative term to

Compared to what? (Or perhaps it's a comparative term too.)

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Monday, 28 April 2003 19:13 (seventeen years ago) link

It's not so much trouble understanding, for me: I feel like I can follow you where you've taken me, but I can't really see far in any direction so I can't much think what to say. I'm thinking about what you say, though, because I think there is still something in what Alan said. I want to get it clear before I try to argue it, though.

Martin Skidmore (Martin Skidmore), Monday, 28 April 2003 20:28 (seventeen years ago) link

The trouble is that Alan never got around to saying it. But I'll take a shot, anyway.

First off, the term "incommensurability" isn't unproblematic. For one thing, it's metaphoric: It means that e.g. you can't check Aristotelian mechanics and Newtonian mechanics against a third thing ("reality," "motion as it really is," "what's really there"), since Aristotelian and Newtonian mechanics each differently defines what motion is and hence what would count as really being there. But "checking something against what's really there" isn't the same concept as "measurement" anyway, even if it might sometimes include measuring. Also, that two discourses are incommensurable doesn't mean that you can't have good reasons for picking one over the other, and as I said above, a good deal of Kuhn's work involved detailing just what those reasons were. And so, one might ask of Kuhn, if you're going to metaphorically extend the concept of measure to include "checking things against what's really there," why can't you also extend it to include "the reasons we have for choosing Newton's mechanics over Aristotle's"? Just because you've eliminated one common "measure" ("what's really there") doesn't necessarily mean that you've eliminated them all. Kuhn would have a good retort to this - he'd say that there are usually a multiplicity of reasons, and they are not always the same ones, so you can't just say "Let's see which mechanics is the most consistent, or the most useful, or the most accurate on its own terms, or the simplest, or the one with the broadest applicability," etc., since it might do better in one category and worse in another. But I'm not sure that he ever totally dealt with the issue. (And I'm well aware that I haven't discussed the reasons he gave, either. Some other time.)

But anyway, for the sake of argument let's say that incommensurability is defined and established. The next question is how is "incredulity towards metanarratives" analogous to "no common measure"? Even by metaphoric extension, I don't see how "measurement" is much like "narrative." And what in the hell do we mean by "metanarrative," anyway?

I've only read one article by Lyotard, and that was 15 years ago and I don't particularly remember it, though I believe that his incredulity was towards any metanarrative, not just "privileged" ones. But I never was clear on what he meant by metanarrative, and neither was he. "Metanarrative" is a (typically) bad word choice, the "meta" as well as the "narrative," and like everybody else he conflates the "transcendent" with the "about," so you're not sure if a metanarrative is supposed to transcend narrative (be something that isn't a narrative but grounds narrative), or is a narrative that exists on another level of being from ordinary narratives, or is just a narrative that contains or explains or judges some other narratives. I'm not in love with the word "narrative" either, since it doesn't really fit Descartes and that bunch, whom Lyotard had somehow implicated in the term. Anyway, let's forget Lyotard and let's come up with a concept that we can use. Actually, I'll junk the prefix "meta" altogether, since it's inaccurate and confusing. I'll keep "narrative" in order to preserve some continuity, despite my distaste for it. How about the term "master narrative"? I'll define it as "a narrative or discourse that explains or justifies a lot of other narratives and discourses," but point out that it's no less or more a narrative than any other. And I'll forget about transcendence and levels of being, since I don't believe in them.

Now Marxism would be the big daddy behemoth of master narratives, and I'm as incredulous towards it as the next guy, but not because (tsk tsk tsk) it's a master narrative and we can't have that, but because it couldn't be made to work across the board for all social and economic systems, though it tried. I doubt that anyone ever will come up with such a social theory that works across the board, but I would be dogmatic to insist that no one could. And I'm not impressed with the argument that goes "Marx treated consciousness as a historical product, but Marxism itself is a historical product" - as if no historical product could be right. All that's necessary for it to be right is for it to explain to our satisfaction what it's trying to explain. And for the moment I'll pretend that it is right. Now, can it be compatible with the idea of incommensurability? Sure. Take two incommensurable discourses, say American Football and Australian Rules Football; the fact that they're incommensurable means that you can't translate all the crucial terms of one game into those of the other, and you can't understand one game in terms of the other (or, for that matter, score one game in the scoring system of the other, though they're close). Now, their being incommensurable wouldn't prevent a Marxist from comparing the two games and describing how they arose as historical and class products, and wouldn't prevent him from, let's say, talking about how the different games have different rules due to the games' differing social functions etc.

For what it's worth, contributions to a thread entitled "Taking Sides: Australian Rules Football vs. American Football" would be master narratives, albeit small in scope, so maybe we could call them mini-master-narratives.

Or suppose someone in the future succeeds where Marx failed and comes up with a generally applicable theory of "society." His use of such crucial terms as "society" and "community" and so forth may be as different from our use as Newton's use of "motion" was from Aristotle's. And so if we were transported by time machine into this future sociologist's world we wouldn't understand what the fuck he was talking about and would probably dispute that he even was talking about social systems. But I don't see why that should concern him any more than it should concern a modern physicist that Aristotle couldn't make heads or tails of his ideas. I can imagine that this future sociologist would correctly use his theories of "society" to explain our "culture" but would also take into account our notions of "society" in order to explain a good deal of our cultural behavior, e.g., elections, Marxism, and so forth. Just as someone today could use modern physics to explain Aristotle's motions but wouldn't use it to convey Aristotle's concept of motion.

Another point: there is a latter-day universalizing master narrative that is standing (as far as I know): Darwin's theory of evolution, as supplemented by genetics. It provides a basic model for the evolution of all species, not just some. (Of course, there are people who choose not to believe in Darwin's theory, but these people aren't providing alternatives; they just don't want anything to do with it.)

All right, finally, here's one more latter-day universalizing master narrative (too soon to know how well it will stand, or how long): Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Yup. I decided to throw that in as a whammy. It purports to apply to all scientific revolutions, not just some. It's somewhat circular, in that it not only describes scientific revolutions, it defines them (a change in a science is revolutionary when a new disciplinary matrix breaks off from or replaces a previous matrix that's significantly incommensurable with it; without the incommensurability, it isn't a revolution). The circularity here isn't vicious, however, any more than in Newton's laws of motion (which don't just describe motion but define it).

So take this passage I wrote atop this thread:

For Aristotle, motion was a change in quality, an asymmetric change from an initial state to a final state, so that motion not only included a rock's moving towards its place in the center of the universe, and fire reaching outwards to its place on the periphery, but also an acorn growing into a tree, a man returning from sickness to health, and so forth. Newton's idea of momentum - that an object in motion stays in motion unless acted on by an outside force - would have made no sense in an Aristotelian system, since it wouldn't have involved a change in quality and therefore wouldn't have been motion, and couldn't possibly explain how a rock gets from one place to another. (And Aristotle's conception of place and space were a lot different from ours, too.)

A point Kuhn made was that you could see motion as a change in quality, or you could see it as an object only changing its location (while changes in its quality, if any, are irrelevant), but that there was no third thing, "the datum" or "what is really there," for you to look at, to compare the ideas to, in order to see which was right. What would such a third thing be? Say you're an observer whose concept of motion is that it includes a man's returning from sickness to health. If this is your concept, how, by carefully observing a man as he actually returns to health, can you possibly decide that this is not motion? And conversely, if you think of motion as a change in location but not a change in state, how could your observing this man make you abandon your idea and decide that his return to health is an example of motion after all? You can compare the two ideas to each other, to see which is better, but not to an independent measure applicable to both.

What I've done is to take two incommensurable discourses, compared a piece of one to a piece of the other, and explained why the two are incommensurable. Now, my description may turn out to be wrong, but I don't know any reason to be incredulous of it in advance, even if it is a discourse about two other discourses.

So this is the crux: Incommensurability doesn't mean that no discourse can talk about any other discourse ("incommensurability" can't mean this, since the concept itself was derived in a discourse that compared other discourses to each other), and if a discourse can talk about some other discourses, I can't see any reason in principle that there can't be a discourse that talks about all other discourses. That said, I don't think it likely that we'd come up with such a discourse, or even want one, or that such a discourse would have much to say that wasn't so general as to be vacuous, in which case our response shouldn't be incredulity but boredom.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Tuesday, 6 May 2003 22:25 (seventeen years ago) link

(i am sort of in the middle of a grebt idea abt incommensurability and how it might relate to music and stuff, but i am also on the way to being away from the interweb for a week so HOLD THAT THOUGHT!!) (i will take my notes w.me on holiday and also a print out of this thread)

mark s (mark s), Tuesday, 6 May 2003 22:46 (seventeen years ago) link

I want Frank's brane. Could you burn off a copy and send it to me as a pdf?

Ned Raggett (Ned), Wednesday, 7 May 2003 00:16 (seventeen years ago) link

I know the feeling, Ned.

For what it's worth, scientists have been claiming that they are on the verge of having it all sorted for ages. I think the first such claim that was taken seriously was in early Victorian times. These days it's not even uncommon for scientists to claim that they are working on some kind of 'Theory Of Everything', so they are shooting for the all-encompassing master-narrative that Frank refers to. Obviously they are not even close to it - we can all think of countless enormnous oceans that science has barely dipped a toe into, and even on its own terms, which are far more limited than scientists seem to routinely realise, there are colossal problems that science has not killed off - reconciling relativity and quantum physics and where mass comes from are two giant ones.

But while we are nowhere near it, we are learning lots of useful stuff, and I'm not sure that I see anything that we can never encompass in a theory - if we're willing to accept that the genuine randomness at the quantum level when combined with chaos theory means that this will still not make answers in various areas (such as the sociological) computable. We are tying the functioning of the brain more and more in to observable physical phenomena, for instance, so we can look at MRI scans and determine the potential for psychopathy (which is actualised in dangerous ways by environment, but the fundamental cause is brain damage). It is not beyond imagining that we will eventually be able to map all of what we can call 'mind' onto observable physical phenomena. That's just one example, but I think it's a pretty good one.

How that would explain, say, aesthetics, I don't know, but I can't begin to say what there is in aesthetics that isn't merely a functioning of the brain.

Martin Skidmore (Martin Skidmore), Wednesday, 7 May 2003 10:53 (seventeen years ago) link

(as long as brain also includes the entire body)

mark s (mark s), Wednesday, 7 May 2003 10:55 (seventeen years ago) link

Martin, a discourse that talks about all other discourses isn't a theory of everything. Those are two different concepts. If Kuhn's ideas work, incommensurability applies to all scientific revolutions, including revolutions in physics, but nonetheless incommensurability isn't an idea that explains the structure of the atom. A super theory of everything would do just that - be a single theory that explained incommensurability and the structure of the atom. A theory of everything would be a discourse that superseded and united all other discourses (including those that have been abandoned), eliminated all incommensurability among them, AND found a single theory to explain everything. I don't want to dogmatically say that such a theory is impossible, but I can't wrap my brain around it. As a matter of fact I will say that it's impossible, even though I can't prove this. What would be a theory that found a common language to explain the quark, how to cook chicken, how to type, unicorns, phlogiston, incommensurability, the fact that incommensurability no longer exists, Aristotle's concept of motion, Australian Rules football, American football, jokes that are set in airplanes, the cure for the common cold, the social significance of mustaches, why the Stooges are better than the Velvet Underground?

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Wednesday, 7 May 2003 19:58 (seventeen years ago) link

That language = english!

(or arabic or korean or etc. obv)

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Wednesday, 7 May 2003 20:07 (seventeen years ago) link

I was thinking the other way round, Frank: that if science did find the complete answers to everything, that could also be, as it is fully worked through in all its implications in all spheres of life and thought and art and imagination, that super-discourse. I don't really believe it either, but I can't think of anything to make it beyond possibility.

Martin Skidmore (Martin Skidmore), Wednesday, 7 May 2003 20:17 (seventeen years ago) link

Okay, Sterling, not only a common language, but a discourse within that language that only said commensurable things about (for instance) incommensurability, hair care, and how to tickle your friends.

Botany and cookery can both be conducted in English, and a botanist can be a cook and can have no trouble jumping from conversations about botany to conversations about cookery; but nonetheless, botany and cookery are incommensurable. E.g., a tomato is not a fruit in cookery but is a fruit in botany, and to try to make a tomato something other than a fruit in botany would pull botany as we know it to pieces. This is what it means to say that the language of cookery and the language of botany are incommensurable. (The word "language" has more than one use.)

I can't imagine our finding a theory to unite cookery and botany, but I can imagine a discourse that discusses and compares cookery and botany (in fact, this paragraph is such a discourse) and could imagine there being a master narrative that explains how things such as cookery and botany become incommensurable, and how the use of words (such as "fruit") become incommensurable.

Martin, I can't even imagine what it would be for a science to arrive at a complete theory of everything (nor sure what it would mean for such a theory to be worked through in all spheres of life, since such a theory would have to take account all spheres of life in the first place, wouldn't it?). A scientific theory (or nonscientific theory) can play a role in many spheres without being a theory of everything or even a theory that's particularly about other spheres. For example, paleontologists use atomic theory to date their fossils, but this doesn't bring atomic theory any closer to having an explanation for whether feathers first developed to aid in jumping or to keep animals warm - so atomic theory doesn't explain anything in paleontology, even if paleontologists can find a use for atomic theory. Kuhn seemed to think that the trend in the sciences was for ever greater specialization, which means an ever increasing number of disciplinary matrices.

(For anyone new to this thread, disciplinary matrices are the matrices formerly known as "paradigms." Not to be confused with the exemplars formerly known as "paradigms.")

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Wednesday, 7 May 2003 20:46 (seventeen years ago) link

That has been the trend, and a lot of the 'theopry of everything' hype is down to physicists thinking that physics is all there is, but what if they are right? That was what I was trying to say about the mind - what if the scientific advances, before or after this probably chimeric theory of everything, can fully explain mind? We have physics sorted, we fully understand mind, what can't we get from these two arms of the pincer?

Yes, it's all speculation and a bit pointless, but then read a book like Mind And The New Physics by Frederik Allan Wolff (from memory, may have spelt his name wrong), where he tries very hard, and entirely unsuccessfully for me, to tie quantum physics and consciousness tightly together. Physics is very ambitious these days, and there are all kinds of hugely promising and interesting things happening in, particularly, the area best known for 'superstrings', but m-branes are overtaking them. There are people who claim that we will have quantum computing, and as a corollary a proof that there are vast (maybe infinite) numbers of parallel universes, within a decade.

Yes, I realise this is a bit beside the point, until such an all-encompassing theory ever comes about. And as I hinted earlier, I don't believe that it will ever be up to explaining, say, the idea of unicorns - quantal randomness magnified by 'the butterfly effect' is far too big to ever allow that kind of detail, unless we have something very wrong there.

Martin Skidmore (Martin Skidmore), Wednesday, 7 May 2003 20:58 (seventeen years ago) link

I can't imagine our finding a theory to unite cookery and botany, but I can imagine a discourse that discusses and compares cookery and botany (in fact, this paragraph is such a discourse) and could imagine there being a master narrative that explains how things such as cookery and botany become incommensurable, and how the use of words (such as "fruit") become incommensurable.

Okay except imagine a world were cookery and botany are the same -- e.g. where things are grown only to be cooked by the person cooking them. Now these things will be considered part of one process conducted by one person, and therefore would completely share a discourse. So discourse = contains the seeds of its own intentionality?

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Wednesday, 7 May 2003 21:05 (seventeen years ago) link

One final point. Frank rather dismisses the applicability of this to music criticism. While I accept that there is no ruling paradigm, I think there is something close to one, debated only by a minority. We might call it 'rockism', except I'm loathe to muddy the waters so. What I mean is that I think that the Beatles, more than any other single cause, did produce a paradigm shift in how we assess the worth of pop musicians, and that this shift is audible in the insistence that singers who do not write their own songs are of vastly less artistic value, in the privileging of the album as a measure of achievement, in the striving for an artistic legacy - some of this (the last one, really) is the inevitable growth of a young form, maybe, but the first two (songwriting, albums) are part of the prevailing paradigm and were not before, and there is no purely rational reason why this newer paradigm is superior to the old.

I held off my response while I tried to figure out how to answer in a way that kept this thread Kuhncentric rather than musiccentric. Here's my attempt: Even though I'd like to see the term "rockism" retired, I'll say for the sake of argument that there is such a thing and that it functions in the way you say it does. Now, if it were to function as the ruling paradigm of rock criticism ("paradigm" being used here in a Kuhnian sense), then statements such as "the Stones were better before they started writing most of their songs" (once said to me by Jody Harris) or "'When the Levee Breaks' is Led Zeppelin's greatest song" could not be accepted as even intelligible without its bringing total disarray to rock criticism, equivalent to the tumult that would be caused in botany if it had to define tomato as something other than a fruit, or the tumult that was caused in physics when Planck and others figured out that energy levels changed in discontinuous jumps rather than continuously. Whereas, actually, such statements, and the disagreements over them, are the expected thing in rock criticism. (This doesn't mean that the Beatles didn't change the game, just that Kuhn's notion of paradigm shift isn't likely to help us understand the change.)

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Wednesday, 7 May 2003 21:33 (seventeen years ago) link

Sterling, if the cook's botany skills were at all complex (say as complex as modern botany) then the cooking and the botany would still be incommensurable; the terms used for growing food, for plant reproduction, etc., wouldn't map onto the terms for cooking it. This point of mine, by the way, isn't any more interesting than if I'd said that a botanist who also plays tennis can't map his botany terms onto his tennis terms. "Incommensurability" only becomes an issue when different paradigms compete for the same space, or when one eyes an activity through the wrong paradigm.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Wednesday, 7 May 2003 21:47 (seventeen years ago) link

frank yr. confusion of "terms" and "discourse" and "language" is terribly frustrating.

imagine if I said "the terms for describing a chord don't map onto the terms for describing a rhythm" -- have i just demonstrated that there doesn't exist a discourse of music or that a guitar player is incommensurable with himself?

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Wednesday, 7 May 2003 21:57 (seventeen years ago) link

You're completely right about the confusion, of course, though maybe it's not a problem. Which is to say, incommensurability is only an issue when you have incommensurable terms potentially occupying the same space. ("Space" isn't a self-explanatory term either.) Strangely enough, chords and rhythm aren't concepts that are tied to each other, even though you can play chords in rhythm. Whereas Newton's key terms are all interrelated (mass, velocity, momentum, motion, acceleration, force), so changing one was likely to cause changes in many others.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Thursday, 8 May 2003 00:58 (seventeen years ago) link

B-but did newton's terms map onto the same space in what they described, or just map onto the same, y'know, words. So maybe Newton exposed and filled a blank space which hadn't been noticed before?

i.e. you can't play chords without rhyhthm but you can play chords without *thinking* about (or talking about) rhythm. so if everyone just played chords and analyized them and suddenly somebody says "hey! rhythm!" and explains that the duration of the chords and of the spaces between them matters too then you've changed "music".

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Thursday, 8 May 2003 03:49 (seventeen years ago) link

Sterling, you're raising good questions, not all of which I'm ready to address. But here's a long passage from Kuhn that (only) somewhat addresses it.

Remember briefly where the term "incommensurability" came from. The hypotenuse of an isosceles right triangle is incommensurable with its side or the circumference of a circle with its radius in the sense that there is no unit of length contained without residue an integral number of times in each member of the pair. There is thus no common measure. But lack of a common measure does not make comparison impossible. On the contrary, incommensurable magnitudes can be compared to any required degree of approximation. Demonstrating that this could be done and how to do it were among the splendid achievements of Greek mathematics. But that achievement was possible only because, from the start, most geometric techniques applied without change to both of the items between which comparison was sought.

Applied to the conceptual vocabulary deployed in and around a scientific theory, the term "incommensurability" functions metaphorically. The phrase "no common measure" becomes "no common language." The claim that two theories are incommensurable is then the claim that there is no language, neutral or otherwise, into which both theories, conceived as sets of sentences, can be translated without residue or loss. No more in its metaphorical than its literal form does incommensurability imply incomparability, and for much the same reason. Most of the terms common to the two theories function the same way in both; their meanings, whatever those may be, are preserved; their translation is simply homophonic. Only for a small subgroup of (usually interdefined) terms and for sentences containing them do problems of translatability arise. The claim that two theories are incommensurable is more modest than many of its critics have supposed.

A few comments: First, I don't understand the examples from geometry; I'll give a slightly different one. Time and distance are incommensurable, in that they aren't the same thing and they don't have a common measure: one is measured in hours etc. the other in miles or kilometers etc. But not only can one compare them, graph one against the other, and so forth, one can even come up with a concept (velocity) and unit of measure (miles per hour) that compares them. "But that achievement was possible only because, from the start, most geometric techniques applied without change to both of the items between which comparison was sought." This seems like an important point, but again I'm not sure what it is. But using my time and distance example, suppose that in two theories the relationship between time and distance was significantly different. Then the theories would be incommensurable, and maybe even what the terms "time" and "distance" referred to wouldn't match up in the different theories (as "motion" and "planet" are drastically different for an Aristotelian and a Newtonian).

Now, if someone told me to draw a yellow square, and I responded "'yellow' and 'square' are incommensurable," in a way I would be right, since there is no common measure for "yellow" and "square" - but still, what I'd said would, in most contexts, almost be gibberish, since it would have no point (unless I was joking, or a toddler, or something). And I'd say the same for my pointing out that "time" and "distance" are incommensurable, or that "rhythm" and "chords" are incommensurable. In doing so, I'm not saying much of anything. The concept "incommensurability" only has application where words or discourses or theories are jostling for the same space and may be confused with one another, or where a common measure is wanted or at least thought possible.

Second, within a normal conversation, terms often jostle for the same space without necessarily being incommensurable. These terms are usually considered "value judgments." E.g., when a couple of people argue over which movies are better than others, it isn't useful to claim that their respective uses of the term "good movie" are incommensurable. (Strangely, Kuhn gave little thought to this issue; whenever he comes across as a social retard, it's becuase he didn't give this issue enough thought.)

Third, the word "language" has lots of uses, and I'm not sure Kuhn always kept them straight. In any event, "the language of Newtonian mechanics" is not analogous to "the English language."

I'll elaborate on these points sometime. But I don't want to lose a particular idea here; the claim was made that "incommensurability" is a manifestation of "the no privileged metanarratives thing" (or maybe it's a manifestation of what Lyotard called "the incredulity towards metanarratives," whatever he meant by that). Now, I've changed the term "metanarrative" to "master narrative" and said that there's no incompatibility between "incommensurability" and "master narratives," so there's no reason why belief in the former should lead to incredulity towards the latter. And I gave Kuhn himself as an example of someone who believes in the former and nonetheless created the latter. Now it seems to me that this knocks down Martin's and Alan's suggestion. And Martin has slipped into another conversation altogether, one about theories of everything. And my point is that a theory of everything is not a metanarrative/master narrative. There are as yet no theories of everything, and none has been proposed, so no one's had much opportunity to be incredulous towards them. And more to the point, they're not what the post-whatsywhatsies are being incredulous towards (not that the posties necessarily know what they're being incredulous towards).

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Wednesday, 21 May 2003 18:57 (seventeen years ago) link

Frank you can understand the geometry examples (as can any student with freshman high-school geometry) but Kuhn is just being a bit elliptical with them.

the circumference of a circle = 2*pi*radius, right?

i.e. the distance around a circle is twice pi*(the distance from the center to the edge of the circle).

But pi is irrational -- a nonrepeating infinite decimal; i.e. NOT the ratio of two integers. Hence we can't find a common unit of measure (a unit of length which can constitute both the circumference and the radius if multiplied "an integral number of times"). Hence the two (radius and circumference) are "incommensurable". However we CAN say the radius is smaller than the circumference, or even that twice the radius is smaller than the circumference or the radius of *another* circle is larger than the circumference of the first circle or etc.

Hence incommensurable but comparable.

Meanwhile when Kuhn sez "Only for a small subgroup of (usually interdefined) terms and for sentences containing them do problems of translatability arise." this is what is rather confusing. Because if we have a sentence talking about aristotelian concepts and newtonian concepts of motion can't we just say motion-Aristotelian and motion-Newtonian in place of the word "motion" depending? And similarly can't we replace "vegetable" with "vegetable-Botany" and "vegetable-Cookery" and end the confusion?

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Thursday, 22 May 2003 03:08 (seventeen years ago) link

''But I never was clear on what he meant by metanarrative, and neither was he. "Metanarrative" is a (typically) bad word choice, the "meta" as well as the "narrative," and like everybody else he conflates the "transcendent" with the "about," so you're not sure if a metanarrative is supposed to transcend narrative (be something that isn't a narrative but grounds narrative), or is a narrative that exists on another level of being from ordinary narratives, or is just a narrative that contains or explains or judges some other narratives''

Meta=> the next level. So something like philosophy of science, as a subject, would be like 'meta' science. As in, it talks about what is or isn't a science. I think Alan meant it as in judging other narratives but I'm not sure.

(Aristotle wrote a book called ethics but didn't he also write a book called meta ethics?)

I Have printed this whole thing (so far abt 37 pages ho ho) and have read it. yesterday I picked up a book by Kuhn second hand (a book of essays 'The essential tension'). I'll try and write more soon.

Franks wrote: ''[Kuhn is also infected by neo-Kantianism, a fact that I do my best to ignore.]''

why? (my knowledge of philosophy is close to nil)

Julio Desouza (jdesouza), Saturday, 24 May 2003 18:35 (seventeen years ago) link

a wider use for Kuhn?s ideas?

OK start with stuff i posted on the ism/jism thread on ilm

i. if more people wrote really wilfully unclearly then the gap between conceptions and conceptions of conceptions would grow and grow obv, vastly increasing the range of ideas "out there", and with this the chances that the ideas were good (unclearly expressed but good)

ii. besides, if it's a BAD idea unclearly expressed you can always misread it yrself, and enjoy the better idea yr actually projecting onto it!! it's win-win!!

iii. (incidentally the above is the key and core of my theory abt why music is a socially valuable thing above and beyond being fun blah blah: it consists of ideas "wilfully unclearly expressed" ? viz in music not in language. this non-communication is received as if it's communication, which produces fitful (or frantic) attempts by the listener-brain to "decode" it, which translate as the rest of the listener's mind joins in into ideas ? or activities ? which are new to listener AS WELL AS never envisaged by the musician)

iv. (trans. = "osmotic alien tongue pressure")

Can that be clarified?

i. An artist who can draw can never draw one thing: a picture that looks as if it was drawn by someone who CAN?T draw: the gulf goes both ways.

ii. I think there are two levels where the idea of "incommensurability" might operate in music (both manifest a lot on ILM, one more intractably and interestingly than the other)

iii. The easy, obvious level comes between different types of music: rockers vs jazzers, serialists vs minimalists (when Elliott Carter and Philip Glass are willing to refer to each other?s music-zones as "fascist", that?s pretty much the sign of an unbridgeable gulf). Zappa was unable to mimic disco competently (or garage rock or doowop, says I, though he may have defenders here...)

iv. The interesting level of failure of fit, I think, comes between schooled musicians and unschooled listeners. It?s some of what the argument in this thread's about, for example: the idea that a certain key portion of what?s going on ? which the musicians involved understand perfectly, easily, instantly ? is absolutely and forever beyond certain listeners. Is "incommensurability" the right word for this even? Even if it?s not, something interesting seems to be going on here: the idea, maybe, that there?s something those certain listeners know and hear when they?re listening to the music that the musicians involved no longer. In other words, while a schooled musician gains something valuable, by virtue of essential acquire skills and ?ear? and whatever, s/he also LOSES something valuable.


[In that thread, at one testy and probably unforgiveably rude moment, I suggest to ArfArf that the reason he can?t get what I?m trying to say is that there?s a "Lady if you have to ask" dimension to WRITING, also. It?s odd that a lot of my more intractable, sometimes bad-tempered arguments on ILM have been with posters who are also working musicians: ArfArf, Phil Masstransfer, Momus, pinefox... I?ve never actually argued directly with Geir, but a similar unbridgeable gulf seems to be there.] [I'm not dissing any of you listed there btw: I'm fascinated by this difference, it's what draws me to music most of all -> some of the gap is very likely the result of my poor understanding, I just very much don't want to lose sight of the nature of the gap itself by assuming it's ALL my poor understanding]

ANYWAY, my thesis: this gulf is CENTRAL to the meaning and use of music. If by some miracle of high-speed education all currentl listeners were inducted into the knowledge that gave them musicians? ears, music, far from flourishing, would decline. What musicians get out of music is a *minority* passion, necessary but not sufficient: what non-musicians get out of it is what keeps it vital, growing, changing. Musicians get on with what they as a community believe they should be doing: the deep, elaborate, untranslateable or anyway hard-to-translate commitment to rules and practices which accord with assumptions, beliefs, patterns, shared habits NOT yet spoiled or distorted by the dumm touch of the common word

?

(In fact I don?t really believe in the gulf in writing, which is why it was rude of me to invoke it ? obviously it exists between those who can read and can?t, but that?s a different matter. Being understood is part of the ethos of writing in a way that it isn?t in music. The tension between to the two modes of "understanding" in music is one of the things we constantly revivify in it, from both sides of the gulf: because we NEED it...)

mark s (mark s), Sunday, 25 May 2003 14:56 (seventeen years ago) link

Q: Why do tigers have stripes?
A: To distinguish them from horses.

Momus (Momus), Sunday, 25 May 2003 16:30 (seventeen years ago) link

Because if we have a sentence talking about aristotelian concepts and newtonian concepts of motion can't we just say motion-Aristotelian and motion-Newtonian in place of the word "motion" depending? And similarly can't we replace "vegetable" with "vegetable-Botany" and "vegetable-Cookery" and end the confusion?

We don't need to, because there is no confusion: Once you know that Aristotle's concept of motion differs from Newton's, you can just say "Aristotle's concept of motion," which is exactly what we've been doing. (I was going to call it "Aristotle's notion of motion," but then I'd have had to find a way to work the words "ocean" and "lotion" into the concept, and I couldn't figure out how to do so.) And we don't need to replace any words in botany and cookery, since we're perfectly adept at using the word "fruit" differently in the two different contexts, just as we're perfectly capable of using "out" differently in baseball from the way we use it in tennis, and using it differently again when we say that someone was "knocked out" in boxing. And within baseball there's a difference between a fielder throwing the runner out at first and an umpire throwing the manager out of the game or the team at bat knocking the pitcher out of the game. (Sorry to the non-Yanks reading this, but baseball really does provide the best examples that I know of. I don't know cricket's terminology, and I don't know how well it matches up with baseball's, though comparing the two might be useful for this discussion.) But people who know the games can use the various "outs" in quick succession, just as I have, with no problem. My only point in comparing botany to cookery is to show that two discourses' being incommensurable in some of their key terms doesn't necessarily prevent someone from understanding both and moving with ease from one to the other. Nonetheless, the terms are incommensurable in that they can't be mapped onto each other or translated into one another. If you choose to call botany and cookery one combined discourse ("bottery"), nonetheless, the part dealing with plant classification and reproduction cannot be mapped onto or translated into the part dealing with food preparation.

Don't lose sight of the issue: We can't translate Aristotle's concept of motion into Newton's laws of motion. If we fail to understand the Aristotelian concepts, and instead write about the transformation from Aristotelian-Ptolemaic cosmology to Newtonian on the assumption that Aristotle's ideas are just primitive versions of Newton's, and Newton's, therefore, corrected versions of Aristotle's, then we will write shit history, and Aristotle will appear as a dunce. This is one of the imports of "incommensurability."

Another, I think, is that, if you combine Kuhn's idea of incommensurability with my idea that
paired opposites are comparative rather than antithetical, then we can dispense with Sinker's (and I presume Hegel's and Clover's) idea of "aufhebung." I'd challenged Mark to define "aufhebung" in 25 words or less, and he wrote: "Think of Cat's Cradle as a theory of knowledge. Someone lifts the string loops off onto their own fingers: their 'theory' destroys yet preserves yours." Newton's concept of motion destroyed Aristotle's and did not preserve it, just as Copernicus's concept of planet replaced all previous concepts of planet. Of course, there are family resemblances between the old and the new, and some features are preserved (Mars is still the same light in the sky, for instance); but it's the features that aren't preserved that make the concept new. You could say that if you started with rocks laid on the ground in a circle, and then you reorganized them into a square, you've preserved the rocks. What you haven't done is to preserve the circle. Before the Copernican revolution, "planet" was an immaterial object that traveled in a complex pattern around the Earth; afterwards (once you got to Kepler), "planet" was an Earthlike object that revolved in a fixed orbit around the Sun.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Tuesday, 27 May 2003 19:20 (seventeen years ago) link

'But I never was clear on what he meant by metanarrative, and neither was he. "Metanarrative" is a (typically) bad word choice, the "meta" as well as the "narrative," and like everybody else he conflates the "transcendent" with the "about," so you're not sure if a metanarrative is supposed to transcend narrative (be something that isn't a narrative but grounds narrative), or is a narrative that exists on another level of being from ordinary narratives, or is just a narrative that contains or explains or judges some other narratives'

Meta=> the next level. So something like philosophy of science, as a subject, would be like 'meta' science. As in, it talks about what is or isn't a science. I think Alan meant it as in judging other narratives but I'm not sure.

You mean, like, all the discussions in physics take place on the fourth floor, and all the discussion about who is or isn't a physicist, and what is and isn't physics, takes place on the fifth floor? As opposed to the different discussions taking place in different pavilions?

"Level" isn't any more helpful than "meta," here. The word "about" doesn't automatically imply "hierarchy," nor does the word "judgment." I don't see how a discussion about "who's a physicist?" and "what is physics?" is on a level that's different from one that is "physics." Can you always tell the difference, anyway? Don't physicists, tenure committees, academic publications, and the like have a good deal to do with determining who's a physicist and what is physics?

I still don't know what it is that Lyotard is supposed to be incredulous towards: Is he incredulous towards the idea that a discourse or a narrative can be about and can judge some other narratives? Or is he incredulous towards the idea that a discourse or narrative can occupy different levels of being from another? He ought to be incredulous towards the latter, but to reject the latter is just to make a point in an arcane subject (philosophy) and has no bearing on whether one should be incredulous towards the former and has no bearing one way or another on whether one should accept or reject (say) Marxism or philosophy of science.

Martin wrote: "I sort of see Kuhn in more Postmodern terms, claiming that the privileging of one particular metanarrative is not soundly justified in the scientific method but instead happens for a complex conglomerate of reasons, some or all of which might have little to do with the scientific method as it is understood."

And I don't understand this, because among other things I don't know what "privileging of one particular metanarrative" is supposed to mean, and Martin hasn't elaborated.

Alan wrote: "a radical view of incommensurability does manifest itself as the 'no privileged meta-narratives' thing."

And I don't understand this, because I don't understand "the 'no privileged meta-narratives' thing," or what it has to do with incommensurability. In particular, I don't see where "no third thing, 'the datum' or 'what is really there,'" (and therefore nothing independent to "measure" Aristotle's and Newton's differing concepts of motion against) is analogous to "privileged metanarrative." How is "what is really there" a "metanarrative"?

In fact, let me point out that it is phrases like "no privileged metanarrative" and "there was no third thing, 'the datum' or 'what is really there,'" that themselves "talk about" and "judge."

As for Marx, his designations of what goes into "base" and what goes into "superstructure" just don't work; but nonetheless, if we treat "base" and "superstructure" as comparative terms like "loud" and "soft" (a sound is loud by virtue of being louder than some other sound; something belongs to the base if it is more basic than something in the superstructure), rather than either/or terms like an on-off switch - so if we allow the base to be somewhat based in its superstructure, rather than demand that the base be utterly independent and self-supporting - then there's nothing in principle to prevent us from assigning some things to a base and others to a superstructure, and to claim that changes in the base are more critical than changes in the superstructure, and that the latter follow the former. I'm not saying that we should do this, just that my disbelief in "meta" has no bearing one way or another on whether I would accept or reject the idea of a base and a superstructure. The issue of "meta" doesn't address the issue of "base and superstructure" at all.

But I'm talking to myself here.

(Sterling, "relative" and "absolute" are comparative terms. Are you happy now?)

I'm going to continue to ignore Kant for as long as I can get away with it.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Tuesday, 27 May 2003 19:24 (seventeen years ago) link

If you choose to call botany and cookery one combined discourse ("bottery"), nonetheless, the part dealing with plant classification and reproduction cannot be mapped onto or translated into the part dealing with food preparation.

Um, Frank, wait. Some parts might map OK, other parts might not, just as "goal" in hockey maps right onto "goal" in soccer and "basket" in basketball. I don't really know enough about botany to know where plant reproduction might map onto cookery. (Even if "fruit" did refer to exactly the same objects in both, they serve such a different function in each that for practical purposes the word "fruit" is a different word in the different contexts.)

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Tuesday, 27 May 2003 22:36 (seventeen years ago) link

hey my theory was a theory of knowledge!! a tiny weeny little little concept of a planet can easily be destroyed when the string changes fingers!!

i think it's pretty much built into hegel's idea of antitheticals that it's a mental machinery to produce better theories, and and NOT an accurate portrait of how the world stands (or even how certain words work)

mark s (mark s), Tuesday, 27 May 2003 22:43 (seventeen years ago) link

mark: define "better theories" pls. (also yes frank claiming the unity of opposities as "my idea" is a bit -- whew; and also somewhat reductive if it reduces them to "comparatives" and cuts out all the other funny dialectical stuff that can happen)

And frank yr. point about "function" gets to the deep heart of the matter I think (or at least deeper into something or rather), and beyond all this "overlapping terms" thang. Hence my point earlier when I said "Okay except imagine a world were cookery and botany are the same -- e.g. where things are grown only to be cooked by the person cooking them. Now these things will be considered part of one process conducted by one person, and therefore would completely share a discourse. So discourse = contains the seeds of its own intentionality?"

i.e. reduce two things to one functional process towards an internally concieved purpose and the vocab slippage slips away -- which is a roundabout way of starting in on the "better theories" point.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Wednesday, 28 May 2003 00:14 (seventeen years ago) link

In other words, while a schooled musician gains something valuable, by virtue of essential acquire skills and ‘ear’ and whatever, s/he also LOSES something valuable.

Sounds plausible to me.

Presumably all, or most gains are also losses; and possibly all life can be considered constant loss (as well as constant gain).

the pinefox, Wednesday, 28 May 2003 13:11 (seventeen years ago) link

the pinefox has been watching buffy!

mark s (mark s), Wednesday, 28 May 2003 13:17 (seventeen years ago) link

this thread makes me so happy that there are so many intellectual people here.

it makes me even happier that I don't understand any of it, that my entire Ivy League education is gone, and that I'm having so much more fun now that I don't have to read/get/like stuff like this anymore.

but no hating on paradigm matrices or critical perspective shift from me. someone's a-gotta. go kidz go!

oh and what's a hardy boys mystery without EPMD and/or olive-skinned Tony?

Neudonym, Wednesday, 2 July 2003 14:41 (seventeen years ago) link

From a creationist's viewpoint, there is no ruling paradigm, whereas from a Darwinist's there is, since he doesn't have to bother with creationism as a competitor, given that his discipline doesn't bother with it either. I'm hammering this point home because, if we're going to ask ourselves, "How can we apply Kuhn's ideas to rock criticism?" we have to know what those ideas are. Incommensurability might apply; paradigm/disciplinary matrix doesn't. And yeah, as Nabisco pointed out in the P&J Stats thread, there's no law that says we need to use the word "paradigm" as Kuhn used it. But if we're using "ruling paradigm" differently, then we're not applying Kuhn.

Say that rock criticism is an ongoing battle among premises. The story of how rock criticism changes, then, wouldn't be the story of a ruling premise being displaced by an upstart, but of a battle that evolves.

(But that's way too simple, since rock criticism isn't just an ongoing battle among premises, but a battle among practices, which are battles themselves. So it's an ongoing battle among battles. Of course, premises will change along with the battles, but these changes would constitute lots of competing premises undergoing shifts, not a discipline undergoing a paradigm shift. A criticism's shift may be as significant as a science's, but it won't be a Kuhnian one.)

To continue hammering, is it ever possible for someone who doesn't accept a paradigm to claim that it is nonetheless a ruling paradigm? I mean, to make this claim without its being self-contradictory? The only case I can think of is a historian saying that a paradigm used to rule in some past time. I don't think a sociologist of the present would be right to say, "Physics has a ruling paradigm, but I have no opinion as to whether we should accept it." To call it a "ruling paradigm" is to state that it has no competitors worth paying attention to, which is to accept it. At most, the sociologist who doesn't want to endorse the paradigm can say, "Physicists are behaving as if they had a ruling paradigm, and they seem to be getting away with it."

By the way, though a big motivation for this thread is to have fun discussing ideas, I'm not speaking idly here. Many discussions of recent cultural "sea changes" founder very badly (in fact, fall head first into crap) because these discussions try to apply a model that goes, "Old idea replaced by new idea, old premise replaced by new one," and this model just doesn't work for the nonsciences.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Wednesday, 2 July 2003 16:54 (seventeen years ago) link

Colin's comment in particular disturbs me, since I actually don't think Kuhn's basic ideas are hard to understand. Maybe I'm just writing poorly. Also, a lot of the discussion here isn't taking on Kuhn's ideas directly.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Wednesday, 2 July 2003 17:08 (seventeen years ago) link

"Old idea replaced by new idea, old premise replaced by new one," and this model just doesn't work for the nonsciences.

It doesn't work for the sciences either. Regarding the history of say rock criticism as Phase 1 -> Phase 2 -> Phase 3 is interesting/helpful but flawed and oversimplified. I'm down with that. But that same goes for the sciences: It's not all thesis + anti = syn, it's a convoluted mess of yr battles on battles on battles.

For example look at all the snippiness going on in the physics world right now--Joao Magueijo et al monkeying around with the speed of light vs those still backing the rock solid "c." This is a minor diversion on the way to a complete cosmological reckoning but it will surely have an effect on the ultimate outcome--much like the recent rise in the visibility of rock criticism (Almost Famous, Let it Blurt, etc) does not signal any kind of paradigm shift (b/c as you said there is no paradigm) but it is bound to have some effect on the discourse.

I lost the thread there in that last sentence--there is no disciplinary matrix in rock crit but the idea of this absolute ruling paradigm means very little when applied to any ongoing discourse. Where does room for improvement come in?

NB Obv I have not read Kuhn but I shall go to the library and investigate later.

NB Also Frank pls do not regard this as an attack on your wonderful thread I am simply groping for a better understanding of its content.

adam (adam), Wednesday, 2 July 2003 19:32 (seventeen years ago) link

Because when you say the ruling paradigm doesn't even have to acknowledge its competitors I'm imagining an inbred mutation of a science going down the tubes very quickly. There has to be some allowance for conflict/error, right?

adam (adam), Wednesday, 2 July 2003 19:34 (seventeen years ago) link

Adam, you wouldn't believe how little I actually know about the sciences (or maybe you would); which of course makes my evaluating Kuhn somewhat difficult. You're right, having one idea give way to another idea is far too simplistic; Kuhn's notion is of a whole constellation of ideas, models, theories, examples, and practices unravelling into a period of scientific revolution which eventually ends in a ravelling of a new set of ideas, models, etc. It's a sort of punctuated equilibrium. But still, I think we probably can compare before-and-after ideas in a way that we can't in the nonsciences. That is, before Copernicus, all European astronomers had a concept of what a planet was (nonmaterial body [incl. sun and moon] that orbited the Earth [which was not a planet] in convoluted orbit), after Newton all European astronomers had a different concept of planet (material body like the Earth [and incl. the Earth but not the Sun or moon] that orbits the Sun in an elliptical orbit that is modified by the gravitational effects of the other planets on it). Whereas in philosophy you don't get "Before Kant all philosphers believed X whereas after Dewey they all believed Y," or even all that much agreement over who is a philosopher.

Kuhn has some interesting thoughts on why a variation of different responses to anomalies is crucial for a science. The variation of response is analogous to the variation of attributes in a species. So you might get one physicist who thinks that an anomaly is cause for a major overhaul of many of the ideas of physics, while another might work hard to fit the anomaly into the current pattern, and a scientific selection takes place analogous to natural selection. I'll write more about this when I get the time, since it's real interesting, but first I need to respond - finally - to Mark.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Monday, 14 July 2003 21:44 (seventeen years ago) link

Mark, you're at the start with your idea, like where I was in 1987 when I was sitting on the 33 Ashbury bus as it made its wide turn from upper Market to Clayton, overlooking the city, and the analogy popped into my head that the indie-alternative music-and-fanzine network was functioning like PBS for the youth. The thing is, my idea hadn't taken shape: I felt an analogy but hadn't drawn it yet. And you're at the same point of lift-off: you've gathered your colored pencils and your paper and you've drawn a few lines, one line near the top of the page, another over by a corner, but you haven't sketched anything in. You've yet to either show or tell. I hope I don't come across as hectoring you, but I do want to goad/inspire you onwards, so that you don't just sit back satisfied with this quasi-poem-sketch of yours and not turn it into anything. It's up to you, but the following says where I think you are (and if I'm stating these wrong, maybe that'll inspire you to state them better):

(1) Misunderstanding is better than understanding at producing good ideas. [This originated as a joke, but you repeated the joke here, so it must signify more than just "ha ha" to you.]

(2) There's a gulf between those with musicians' ears and those without, and the former therefore can only with difficulty hear as the latter hear.

(3) Our hard-wiring makes us try to hear music as if we were hearing sentences, though in fact, since music isn't sentences, we're "hearing" something that isn't there and thus creating ideas where there had been none. [You didn't say "sentences," but this will make your idea more potent. I explain below.]

(4) If everyone instantly knew what was in everyone else's head, the fun would go out of communication.

I broke these into four pieces because each piece is independent of the others. That is, what I think of one of them won't necessarily affect what I think of the others; none needs the support of the others. But you've run the points together yourself, via some sort of emotional or experiential association. You should explore why you associate these points, recall what events provoked these sentences of yours. But you should also rethink their association, since it's leading you astray.

Point one just seems wrong (and it requires the absurd corollary that to understand someone is to end discussion, that understanding equals closure); point four makes me say "So what?" Yet somehow, these are hot points for you, relate to whatever emotional glue is binding your thoughts.

Point two has the problem that I don't know what you think musicians' ears consist of, so I don't know yet what you're talking about. This is where you have to draw the picture, rather than writing the phrase "musicians' ears" and imagining that a picture or idea will form in our minds.

I don't believe in a general "musician's ear" any more than Kuhn believed in "scientific method" (people don't learn a "scientific method" that they then apply to any old thing, they learn to be physicists, chemists, biologists, etc.). This point of mine is minor, since it doesn't preclude there being gaps between musicians and listeners; but the gaps, if they exist, may be drastically different among different musicians and different listeners, so different that the gap in one situation may not resemble the gap in another, and "hears as language vs. doesn't hear as language" may not be the gap you get everywhere. You sort of make this point yourself, but then use this as a reason not to be specific, whereas I see it as one of many reasons why you must be specific.

You need to consider the analogy I made about the car mechanic. Let's grant for the sake of argument that someone who is playing an instrument is doing something very different from someone who is listening to music. So those are two different social roles; musician and listener. But you've given no reason why the same person can't occupy those two roles at different times, or even at the same time - just as a car mechanic on holiday who's driving a car can play three roles at once, can pay attention to how the car is running (mechanic), can watch the road (driving), can look at the scenery as he does so (passenger). This doesn't mean that there's no gap in the roles; nor is it about difficulty in bridging a gap. All it means is that skill in one role doesn't necessarily detract from skill in another; just as skill in checkers doesn't necessarily detract from skill in chess. If someone keeps up his listeners' chops (so to speak), let's say by engaging with a lot of other listeners, then he'll continue to listen as a listener as well as he did before. (A car mechanic who doesn't drive much may not be a very good driver, even if he's a good mechanic. But a mechanic may drive a lot too, and may drive well, or still poorly.) But as I said, point two has no bearing on point three. If nonmusicians are hard-wired to hear music as sentences, why shouldn't musicians be as well? (Just as people like me who pay attention to sentence structure are nonetheless able to read for content; as a matter of fact, I have trouble not reading for content.) You've given no reason whatsoever, other than dogmatically restating your contention while providing no examples, why musicians don't hear what laymen hear, why one type of hearing drowns out the other. And your saying "they already find a richness of musician-type things to discuss" has to do with the context of discussion, and tells us nothing about what they fail to hear. What people discuss depends on whom they're talking to. Of course, what they listen for may have a lot to do with whom they frequently talk to; but really, you can talk to more than one type of person in your life, and learn more than one language-game, and listen for more than one thing.

None of this necessarily precludes our having to suspend some knowledge at some time. Nor does it refute your intuition. To turn that intuition into an idea, though, will require an explanation of what particular listeners actually hear, and how that differs from what particular musicians hear, and in what circumstances musicians can walk and chew gum at the same time, and in what circumstances they can't.

Your point two, disassociated from point three, may well be right under certain circumstances, but you have to give the circumstances. A trained physicist may do worse than the layman at reading Aristotle's physics, but not because he has a "physicist's eye" that prevents him from reading with a layman's eye, but rather because his Newtonian and Einsteinian training have led him to expect a pattern in Aristotle's writing that isn't there, and the expected pattern is at odds with the pattern that actually is there. And for someone to learn botany, he will have to suspend what he knows from cookery, since the latter has a classification system at odds with the former. Whereas the car mechanic has no trouble with driving and sightseeing, because they're not at odds with car mechanics. Now, it's well-known that a car mechanic's brain is bigger than a musician's; nonetheless, the musician, pinhead though he may be, is capable of holding three or four ideas in his head at once. So where a layman may hear "the chord pattern to 'Louie Louie,'" the musician will hear "E-A-Bm-A," and the musician who knows theory will hear "I-IV-v-IV." But the musician will also hear "chord pattern to 'Louie Louie,'" since it's not at odds with the other two. Where you're going wrong is in assuming that it's the amount of info in a musician's head that makes it impossible to hear as the layman hears. Let's suppose that your point three is right. You're hypothesizing that we're hard-wired to listen for illusory "content" in music. But you're also supposing that the musician is too busy listening for other stuff to do this. I doubt that you're right, since I can't see a reason why what the musician knows about chords and rhythms and stuff would conflict with his listening for illusory "content" - just as grammarians and linguists are quite capable of reading texts for content, despite their also reading for sentence structure, inflections, and so forth. In my earlier post I made a small attempt to explore where one's knowledge might actually put one at odds with knowing what the untrained person knows. To turn this point two of yours into a real idea, you'll have to do the same, but more extensively. Just what is at that you, the nonmusician, hear that I, the musician, can't?

According to your hypothesis, Chuck Eddy will hear the sorts of things in "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that I won't be able to hear, my inability to hear such things being due to my knowing how to play an instrument. You have to tell me (1) what Chuck is hearing that I can't, and (2) why it's my knowing guitar and bass that prevents me from hearing what Chuck hears, how it is that my musicianship causes the sorts of things that I hear to conflict with the sorts of things that Chuck hears.

Except I recommend you go a somewhat different route for point two. Forget point three for the time being (which would be "Chuck hears music as if it were language, but Frank has lost this ability"), and put aside the music that Chuck and I both hear a lot of, such as "Smells Like Teen Spirit." And go back to something like my example of a modern physicist reading Aristotle. Actually, I wouldn't necessarily assume the layman will do any better than the physicist; but at least I can understand why he might. So now imagine a German musician in about 1800 being confronted for the first time with African music. German music of the time - unlike British - uses the do-re-mi scale across the board, from folk music to popular music to upper-class music. So the German musician (of whatever type) may well hear the African music as out-of-tune, and the rhythm as wild or confused, since he's not aware of the different scales in African music and he doesn't understand counterrhythm. Now it's possible - though I wouldn't automatically assume this - that the German layman will be able to hear the African music better, as he's less committed by training and practice to the do-re-mi scale or to the European rhythms. So to transfer the question to the present: What in particular is the rock-pop-jazz musician of 2003 likely to be committed to that conflicts with his hearing something that the laymen might be open to hearing? Say, the laymen might be more open to music that's really new, or really old, or extraterrestrial. But be specific. Point out an actual piece of music, actual acts of listening to it, actual differences. Another question you need to explore: How are the sociomusical practices of the rock-pop-jazz fan-who-doesn't-play-an-instrument so different from and at odds with those of the rock-pop-jazz musician that the musician can't hear music in the way that the fan does? Again, I mean, specific differences, just as expecting to hear one scale may conflict with your being able to hear another. And I don't mean that the musician has values and goals that differ from the fan's; rather, that the musician's expectations are so at odds with the fan's behavior that the musician can't come close to correctly interpreting the fan's behavior (at least not without doing some research on the habits of this peculiar social species: the fan). What are the premises and ideas that put the fan's behavior beyond the musician's immediate comprehension?

So, to point three: I like the image of our straining to hear something in the music when actually it is our projections we are hearing there. That music does generate concepts is worth hypothesizing, but this hypothesis needs a lot of playing with before it will make sense. The reason that, in my summary, I wrote "We are hard-wired to hear music as if we were hearing sentences" rather than "We are hard-wired to hear music as meaningful" is that, hard-wired or not, we are generally right to hear a whole lot of meaningful stuff in music, e.g., our reading musical styles for their social markers, which is no more mysterious than reading hairstyles or clothing or writing styles or pronunciation for their social connotations. Of course, you can sometimes misread those too, but that's not mysterious either. And hearing moods in movie music is part of the social skill of watching movies; and this seems on a par with reading body language and the mood of a room. And musicians and listeners and fans can act out social relations sonically, and again this shouldn't be any harder (or easier) to interpret than other acting out would be. (And to go back to point two, there's zero reason to think that musicians would be worse than nonmusicians at such reading/interpreting, any more than hairstylists would be worse than nonhairstylists at interpreting the social implications of a haircut.) So for your intuition to have the bite you want it to, I would state it, "We are hard-wired to read sentences for concepts and to try to hear music as if we were hearing sentences and hence to try to 'read' music for concepts - and therefore, actually, to create concepts that we project onto music." I don't see any reason to believe this, particularly, and I don't really understand it (examples would be useful, as always), but it's worth pursuing, because it's not a suggestion I've heard before. Bear in mind that "reading for concepts" is not the main thing we do with sentences, much less music. Also, in discussing music we're rarely reporting how we hear it. Consider: "The Smiths are Godlike, while XTC sucks shit in the mud." In general, we're more interested in using music in our personal relations than in reporting on it, and most music discussion is a ping-pong match of back-and-forth value judgments. But also, when we do want to report, we find that music is difficult to describe and impossible to convey, and therefore what people say about music isn't a good record of what they hear. Musicians' jargon refers to how you make the music, not what it does; and laymen generally just give you genre names plus "sounds like" comparisons (as do musicians, usually).

And once again I'll ask why projecting concepts is more creative than learning concepts, or is creative at all, for that matter.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Monday, 14 July 2003 22:11 (seventeen years ago) link

and laymen generally just give you genre names plus "sounds like" comparisons (as do musicians, usually)

Aargh I had to do this recently and I hated it. Maybe I am neither a layperson nor a musician!

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Monday, 14 July 2003 22:26 (seventeen years ago) link

Well, what would you have given them instead, if you'd had a choice in the matter? (Assuming that your goal is to describe the music, which is what I was talking about in that sentence. I generally hate describing music, though paradoxically I obsessively wonder why I tend to categorize a piece of music in a certain way, given that I almost always categorize what I hear, and often have little idea why I categorized it in such and such a way.)

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Monday, 14 July 2003 23:24 (seventeen years ago) link

WHOA how did I miss this thread before!????? This must have been created during one of my hiatii

I haven't read this yet but I'm almost creaming my jeans! I don't know much about Kuhn but I do about care about Kepler.

SOMEONE has to convert, compare, and contrast his medieval Western astrological theories with more ancient Eastern ones, as well as with the underlying Vedic/planetary philosophies behind the mechanics of jyotish, and metaphysics as a whole.

And the Kepler chapter in The Copernican Revolution is excellent for showing how a great thinker wasn't being irrational or unscientific in believing stuff that we now tend to think of as hooey.

Don't use that "we" so authoritatively Mr. Kogan! =) Thank you for posting this; I shall bookmark now and read later.

Vic (Vic), Tuesday, 15 July 2003 00:25 (seventeen years ago) link

It's tough to think of a short-hand that's going to be understandable but not overbroad (like a genre name, or a band). With food you can just talk ingredients; everybody knows what chicory is, right?

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Tuesday, 15 July 2003 03:57 (seventeen years ago) link

...

Josh (Josh), Tuesday, 15 July 2003 03:59 (seventeen years ago) link

(I hate "hey presto, it's like x meets y!" Don't bootlegs prove that this isn't an accurate way of describing original recordings, since bootlegs actually combine x and y exactly? The bootleg doesn't sound like whatever band you were describing with your formula, it just sounds like x and y run together at the right tempo and pitch. The only actually important part, the crucial thing about THIS band that you want to convey, has been left out by the "x + y" description. I started a game once to try and get everyone sick of it. (NB the philosopher mentioned in THAT title could use some more nuanced storytelling, since his name has become at least as much of a short-hand as Kuhn's is))

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Tuesday, 15 July 2003 04:21 (seventeen years ago) link

The Fluffy Milkman sound like Kepler crossed with the Velvet Underground performing Led Zeppelin's "Going to California," but not as interesting as that description makes them seem.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Tuesday, 22 July 2003 19:51 (seventeen years ago) link

Before the Copernican revolution, "planet" was an immaterial object that traveled in a complex pattern around the Earth

"Immaterial" is probably incorrect. I'll have to research this, when I get the chance. "Differently material"? The matter must have been considered non-Earthlike; otherwise, at the time there'd be no way to explain why the planets didn't all fall to Earth.

Obviously, I know almost nothing about Hegel. Presumably, Mark and Sterling know more. But they've not succeeded in communicating to me what they know. I find the statement "My theory was a theory of knowledge" totally inscrutable, so "their 'theory' destroys yet preserves yours" still reads like gibberish.

my idea that paired opposites are comparative rather than antithetical

Sterling, calling it "my" idea means that I'm the one who introduced it into this discussion, not that I'm the first person in the world to notice that, say, "hot" and "cold" are comparative terms. But "comparative terms" does not mean "the unity of opposites," so I'm not claiming the latter idea as mine, or anyone's, since I don't understand the phrase "unity of opposites." In any event, I don't see what "unity of opposites" has to do with the fact that a cold star can be a couple thousand degrees above zero, and a high-temperature superconductor a couple of hundred below. Nor do I notice any funny dialectical stuff. "Dialectical" is another word that so far has added nothing to my understanding here.

I wouldn't say that I've successfully conversed with anyone on this thread.

To elaborate on what might be one of Adam's points: A change in what counts as a "planet" is only revolutionary enough to be a paradigm shift if it throws enough other ideas into incoherence that a large number of the other ideas have to change as well.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Monday, 4 August 2003 06:01 (seventeen years ago) link

Ok, I've read some Kuhn now. Disregard my earlier posts as they were made in ignorance.

Still I think Kuhn neglects the little paradigm shifts and the ripple effect they can have. Modern physics for example is almost comically compartmentalized and segregated--high-energy over here, string theorists over there, solid state in the basement etc etc--but at some level or another they're all working on the same thing, right? So an unexpected/unwieldly discovery in one area (a paradigm shift for that microdiscipline) has implications for everyone else that could change the rules of "normal science" but perhaps not revolutionize it. I say "could" because at that point it is a perfectly valid option to continue with business as usual (outside the revolutionized specialty) but eventually when this new idea is incorporated into a paradigm-shifting discovery for a larger, more visible field when/where do we say the shift began? What is the revolutionary idea?

It gets especially frustrating when you imagine thousands of people working on a variety of somewhat-related problems making frequent minor breakthroughs that may or may not be relevant to other problems--tracing a major discovery back down a tangled path like that would be extremely difficult for the scientific historian. It all just sounds so neat and well-trimmed with Kuhn--though I guess with the editing powers of time the most important ideas stay important while minor ones become footnotes--though I'm not sure how much I trust that.

adam (adam), Monday, 4 August 2003 11:45 (seventeen years ago) link

Kuhn was thinking about the very same things you were as he went on. See the quote above about chess without the queen. But maybe the various physicists are not all working on the same thing. (You'd know better than I would, probably.) Also, his two major works of history, The Copernican Revolution and Black Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894-1912, don't make things seem trim at all. (I've not read all of the latter, since I don't have the math to truly understand it.) One interesting thing about Black Body is that it claims that Planck was very late to realizing that his work entailed quantization; Einstein and Ehrenfest grasped this first, when Planck still thought he was dealing with mental divisions of total energy, not with energy quanta.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Tuesday, 5 August 2003 21:37 (seventeen years ago) link

Creative scientists can be, and typically are, responsible for the emergence of beliefs that they did not hold themselves, at least not during the period when their discoveries were made. If one is to learn how those discoveries came about, how new knowledge emerged, then one must find out how the discoverers themselves thought about what they were doing. Often it turns out that not just their beliefs but their very modes of thought were different from the ones to which their discoveries gave rise...

Entry into a discoverer's culture often proves acutely uncomfortable, especially for scientists, and sophisticated resistance to such entry ordinarily begins with the discoverer's own retrospects and continues in perpetuity....

Systematic distortions of memory, both the discoverer's memory and the memory of many of his contemporaries, are a first manifestation of resistance. Another, regularly found among members of later generations, is the attribution of real or supposed anomalies in the discoverer's behavior to "confusion."...

The famous paper that announced the Bohr model of the hydrogen atom was submitted from Copenhagen on 6 March 1913 and published the following July, the first installment of a three-part series. I first read it during the fall of 1962 in preparation for interviews with its author. Not surprisingly, the paper includes a full description of the quantized Bohr model for the hydrogen atom as it would be taught in an elementary physics course today. But it also includes a number of phrases incompatible with that model. In particular, Bohr sometimes wrote as though the hydrogen spectrum were emitted by an electron falling into the ground state from outside the atom and strumming all the stationary states that it passed along the way.

These anomalous remarks, together with Bohr's repeated assertion that he had not known the Balmer formula until February 1913, suggested an unexpected hypothesis, subsequently fully confirmed by the discovery of an unpublished manuscript. Many months before he attempted an explanation of spectra, Bohr had developed a quantized version of the Rutherford atom for chemical applications of the sort made familiar by J.J. Thompson. That model, which I was quite sure had had only a ground state, provided the basis for the second and third installments of the 1913 series. The first, which developed the Bohr model for hydrogen and derived the Balmer formula from it, was a last-minute insertion.

My first few interviews with Bohr dealt with the background for his atomic model, and I asked what sorts of connections he had made between the Rutherford atom and the quantum during the period before his attention was directed to the Balmer formula. He replied that he could not have had developed ideas on the subject before turning to spectra, and his assistant later reported to me that, after I had left the room, Bohr shook his head and said of our exchange, "Stupid question. Stupid question."

All that occurred at our first interview. For the next one, I included a similar question in a list submitted to Bohr in advance, and it was received in much the same way as the original. One last attempt to retrieve memories of an early quantized Rutherford atom occurred late in the third interview. This time, however, when Bohr said again that there could have been no concrete model without the Balmer formula in hand, I for the first time showed him the passages in his famous paper that led me to enquire. He looked them over and then muttered to himself, "Perhaps it was a mistake to put the paper into print so fast. Perhaps I should have waited until I had it right." Then, he went over to his personal collection of reprints, took from it a paper he had presented to the Danish Academy of Sciences six months after the publication of his original paper, and handed it to me with the words, "It's alright there, isn't it?" About the earlier model not a word was ever forthcoming.

...Faced with apparent anomalies in the work of the discoverer, scientists and at least an occasional historian protect their version of the discovery by invoking the discoverer's "confusion" during the early stages of its emergence. It is only because he was confused, they explain, that his words fail to fit their story.

These appeals to confusion are damaging, but not because discoverers are never confused. Typically, they are, and Bohr's discovery of the Bohr atom is a clear example. When he wrote the paper announcing his discovery, he had two incompatible models in mind, and he occasionally confused them, mixed the two up. No reading of his first reports on his invention will eliminate the resulting contradictions, and those contradictions, which testify to his confusion, provide essential clues to the reconstruction of his route to the discovery. The standard appeal to confusion dismisses those clues, rejects them as challenges to historical reconstruction, and permits the attribution of confusion to stand as the end of the story. That is the first part of the damage.

For the second, more serious part, compare the case of Planck. Again there are anomalies in the early papers; again they provide clues to an unsuspected state of mind; and, again, dismissing them discards evidence essential for historical reconstruction. Thus far the damage is the same. But in Planck's case, unlike Bohr's, the anomalies do not take the form of internal contradictions, and they therefore provide no reason to suppose that Planck himself felt or had reason to feel confused. If it is nevertheless appropriate to apply the term to him, that is by virtue of the second standard use of the word "confused," one independent of the state of mind of the person to whom it is applied.

Consider, for example, the case of a student who, having read a textbook derivation of the black-body distribution law, then wrote it up in a way like the one found in Planck's early papers. That student would be confused, not in the sense of being pulled about by conflicting elements in his thought, but in the sense of having seen only dimly or confusedly the structure of the derivation that had been set before him by the text. That, I believe, is the sense of "confused" in the minds of people, mostly scientists, who complain, for example, that I try too hard to make the thought of a Planck or a Boltzmann logical and coherent. Why, I am repeatedly asked, can I not simply acknowledge that they were confused?

That way of talking about a discoverer makes no sense. Taken literally, it suggests that the discovery, of which its author is to have had only a confused view, had already been made, was somehow already there, in the discoverer's mind. Occasionally that implication is explicit. The discoverer, I am then told, was relying on intuition; his view of his discovery was still so clouded that he could only grope his way to it; that is why he described what he had in mind in such odd and inconsistent ways, appeared so much a sleepwalker as he proceeded towards his discovery.

Doubtless, few of those who explain anomaly by resort to confusion would go quite so far, but all must encounter the identical difficulty. What licensed our calling the student confused was our knowledge of the concepts he brought to the text and of the proper way to fit the two together. If only he had clearly seen that much himself, he would not, any more than we, have described the derivation as he did. When, in the absence of internal contradiction, we apply the label "confused" to Planck, we are again using ourselves as the measure. We assume that Planck brought to his problem the same concepts we do, and we explain his anomalous behavior as we would explain similar behavior of our own. But the concepts we bring to the black-body problem are themselves products of the discovery Planck had not yet made. To claim for them a role in the emergence of his discovery is again to make him a sleepwalker or else clairvoyant. That is an incoherent notion of discovery - one that makes discovery dependent on prior grasp of what is to be discovered. No other result of the resort to confusion is so damaging.
--Thomas Kuhn, "Revisiting Planck," HSPS (14[2]: 231-52), 1984, reprinted as the Afterword to the second edition (i.e., U. of Chicago rather than Oxford) of Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894-1912.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Tuesday, 5 August 2003 21:42 (seventeen years ago) link

(i'm not ignoring this thread even if it looks like it: more answers soonish maybe tho not today)

mark s (mark s), Tuesday, 5 August 2003 21:46 (seventeen years ago) link

Also, his two major works of history, The Copernican Revolution and Black Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894-1912, don't make things seem trim at all.

Thanks, Frank. I'll go to the library this week.

adam (adam), Wednesday, 6 August 2003 20:56 (seventeen years ago) link

By the way, we're only about 1,150 posts short of the first Jay-Z vs. Nas Throwdown.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Wednesday, 6 August 2003 21:33 (seventeen years ago) link

one month passes...
Incommensurability featured here:

But just as much of the error derives from semi-digested assumptions about what battles are MEANT to be like. The observing experts - who comment on the action in another room, then come in to show what really happened - pointed out (scathingly) that the tactics adopted suited troops with muskets facing cavalry, not legionaries facing tribesmen in chariots: the participants half-knew too much about later-hence-'superior' warfare, and - after being goaded out into the open and completely surrounded by vastly larger numbers - decided that savages would all just run away if their leader was killed.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Monday, 15 September 2003 17:36 (seventeen years ago) link

one year passes...
ok i've been reading some history of science/soc of knowledge in prep for the big project that may never come. finally made it back round to structure... but also some latour and fuller (tho not the kuhn book) and rj ackerman (and on the list is hacking and pickering [read some essays already] and some other stuff too)

but back to kuhn. another fun thing to talk about is his idea of "normal science" which seems like the biggest easiest thing to contest.

kuhn claims that "normal science" in fields which are ALREADY paradigmatic and NOT in paradigmatic crisis is essentially puzzle-solving -- i.e. finding anomolies and demonstrating that they are not anomolies. i.e. not only within, but FOR the paradigm. kuhn also claims that generally paradigms don't shift within generations but between them and a key reason they are ABLE to shift is young ppl. come in and accept the new ones and the old foax eventually go away.

this is a strong claim. it applies only if ppl. are NOT reflexive about paradigms, which is dodgy. furthermore it applies only if scientists really get to set problems for themselves and if they really choose problems based on puzzle-solving to bolster existing paradigms.

so take the fact say that physics still doesn't have a grand unified theory but instead two incommensurable accounts (quantum and relative) that apply at different scales. physicists acknowledge this a problem, accept it, some work to solve it but many don't. so posit a unified theory is worked out -- this is a paradigm shift, obv. but would scientists die out before young ones accept it!? does this instead mean that physics is in a period of protracted crisis? if so we would expect MOST research, by kuhn's account, to go towards resolving this crisis. but most research does NOT. instead "normal science" proceeds to do different things largely NOT driven by a desire to resolve this massive anomoly but to extend othere discrete areas of knowledge. what areas? is this puzzle-solving of smaller issues? again, largely no. it's investigating the specific properties of certain elements and interactions. but *not* chosen by their key status in resolving anomolies, but rather b/c these elements and interactions are impt. to those giving the $, most of whom even if they're funding pure science are interested in particular applied ramifications. (i.e. if you're the dept of defense, how to make things go boom -- if yr. doing physics related to chemicals in dna, maybe how to understand cancer)

so we have to conclude that kuhn's story either doesn't hold or that "normal science" is nonparadigmatic or that it held in the special cases he examined but not today. which then means we have to ask what made it hold more for say concepts of physical motion from the greeks thru newton than now, which then means we have to say maybe this is because kuhn wasn't constructivist ENOUGH and so he can actually describe an activity called "doing science" that the greeks and newton both did, and this abstracted "doing science" contains in it the seeds of how kuhn can describe what "doing science" involves. which is to say we have to ask what about these historical actors kuhn left out b/c it wasn't "doing science."

another thing we can do with kuhn is ask if his NORMATIVE perscriptions were correct, which argued that a paradigm-driven "normal science" that he described was the "best" type of science to do b/c the loss in freedom of topics to explore was made up by a wealth of specifics.

which can also be asked by positing that paradigm-driven normal science does exist and does provide a specific set of anomoly-related questions to answer and then posing the question -- if one IS to accumulate a specialized body of data is the best way to accumulate this data and theory to choose the specialized areas of research based on anomoly-resolution ANYWAY?

we can also ask do scientists THINK they are doing "normal science" involving anomoly-driven puzzle-solving and do they think this more now that kuhn is widespread than before he was, and does kuhn's dissemination have a role in why ppl. think this is what they are doing more now. and does kuhn's dissemination also mean that they are more reflexive towards their paradigms than before.

this also reminds me that i have to read Leviathan and the Air-Pump.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Tuesday, 26 July 2005 05:21 (fifteen years ago) link

sterl's argt condensed: kuhn relativizes the cartesian divide without overturning it, and therefore renders it general.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Friday, 29 July 2005 22:33 (fifteen years ago) link

xpost

I've read through your post several times without seeing where Kuhn's story is wrong or why you conclude that physics as it's currently practiced is not paradigmatic. I wonder what you think "paradigmatic" means. The phrase "anomaly-driven problem solving" isn't relevant to the question - it's a straw man, since Kuhn never said that the problem solving in normal science is mostly devoted to explaining anomalies. Whether it is or not is beside the point, at least in regard to the concept "paradigm," given that according to Kuhn all problems within a normal science - not just the anomaly-driven ones - must be approached within the framework of the accepted paradigms, and most use exemplars. The question of whether there is life on Mars is not anomaly-driven, but nonetheless is within the paradigms of modern chemistry and biology. For what it's worth, where Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions discusses anomalies (chapter 6), they are not the bread and butter of normal science but rather the precursors to revolutionary science (albeit the result of normal science).

A quick example that illustrates both normal and revolutionary science (and I don't pretend to understand the physics that I'm summarizing): When Planck back in the 1890s and early '00s, doing normal science, tried to derive a distribution law for black-body radiation, he modeled his derivation after Boltzmann's derivation of the entropy and velocity distribution of a gas. So Planck wasn't trying to fix an anomaly, but rather to solve problem B by following a strategy used earlier in solving a similar-seeming problem A. This is an example of what Kuhn means by normal science, and Boltzmann's derivation is an example of what Kuhn means by an exemplar. Again, what makes it normal science of its day is that it uses an accepted model and is within the framework of classical physics. What eventually takes it out of normal science and makes it revolutionary is that one of the adjustments that has to be made to Boltzmann's method in order for it to work on the black-body problem is that energy levels have to be posited as discontinuous; this adjustment blows a hole in classical physics. (By the way, according to Kuhn, Planck didn't recognize at first that discontinuity was a requirement - he had in fact botched his derivation, though this was only discovered later by Einstein, who'd already figured out in 1906 (as had Ehrenfest) that discontinuity was required. Planck himself didn't come around to this view until 1908 (according to Kuhn).)

Your point about money is as irrelevant here is it was upthread. Why shouldn't problem solving go where the money is? If you want to say that Kuhn's account of normal science is wrong, you have to show that, whoever chooses the problems, and however the research is paid for, (1) the science conducted does not model itself upon strategies derived from previous puzzles, and (2) the science is not conducted within the framework of accepted paradigms.

"Pure science" versus some other sort of science (that paid for by the Pentagon, etc.) is your bugaboo, or Fuller's, but it has nothing one way or another to do with Kuhn, who never uses the phrase "pure science" or distinguishes between pure and impure. The question as to whether the science is "pure" or not, and who pays for it, simply has no bearing on the concepts "paradigm" and "normal science."

Mind you, I don't understand modern physics well enough to speak with any competence about whether it's paradigmatic or not, or whether it's going through a protracted crisis or not. Physicists don't seem to be acting as if it's in crisis, at least not in accounts read by this layman. Whether it's in crisis or not, relativity and quantum physics don't seem to be on the verge of being abandoned, and physics hasn't broken into two competing schools, those who support relativity versus those who support quantum physics, has it? Therefore, I don't see how you can say that physicists don't share the same disciplinary matrix/paradigm.

Also, is the lack of a unified field theory an anomaly? I suppose this depends on how one defines "anomaly." My understanding or - misunderstanding - of modern physics is that relativity can't be reduced to quantum terms and vice versa. However, if no one's challenging the terms themselves - i.e., relativity isn't making quantum physics wrong, and quantum physics isn't making relativity wrong - then there's no urgency, and no anomaly. Even if you think there should be urgency, the lack of urgency doesn't in any way undermine the concepts "normal science" and "paradigm," and Kuhn never said that crises must lead to revolutionary science. And - conversely - in the postscript that he added in the second edition of Structure in 1969, he said that he'd overemphasized the role of crisis in provoking a paradigm shift and that scientific revolutions need not invariably be preceded by crisis.

(I'm once again talking in ignorance, but it seems to me that an example of a potential anomaly in physics would be if "dark energy" was determined not to exist, making the accelerating expansion of the universe a true anomaly, i.e., something not yet explicable by the theory of relativity.)

kuhn also claims that generally paradigms don't shift within generations but between them and a key reason they are ABLE to shift is young ppl. come in and accept the new ones and the old foax eventually go away.

Well, first off, even if Kuhn had said this, it wouldn't be an integral part of his ideas. But in fact it's not what he said. He said the shifts sometimes take a generation, implying it's because oldsters are less likely to make the shift than are young 'uns, but he didn't say that no one in the old generation accepts a shift, which would be absurd, since sometimes the guy who starts the shift is in the old generation himself, e.g. Copernicus, Planck. Kuhn's own writing shows examples of adherents of an old theory going over to the new: Lorentz and Jeans, for instance, in regard to the quantum (and Planck too, for that matter). Whether the scientists are old or young, a significant number of scientists in a field must be converted from the old paradigm to the new one, and old people dying off won't have an impact on whether young 'uns convert if the young 'uns don't have good reason to. People aren't born into a new paradigm; they have to invent it, or embrace it.

So your word "key" and your capitalization of "ABLE" are very wrong. The key reason that a paradigm is able to shift is not that old people die off but that the new paradigm does stuff that the old one can't. That is what chapter 12 of Structure is about. The idea that old people have trouble accepting a new theory was old hat (Kuhn: "these facts and others like them are too commonly known to need further emphasis"). Kuhn's reason for bringing it up was to emphasize that shifting one's allegiance to a new paradigm was like a conversion experience, but also that people who resisted the new paradigm were not being irrational - that the functioning of science in its normal state demands that a lot of scientists assume that the paradigm they've got "will ultimately solve all its problems, that nature can be shoved into the box the paradigm provides." In any event, look at pp 150-159 of the second edition of Structure, and you'll see that Kuhn is chiefly concerned not with what prevents people from adopting a new paradigm, but rather with what persuades them to.

Also, a reason that paradigm shifts may take a generation or longer is that it takes a while for the new paradigm to be worked out. That it took until 1928 for quantum physics to pull itself together into a paradigm wasn't due to obstruction by fogies but rather due to the whippersnappers taking that long to come up with a worked-out model. So when we talk of "competing" paradigms, we're being somewhat misleading, since the "new" paradigm doesn't fully exist yet: It's under construction. Even if everyone has abandoned the old paradigm, the revolution isn't over until the construction is substantially complete.

Here's a thought (based on what Kuhn himself said): What's a crisis for one person might not be a crisis for others, hence what's a reason for overhaul for one person won't be for another. Was astronomy really in a crisis in the early 1500s due to the need for calendar reform and to the imprecision of Ptolemy's system? Hadn't these "problems" been known for years, without anyone revamping cosmology due to them? Maybe it was a crisis for Copernicus but wasn't a crisis for astronomy and physics until the Copernican ideas began to be plausible to more than a few intellectuals; it was then that you had to come up with a new concept of motion. So you could say that Copernicus caused the crisis more than that he responded to one. To return to the quantum discontinuity, in Kuhn's account it wasn't introduced in response to any big crisis but just because in 1906 Einstein and Ehrenfest realized you couldn't derive Planck's distribution law without it. This is what caused all the excitement and led to rethinking a bunch of other stuff as well.

Again, the pieces by Kuhn that I recommend most are "Revisiting Planck," which is reprinted as the Afterword to the second edition (i.e., U. of Chicago rather than Oxford) of Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894-1912, and "What Are Scientific Revolutions?" which is the first article in The Road Since Structure. I still feel that you and I are talking passed each other, and that you don't have Kuhn's ideas fully in sight. Some preconception or need is blocking your vision, or distorting it. Kuhn's most crucial ideas - his opposition to teleology, his belief that scientific knowledge does not accumulate incrementally, his quasi-Darwinian account of how different scientists vary in their response to anomalies, his idea that scientists use models rather than following rules, and his understanding that a scientific revolution doesn't simply involve adjusting theories to facts, since the new theories create different "facts," which is what makes them "incommensurable" with the old - haven't yet piqued your interest. One thing you need to do is to set aside for the time being questions relating to mainstreams and margins and whether good stuff gets shunted aside when paradigms dominate and whether power relations as they reveal themselves in science are fair or not. You might even want to set aside for the moment the question of whether Kuhn is right or not and rather make an effort to get inside of Kuhn's head - become Kuhnian, as it were, in relation to Kuhn. Study Kuhn's writing from "the viewpoint that gives [his] opinions the maximum internal coherence and the closest possible fit to nature." Assume that, within his framework, he knew what he was about. E.g., he lived until 1996, and he certainly would have noticed that physics hadn't come up with a unified field theory, and he would have known what postwar physicists spent their time working on - he'd been trained as a physicist, after all. So you have to ask yourself why it didn't, from his point of view, jump out at him that his story either doesn't hold or that normal science is nonparadigmatic or that it held only in the special cases he examined but not today. Assume that - in fact - from his point of view, his story does hold today and that normal modern physics is paradigmatic. Read him with an eye towards finding out what that point of view is.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Sunday, 7 August 2005 03:10 (fifteen years ago) link

you cretin

ulrich schnauss, Sunday, 7 August 2005 03:16 (fifteen years ago) link

sterl's argt condensed: kuhn relativizes the cartesian divide without overturning it, and therefore renders it general.

I can't make sense of this statement. It's written in some sort of code that I was never taught.

Anyway, for the sake of argument, let's say that, except where I explicitly dispute Kuhn, every idea that I attribute to Kuhn on this thread can also be assigned to me. And of course any of the ideas on this thread that I seem to be presenting as my own can also be assigned to me, even if I stole them. So now let's rewrite your sentence as follows:

kogan relativizes the cartesian divide without overturning it, and therefore renders it general.

So, now, explain and support this contention, using the actual words on this thread as your evidence. Not from anywhere else; just this thread. If you think an idea or an assumption is Kuhn's/Kogan's, check the idea against the words on this thread. And if a sentence or two on this thread seems to point towards a particular belief being Kuhn's/Kogan's, check to see if other Kuhn/Kogan words on the thread are compatible with that belief.

A brief thought, from Kogan if not Kuhn: Descartes' mind-matter divide has nothing to do with the functioning of science one way or the other, including Descartes' science. ("Nothing to do with" being a bit of an exaggeration. Descartes and others never put the divide into effect, but some of them used the divide in their philosophy, some of which was used to justify, explain, and protect science. But it was never an integral part of science.)

Another brief thought from Kogan: I haven't read Descartes in 30 years, and don't remember much of what I did read.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Sunday, 7 August 2005 04:13 (fifteen years ago) link

(Futile attempt to get someone to respond to my actual ideas.)

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Sunday, 7 August 2005 04:15 (fifteen years ago) link

your attempts would be better timed in about thirty-odd hours from now

kingfish (Kingfish), Sunday, 7 August 2005 07:55 (fifteen years ago) link

if it doesn't have anything to do with 'intellectual' analysis of gwen stefani videos, folx here ain't interested

Atom Heart - Dots, Sunday, 7 August 2005 08:30 (fifteen years ago) link

bloody khunts

latebloomer (latebloomer), Sunday, 7 August 2005 13:09 (fifteen years ago) link

Two years ago I contributed the gnomic thought to this thread that tigers have stripes to distinguish them from horses. Well, there's been a paradigm shift in my thinking since then. I now believe that tigers only exist because tiger stripes require it. I was too naive to see, back then, that stripes have tigers and not vice versa.

Momus (Momus), Sunday, 7 August 2005 14:42 (fifteen years ago) link

i know a thomas kuhn! he went to antartica. he's crazy.
i don't think it's the same person though. hmmmm

dahlin (dahlin), Sunday, 7 August 2005 14:44 (fifteen years ago) link

Kuhn's most crucial ideas - his opposition to teleology, his belief that scientific knowledge does not accumulate
incrementally, his quasi-Darwinian account of how different scientists vary in their response to anomalies, his idea that
scientists use models rather than following rules, and his understanding that a scientific revolution doesn't simply involve
adjusting theories to facts, since the new theories create different "facts," which is what makes them "incommensurable" with
the old - haven't yet piqued your interest.

I can't give a full answer to yr. post right now Kogan, which would involve the "cartesian divide" thing and also pulling objectionable quotes from Kuhn on "normal science." I will though, I promise. In the meantime, the points you consider Kuhn's main ones are interesting, and are useful, but aren't all that contestable. Opposition to teleology and belief that scientific knowledge doesn't accumulate incrementally are key, yeah, but once you accept them then.. what. I want to know what you think Kuhn thinks "normal science" mainly involves.

One interesting extension of Kuhn was by Lakatos who coined the idea of "Kuhn loss" which encompasses the *destructive* element of scientific revolutions -- those things which had been theoretically encompassed prior, but which a new paradigm fails to account for.

(v/v the cartesian divide thing, a small explanation for now is that Kuhn holds that every paradigm is as "true" as every other -- hence relativizes -- but, he holds that there is a divide between those who CREATE the paradigms and those who do the "puzzle solving" of "normal science" -- hence between the theorizers and the "doers" and so rather than bridging the gap between "theory" and "reality" [i.e. mind and body, knowledge and substance, etc] he simply creates many theory-reality pairs. a monist account of science would recognize that the difference between paradigm-innovative science and "normal" science is in how they are recieved nore than how they are conducted, and thus render them part of a single process rather than two distinct entities)

Secundus Covarient (s_clover), Sunday, 7 August 2005 23:23 (fifteen years ago) link

Since you say you don't know that much about philosophy and science, you can't evaluate your take on Kuhn by evaluating his take on Plato, modern physucs, etc.(comparing your take on Plato and modern physucs to his). So why should we bother evaluating your take on Kuhn by reading him?Not meaning that as a reproach,but it's what I'm wondering. Why don't you just present your ideas as your ideas, anyway? Kuhn is one source, but we shouldn't get hung up on causes and effects, right?H In other news (I'm not that familiar with this whole thread, but that's okay, right?) effect can't cause its own cause in the sense that, say, Fire Outbreak X27 caused the conditions that started it, but that outbreak can cause the conditions (heat causing chemical change, etc.) that cause another fire, in another part of the area{one that couldn't be reached by the time-space of pre-Fire Outbreak X27, of Fire Outbreak X27's birthing spot]; indeed, these conditions might extend the duration and intensity of Fire Outbreak X27 as well as causing the cause of X27. So, while there is some sigificant degree of truth in "a cause can't cause its effect," there can also be siginicant degree of its almost being true (to somebody studying or otherwise effected by the fire's pattern, for instance)(does this effect extend to anyone reading this?)

don, Monday, 8 August 2005 03:59 (fifteen years ago) link

oops I meant "extend the duration and intensity of Fire X27 as well as causing the cause (heat affecting combination of chemicals etc.) of Fire X28": self-perpetuating/preserving *and* effecting the next unit of the same phenomenon.But mebbe you covered that in a class I missed?

don, Monday, 8 August 2005 04:06 (fifteen years ago) link

(another of yr. influnces, I'm reminded by reading and not reading this whole thread, is Wittgenstein--how do you compare him to Kuhn [TS: KUHN VS LUDWIG!] I know I told you to leave that stuff alone and present your "own" ideas but you got me hooked and these are your own too:misprision, swing with it daddyo!)

don, Monday, 8 August 2005 04:28 (fifteen years ago) link

six years pass...

attn kogan: http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php?type=&id=564&fulltext=1

s.clover, Friday, 20 April 2012 20:32 (eight years ago) link


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