Thomas S. Kuhn

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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 isn't a considered reply to Mark (to come, perhaps), just some immediate responses.

I don't see a basic gap between how car mechanics/car manufacturers take road trips and how other people take road trips, so I don't assume there's a major gap between how musicians respond to music and how nonmusicians respond. Of course, we can claim that musicians are like drivers and listeners like passengers, but I reject that. (And anyway, what do drivers do when someone else is driving? How different is their passengering from a nondriver's?)

On ILX is there a gap between writers and readers? (The latter are called "lurkers.")

Haven't you made a disanalogy? You start by talking of Writer A's conception and Writers B, C, D, E, F, G, H's written responses (new conceptions). Then you jump to Musicians A, B, C, D's music and listeners E, F, G, H's responses.

When would it make sense to say that a dancer is trying to decode a piece of music? (Say, when he's been told to dance differently to cumbias, boleros, and rancheras, and is trying to figure out which he's hearing.)

Do you consider dancers "unschooled listeners"? How about people who sing and clap in church? Members of the choir? Producers, publicists, A&R people? DJs? Retailers? What about nonprofessional musicians who've been to music school? How about professional musicians who haven't? What about the people - such as Mark Sinker (who has stated publicly that he can play "Prelude 20" by Frédéric Chopin) and me - who have learned an instrument at some time or another (and perhaps still play)?

I see different roles (and far more than the two that your musician-listener dichotomy implies), but not always different people in them. Incommensurability or something like it only becomes an issue when roles and expectations get confused or come into conflict. "Stating and receiving concepts" may not be a good analogue, though. (It may not be the best for talking about incommensurability among scientists, either.) "Differing understandings of what the other person is doing" would be better. Do you have any examples?

The gap that I would see (which applies to any product, not just music) is between understanding what the person who made the product is doing and understanding how you yourself can use it. But I don't necessarily see the former inhibiting the latter. Maybe it'll be the guy who can't tell a bolero from a cumbia who develops a great new dance out of the bolero, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Robert Christgau, in Why Music Sucks #2: "Does making music remove you from the audience? Not necessarily, but it changes your relationship to it - not least by inclining you towards music that enriches your own music instead of music that enriches your own life."

What I immediately thought when I read this (as did Chuck, I found out) was, "What about music that enriches your writing?" And from there, what about music that enriches your teaching (if you're a teacher), your politics (if you're a politician or an activist), your sex appeal (if you're a prostitute), your social understanding (if you're a sociologist)? What baffles me is Christgau's "instead of." Sure, musicians have special interests; what doesn't make sense is to say that serving those interests somehow isn't serving their lives, or that those interests would somehow truncate the rest of their interests. Comes across as "Can't walk and chew gum at the same time." If you go to high school, you'll gravitate towards music that enriches your high-school experience, if you go to ILM you'll gravitate towards music that enriches your ILM experience; if you're a musician that goes to high school and/or ILM, would this suddenly make you move away from music that enriches your high-school and ILM experience? Seems to me that it might, rather, inspire you to play music that enriches your high-school and ILM experience.

(Of course, as a writer I make a special effort to detract from my readers' life experiences. Maybe this is where incommensurability comes in.)

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Thursday, 29 May 2003 02:44 (seventeen years ago) link

I'm finally giving this thread a bash. It's awfully impressive.

Tim Finney (Tim Finney), Thursday, 29 May 2003 04:11 (seventeen years ago) link

Okay so Meltzer and uh, say, Reynolds or even Danyel Smith. Incommensurable maybe. Why? Coz when they use the word "music" they mean different things, different ways of hearing, different things to listen for, different ways to live. Better yet Meltzer and Adorno -- coz I know f'sure they both confused their personal experience -- their set of revelations and narrowscope whizbangboom belief in art as doing THIS in THAT way -- they're incommensurable, no?

And maybe its precisely coz of what you hinted at in yr voice review of Meltzer: http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0026/kogan.php

His ability to write and ability to understand music in reverse proportion coz his writing coheres as an ethos, a worldview, a sharp fixity of intent. And the sharper it gets the less the ethos of this or that musician can intrude. The less he could have a damn thing to say about anything new (like rap -- did he *ever* have anything to say about it) coz the way he heard didn't let the things it did in. But to write as G-U-D as he did, he hadta keep hearing that way, keep feeling that way. So you compare him with someone like Adorno who could only hear the sedimented sociality in a difft. sorta music and even though they're talking about the same thing -- ppl. and how they listen to and treat one another -- there's no way to map the discourses.

So then maybe there's no one ruling "disciplinary matrix" of rock but a set of competing discourses and languages. Or maybe there IS a disciplinary matrix. After all how often does "the Stones were better before they started writing most of their songs" get y'know, published? Just like there are always kooks in science and competitions for theoretical frameworks, you've understood for ages that yr. ideas make you a "kook" in rockwrite.

But look -- the other point Kuhn makes is that incommensurable things are COMPARABLE, right? But posit that difft. critics & schools have their own "languages" or better yet "discourses" -- sets of precepts and methods too ("when in doubt, write about something else" "analyze the lyrics" "unknown bands deserve the biggest props" "what matters is how it makes *you* feel" etc.) and then ask if you can actually compare them the way you can compare scientific paradigms. ("Using Newton's motion we can launch a cannonball with .5 foot precision." "Using Kogan's hallway/classroom idea we can start to explain the theory/practice divide.")

Lets say we call this non-translatable and non-comparable (these are, ahem, comparative terms of course) sort of thing "strong incommensurability" and ask why it would be a useful term to have around.

Well okay -- the moment you ask "why would we want to launch a cannonball with etc." the answer comes from another field of discourse: politics, religion, military strategy, etc.

But ask why we might want to explain the theory/practice divide and things get dicier. Not coz there aren't reasons but coz "we" don't talk about them, and there's no sustained and continuous discourse to do so in even.

So meltzer, like adorno, & probably like reynolds and smith for that matter well I think they'd all like to explain that divide & probably bridge/eliminate it too. But they don't even have a way to talk to one another convincingly about it.

So okay suppose we tend to listen to things that enrich who we are (what we do, even) and we each make our own ethos out of it. How do we communicate except in more things which we seek or avoid depending on how they enrich who we are? Which is to say, how do we share enough common facets of an ethos so that our words and concepts line up at least roughly? Well see even if I like lotsa stuff Meltzer hates, Meltzer himself (or his writing at least) enriches my experience.

So what you have is this mutating field of exchanged missives of ways of experiencing the world shufflepucked around through, from, about, etc. those who are experiencing the world, of which the field is a part. All of which is actually by way of answer to oops who posed the puzzler "what good is criticism if all it produces is more criticism?"

Well, criticism produces people too, and the music they produce, and the way they feel about it, and etc. And the trick then is that to judge if Koganism is better than Adornism is better than Meltzerism is better than SFJonesism is better than oopsism you havta pass judgement on the whole friggin shebang. (For "better" in the last sentence, read "more useful" and insert "and what you wanna do with it" after "shebang").

Which is maybe why more people don't talk about this stuff.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Thursday, 29 May 2003 04:40 (seventeen years ago) link

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)

Mark, I don't want to say that this can't happen (more good ideas generated from an originally unclear, badly worded expression than would have been generated if the expression had been better worded and clearer), but it's rare, in my experience. We remember the good mishearings, but most of the mishearings aren't worth remembering, and we don't remember them. Mishearings tend to lead to convention and cliché, the same pseudoconceptions rendered endlessly. In any event, if I mishear an idea, it may improve the idea, but it won't improve my ideas, because I'd just have heard what was already in my head, rather than learning something new.

Putting aside the question of whether I state my ideas well or poorly, I can only think of one time in the past 18 years - since I started publishing criticism - when someone improved an idea of mine by misreading it.

I think that you arbitrarily and incorrectly believe that clarity entails closure, and you follow a stream of consciousness that goes "well-worded = clear = nothing more to say = boring" and "poorly worded = unclear = more to say = interesting." So you only see two possibilities, where I see 16. You see a poorly worded conception as leading to a multiplicity of misconceptions, but for some reason you can't see a well-worded conception as leading to a multiplicity of other conceptions; it's as if ideas could only lead to other ideas by being misunderstood.

Putting aside the question whether Copernicus and Kepler expressed their ideas well or poorly, some people managed to understand those ideas; and those who not only understood but tended to accept the ideas were then faced with the question of how to develop a new mechanics to explain planetary motion, since if the Sun really was at the center, there was as yet no good way to explain either why the planets moved as they did and - now that it was decided that the planets were material bodies like the Earth - why they didn't all fall into the Sun. If Copernicus and Kepler hadn't been understood, there'd have been nothing to explain, and no new ideas (including none of the ideas that superseded Copernicus's and Kepler's).

There have been a lot of ideas in physics and cosmology since Kepler, despite the fact that people sometimes understand each other.

By the way, "well worded" doesn't always mean "clearly worded." Sometimes you communicate better and the readers learn better if you make them do some work. But you need to give them the material to work with. (You know this already, and you know that I know it. I just want everyone else to know that I know it.)

(Can't there be various different strategies: e.g., express an idea "clearly" in one instance and "unclearly" [or incompletely, or differently] in another, as if it were a different idea, and seek out people who will get it wrong and those likely to get it right?)

If by some miracle of high-speed education all current listeners were inducted into the knowledge that gave them musicians’ ears, music, far from flourishing, would decline.

You don't say which musicians' ears we would get. If I get Pablo Casals's, I can do a good job of detesting and misunderstanding the Beatles, since he thought they were the worst sort of garbage. (That's what I remember reading, anyway.) It seems to me that you probably shouldn't have separated out your point iv from your point iii.

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

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

Yes he can. But he will have to train himself to. A drawing teacher who works with young children might want to do just this.

When I read, I barely notice sentence structure, though when I write, I think about it a lot. Sometimes I will deliberately reread a favorite book in order to observe the sentence structure, so I can learn from it. But I rarely have the discipline to keep this up. After a few pages I just go back to reading normally.

Is someone who can play Beethoven but not Brown someone who can "play"? He can't play Brown, after all.

Casals is in the position of someone who can't "hear" the Beatles, and he will have to learn how. But "learning how to hear the Beatles" can consist of a number of things; does it mean understanding what the Beatles were doing, or does it mean understanding what he, Casals, can do with the Beatles? As I've been saying, the first can be a pathway to the second, but it isn't the only way. What strikes me as wrong is your tendency to believe that the first bars us from the second. And this is where you and I might be at loggerheads.

If there's anything analogous to "incommensurability," it's that to understand what the Beatles were doing back then we have to deliberately not take into account what we do with the Beatles now, since if we "read" the past as precursor to the present then we don't understand it. And besides wanting to know "Beatles then" for its own sake, it might hold surprises for us.

The most interesting passage I've written this year is:

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.

Interesting, because it's truly an idea I'd never run into until I'd read Kuhn. And if young man Kuhn had simply decided that Aristotle's physics was as poorly thought and unclear as it had first seemed to him, and he hadn't worked hard to break through and understand it clearly, then he wouldn't have come up with his idea of incommensurability. All of which seems more interesting than if Kuhn had read into Aristotle ideas that Aristotle had never envisaged.

Is this fair to say: You've a sense that the culture and concepts that have been given us are potentially spare and closed, and so our way into abundance must be through subterfuge and mistake?

Xgau misread my PBS metaphor in Why Music Sucks as my wanting to get out from under my knowingness, whereas I'd thought I was using it to get us out from under an area of overcontrol where the symbol stood in for the event. See upthread where I claim that to expand knowledge is also to expand the unknown, hence knowledge is no threat to novelty. (Readers, don't worry that I haven't given you enough info to figure out what I mean by "an area of overcontrol where the symbol stood in for the event." It's not important to this thread, except in that I hope it will be important to Mark, who I hope already understands what I'm referring to - important in this sense: I think that it's the area of overcontrol that you yourself are trying to get out from under, and that - at least on this thread - you've mistakenly fixed on "clarity" as the culprit, just as Meltzer and the Sits mistakenly fixed on "meaning," perhaps because they believed that they had a way out from under that.)

I still haven't bitten into what I think is the main nut of your post. That'll wait for later, but let me summarize where I think we are so far.

You are seeing a relationship between, and perhaps want to run together, two ideas that you are putting forth:

(1) Miscommunication and misunderstanding are frequently an advantage over, perhaps even in most instances are preferable to, "good" communication and "clear" understanding.

(2) Suppose that you belong to group of listeners Class A and ArfArf belongs to group of listeners Class B. Now it's certainly true that because of your different experiences, skills, imaginative inclinations, training, talents, etc. there are things that you know and ArfArf doesn't and things he knows that you don't, and most likely things that you know that he lacks the skills or imagination to ever know and things that he knows that you lack the skills or imagination to ever know. But that's just a gap in expertise, skills, etc., and there's nothing in principle that prevents someone like you from learning what someone like ArfArf knows and vice versa. But there's a further gap, the one that concerns you, and that is not only unbridged in fact but unbridgeable in principle. That is, one can move from Class A to Class B, but once one does, one has lost some of the attributes of Class A; and there are things known by members of Class B that cannot ever, no matter what, be known by anyone in Class A (because then that person would no longer be in Class A) and things known by people in Class A that can never, no matter what, be known by people in Class B.

Anyway, I think that point 2 is "the nut" of the matter (or perhaps the fruit of the matter, since in botany many nuts are fruits) and that you're proposing it as a serious position with practical - and good - consequences. (That is, you're not just playing word games of the form "Say that Class A are the people that don't know anything and Class B are the people that know something, then no one in Class B can ever know what it's like not to know anything.") Point 2, I think, rather than being similar to Kuhn's notion of "incommensurability," runs counter to it, but in running counter to it may help illuminate it. As a historian Kuhn made it his business to go back and forth between Class B and Class A and to understand what was known by people in both classes, and his concept "incommensurability" is the result of his being able to do so. Only by knowing both B and A was he able to decide that they were incommensurable.

Anon.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Friday, 30 May 2003 00:44 (seventeen years ago) link

Okay so finishing Vinyl Reckoning again (man wotta beautiful ruthless relentless BULLSHIT ending to a book) and I run into this:

"It isn't so much that rock history is or must be revisionist (it generally is, but so what?) but simply, and more to the point that it is and can't help but be visionist. Historical hands, insofar as they're dealt at all, are dealt to persons -- to singles and multiples of 'em. Persons are touchstones of the efficacy of chronology: how history did its thing. What exactly happened? Everything. But sequence, hierarchy, synchronicity -- scratch that -- the assertion of all such meat 'n' taters, of a calculus and phenomenology of micro-moment progression, scale, nuance, and tangent, is at least two-thirds the statement, voiced or unvoiced, of each and every rockcriticperson. His/her stab, strut, and (in a nutshell) oeuvre.

"Or let's do it this way. Every rockwriter (sportswriter) (geekwriter) has his/her own book of genesis. Has? Exudes. An Old Testament concatenated fable. Gospel according to fill-in-the-blank. Every critic a "witness," a zealot and crackpot, and everyone's testament different, heck, it had better be. A fragment from MY glorious goddamn scripture -- the Absolute unfolds itself, thusly (take it or take it):"

[also reading this I realized that I think I'd somehow begun to imagine that I like Greil Marcus' approach more than I really do, in the wake of ppl. picking on him for stupid things fairly frequently. but then I go search through the ILM archives and notice that I've talked about Hannah Marcus about twice as much!]

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Friday, 30 May 2003 06:27 (seventeen years ago) link

'The Beatles were not alone. The list of pop songwriters capable of touching on serious themes...harked back not to their pop predecessors such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, purveyors of doggerel notwithstanding the necromancy that surrounds them decades later, but to Woody Guthrie and the Weavers, the self-styled 'folk' songwriters of the American labor movement' - Jack Chambers, 'Milestones'

dave q, Monday, 2 June 2003 09:41 (seventeen years ago) link

I'm finally giving this thread a bash. It's awfully impressive.

I won't until I read Kuhn and Lord knows when that'll happen.

Michael Daddino (epicharmus), Monday, 2 June 2003 09:59 (seventeen years ago) link

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"

Which people? Which conceptions? Which ideas?

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Monday, 9 June 2003 03:54 (seventeen years ago) link

Joe Hardy [excitedly]: "It's raining. Do you know what that means?"

Frank Hardy [helpfully]: "Um. Drops of water are falling from the sky?"

Joe: "Ha ha ha. That's very funny. No, it means that we have to unload my umbrella stash. Come help me."

Frank [not moving]: "Oh. I thought it meant that we had to cancel our picnic."

Joe [impatiently]: "What picnic? I didn't know we'd planned a picnic. What are you talking about?" [Goes over to a closet and rummages around.]

Frank: "Well, we hadn't planned a picnic. But if we had, we'd have to cancel it. [Brightens up.] Unless we chartered a plane to some place where it wasn't raining."

Joe: "Help me with these umbrellas." [Lugs a box of about 30 umbrellas.]

Frank [still not moving]: "However, in weather like this, I suppose everyone will want to charter an airplane."

Joe: "Frank, stop babbling and help me with these. I'd bought them real cheap for just a situation as this. We'll go out and sell them on the street for four times what I paid. We'll make a bundle."

Frank [slowly walking over, grasps one end of the box, helps Joe carry it to the door]: "And with the profits we can charter an airplane, so we won't have to give up our picnic."

[Joe rolls his eyes.]

Frank: "I feel that I've been deprived of a picnic."

[Exeunt, with umbrellas.]

From this dialogue, we see that there is only one correct understanding of the sentence "It's raining," which is "We have to charter an airplane to fly us to a place where we can have our picnic." If anyone ever utters the sentence "It's raining," in whatever circumstances, and you understand it to mean something else, you are mistaken.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps there are many correct understandings of "It's raining." Perhaps there are practically an unlimited number of correct understandings.

So, there is no need to write willfully unclearly to produce a multiplicity of ideas. Clear understandings can provoke multiple responses.

Why would you assume otherwise?

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Monday, 9 June 2003 03:56 (seventeen years ago) link

Let me pose a question. Do you think it would be a good idea to walk? I mean overall, in general. So I'm not asking whether it would be good to walk in this particular circumstance, or that, or from here to there, or when a runner is on first, or towards or away, or for your health, or as opposed to riding or running. Nothing that specific. I just want to know in general whether walking is a good idea. Walking c/d.

With such a question, there is nowhere to put my feet, no world on which to tread. There's not even the possibility of walking in place, since there is no place.

A third thing, "motion" that belongs neither to Aristotle's conversation nor to Newton's, nor to anyone's, but simply "motion as it really is" or "the motion that's really there," is just as vacuous as "walking" is two paragraphs back - vacuous because in a vacuum.

And so it is with the word "metanarrative" on this thread, and "Chomsky" and "Foucault" and "pure science" and "idea unclearly expressed." I can imagine that billions of years ago, in distant galaxies, these words had sense because they lived a life, belonged to sentences that contrasted with other sentences. But here it's as if they've journeyed across the vastness of space and somehow have gotten caught in this thread's gravity but have yet to find a way to touch down - have not brought enough of their old world with them to carry along their old sense, but have not gotten enough of a role in this world to get a new footing.

Or perhaps they do lead a life here - it's their natural home, or their new one - but for some reason when I look at them they fall mute, and I'm the alien.

But I don't see why you would plump for this alienation - this adamant refusal to communicate and to understand, this insistence that worlds not talk to each other, that the creation of new worlds is dependent on the inarticulateness of the old.

There must be a story here, some reasons why a man would advocate this.

I get the sense of someone using a feather duster to brush against his own nerve endings, but I don't know how his words actually brush, or where the nerves send their impulses. In other words, I just don't know what's going on, what's at stake. I feel that the issue is a stand-in for something else, but I'm damned if I know what.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Monday, 9 June 2003 03:59 (seventeen years ago) link

Kuhn made it his business to go back and forth between Class B and Class A

So Kuhn had little interest in "philosophical skepticism." He rarely spoke of what we can or can't know, though he was concerned with what we do and don't know. "Incommensurability" has nothing to do with skepticism. That old physics is incommensurable with new doesn't mean that we can't learn the old physics. That there is no third thing - "what is really there" - to match the old and the new against doesn't mean that we can't have good reasons for choosing the new over the old.

But Mark is taking a position akin to skepticism, since he's saying that people with musicians' ears can't know what the unschooled listener knows, and vice versa. This isn't incommensurability, but incomprehensibility.

Philosophical skepticism actually refers to a whole mess of loosely related (or barely related) arguments. The one that might concern us would be something like this:

"I may believe that this thread is written in English, and my belief may be correct, but I can never know that this thread is in English. Just as I may be correct in believing that I know how to speak English, but I can't know that I know how to speak English." This is close to claiming that I can't know that I'm not just a brain in jar. Kuhn is right to be indifferent to such "skepticism," since the word "know" in those sentences is used so differently from "know" in "I know that she would like the Justin Timberlake album for her birthday" that the two words are homonyms. "Knowing" or not "knowing" the first sort of thing has nothing to do with knowing anything anyone ever needs to know.

"Incommensurability" doesn't imply that someone who knows modern physics can't learn Aristotelian physics, any more than it implies that someone who knows English can't learn French, or that someone who knows how to shop for groceries can't learn botany, or that someone who knows baseball can't learn tennis.

Of course, learning Aristotelian physics is difficult in a way that learning tennis or French or botany isn't, since there are no practitioners of Aristotelian physics to help us or to tell us whether we're doing it right. So this just means we have to use our best judgment. And though there may be practical barriers that prevent us from knowing Aristotelian physics as well as we'd like - missing documents, ideas that Aristotle never got to writing down in the first place, not enough knowledge of the ideas of Aristotle's contemporaries - there's no principle that says we can't understand an obsolete physics.

(By the way, I have no idea if the phrase "Aristotelian physics" is an anachronism, if or how Aristotle's "physics" separated out from his other ideas, or even if he used a term at all equivalent to "physics.")

I'm going to be using the phrase "what it's like" in the next few paragraphs, but it's one I feel iffy about. E.g., since I don't speak French, I can feel ignorant when everyone around me is speaking French. But in general, ignorance is not a feeling, a mood, or a state. I am ignorant of the languages that were spoken 20,000 years ago, but I wouldn't say I'm walking around in a state of ignorance because of it, or that I carry the ignorance inside me like a mood.

Mark, are you driving at something like this: The people who made Psycho are incapable of knowing what it's like for the audience not to know how the movie is going to come out; just as the person who's already seen Psycho is no longer able to experience what it's like not to know how the movie comes out? This argument is fundamentally wrong: The filmmakers are very aware of what it's like for the audience not to know; otherwise, the movie would not have been very suspenseful. And the person who's seen the movie can certainly imagine what it's like not to know how the movie comes out. And sure, he can't precisely relive the pleasure of seeing Psycho for the first time, but he can know what that pleasure is like, and if he wants something similar he can go see another suspense film.

Parents can understand what it's like for their toddler not to have a good sense of balance. An arithmetic teacher can have a good idea what it's like for his students not to know how to multiply and divide. If he wants to be any good, he'd better. Just as a drawing teacher needs a sense of what it's like not to know perspective, a reading teacher needs a sense of what it's like not to know the new vocabulary, a mystery writer needs to imagine what it's like not to know who done it. Even I, occasionally, take it into account that my readers haven't heard the record.

And Kuhn made it his business to understand what it was like for Planck not to know yet that energy came in quanta, and what it was like for Copernicus not to know what Kepler knew.

I think you're making a mistake in treating a social gap as if it's an intellectual one. That is, musicians don't always hang around the same people as their audience does, and so the musicians may have different social group with different goals and values, hence a different idea of what's going on and of what's worth doing. But this social difference is no stranger than any other social difference and no harder or easier to cross than any other social barrier, such as that between a jazz fan and a Britney fan. Also, the musician making a record may be engaged in a very different activity from the person who's hearing it on his car radio, or dancing to it. But so what? This doesn't tell me that the musician can't understand the listener's activity and vice versa, and doesn't tell me what the advantage is supposed to be in not understanding.

And I'm nowhere near to figuring out why you think that the words "concept" and "decoding" are relevant. They're mystifying.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Monday, 9 June 2003 04:08 (seventeen years ago) link

because "if a star should doubt..."

dave q, Monday, 9 June 2003 07:11 (seventeen years ago) link

(that was referring to your second-to-last post btw, not the last one)

dave q, Monday, 9 June 2003 07:23 (seventeen years ago) link

My God. I used to teach this stuff. Now I can't even understand it. But I'm not sure where the brain damage occurred.

colin s barrow (colin s barrow), Monday, 9 June 2003 07:37 (seventeen years ago) link

my idea started life as a deliberately perverse joke, on a dull thread where the dullness arose from the facts that both sides were falling over themselves to agree that clear writing is good writing — anyway i can't tell if frank is giving me a show-as-well-as-tell lesson in the wrongness of the idea or whether the fact that he's giving me this tell lesson is a show proof of the rightness of the idea

our brains are hardwired to "read" faces, and so we see them where they maybe aren't => :)

what i'm suggesting is that, since our brains are hardwired (or super-well trained) to "read" language (to prioritise this), music — which (often) presents as sounds-like-language-but-isn't — gives listeners a space to project meaning that isn't there onto it, to explore and discuss (but musicians find it harder to do this, because they already find a richness of musician-type things to discuss, and this front-brain activity distracts from the intuitive almost unconscious stuff that non-musicians receive much more strongly)

the gulf isn't absolute: but it takes real time to cross (length of a course in "learning to be a musician") (musicians could also teach themselves to turn down the volume of what their professional antennae were picking up on)

social vs intellectual space: i don't see why these need be dichotomous

the reason i'm resisting frank's call to be specific abt which musicians is that i also think the way this "generalised" gulf manifests varies tremendously between types of music (and also probably within types of music), and that rock in particular gained a lot of its social energy from allowing the line between "musician" and "non-musician" to blur, compared to the musics it likes to contrast itself with...

but to be aware of this difference — even if it's a phantom difference — you have to believe that someone believed in the phantom

frank is saying "i don't believe the phantom existed" (which is fine) but then going on to say "therefore belief in its existence can't have been a part of the reason things happened" (which is not)

(his point that i'm overstating in sceptical fashion is probably true, i wasn't being very careful about that — i was being playful and joky and trying to wriggle an idea out of my intuition into public space without moulding it into a more normalise shape: actually i'm NOT a sceptic, but i'm often mistaken for one by ppl who've done a lot of battling with sceptics)

understanding gulfs create many of our key social spaces (schools = obvious example) => but the fact that frank and i left school long ago isn't a proof that ppl just entering now don't need to go (something like this is often a sort of unwanted corollary of his argument about mutual understanding, i think)

mark s (mark s), Monday, 9 June 2003 09:02 (seventeen years ago) link

understanding something is like a journey, and there isn't this platform that certain blessed-learned ppl have got to where they've stopped having to go on journeys

if everyone instantly knew what was in everyone else's head instantly, the fun would go out of communication

the "wilfully unclearly" joke only works as a joke if the reader is aware that i don't really believe in what i'm saying, obv (that i'm making a plainly ridiculous argument against clarity to justify my own oft-times lack of same): HOWEVER having made the joke, then occurred to me that i do increasingly tend to read "achieved disciplinary ability" as the opening up of a gulf, and that the "closing of the gulf as if it never was" is NOT the purpose eg throwing a pot or writing a song or striking a pose

frank is saying that i'm saying the gulf is ultimately uncrossable
i'm saying he's saying there's never actually a gulf in the first place

but i think BOTH of these are wrong

mark s (mark s), Monday, 9 June 2003 09:35 (seventeen years ago) link

(for more on the intra-musician ethos of musicians, cf exchange between me and david on this thread)

mark s (mark s), Monday, 9 June 2003 14:12 (seventeen years ago) link

three weeks pass...
I find Sterling's post on rock critics to be strong, but if I ever get the chance to answer most of it, I'll do so on the Meltzer thread or one of the Frith threads, so that I can get into all the rockcrit stuff without being Kuhn relevant. (Another good reason to read Performing Rites is that Frith says that when we talk about music, each of us is running three different discourses at once!)

But here are a couple points in relation to Kuhn:

the moment you ask "why would we want to launch a cannonball with etc." the answer comes from another field of discourse: politics, religion, military strategy, etc.

This isn't necessarily true. It might be true as a matter of sociohistorical fact that for physicists now, the question of why you would want to launch a cannonball is not an integral part of their physics (even if a physicist, like everyone else, does ask such questions of political leaders); and it's probably true that Newton wasn't asking himself that particular question when he was developing his laws of motion. So perhaps, once we've studied the matter, we can conclude that "the answer comes from another field of discourse" rather than being an integral part of physics, but we can't assume this beforehand. This is one of Kuhn's points about the paradigms of the past being different from those of the present: They give us a different map of what counts as relevant. "The sun is the home of God and therefore the source of planetary motion" could once be a part of a great scientist's theory.

So then maybe there's no one ruling "disciplinary matrix" of rock but a set of competing discourses and languages. Or maybe there IS a disciplinary matrix.

No, this makes no sense whatever. As the rest of your post shows, rock criticism isn't within a megazillion light years of being a disciplinary matrix. I don't get why you'd say otherwise. It's as if we were discussing how to distinguish left hands from right hands, and you suddenly said, irrelevantly, "Or maybe left hands ARE right hands, but with their digits reversed and on the other arm." In trying to understand what Kuhn means by "ruling paradigm" and "disciplinary matrix," you need to wipe from your brain the idea of "majority vs. minority," or "mainstream vs. fringe," or "culture vs. counterculture." If there are competing paradigms, then there's no ruling paradigm, even if one side gets all the seats on the student council and gets to threaten the other side with being burned at the stake.

If I consider myself a rock critic, and if my ideas put me at odds with the core ideas of other people I consider rock critics, then there's no ruling paradigm, no disciplinary matrix. Period. Even if no other people agree with my ideas, or know of them, even if I'm a madman scribbling in the attic, if I think my ideas are good and that they are rock criticism, then I can't say that there's a disciplinary matrix without contradicting myself. "Ruling paradigm" means (I'm quoting Richard Rorty here) "solving problems against the background of consensus about what counts as a good explanation of the phenomena and about what it would take for a problem to be solved." If you and I aren't part of the consensus, then there isn't a consensus. Kuhn uses phrases like "working within a paradigm" to distinguish sciences in their normal phases both from sciences in their revolutionary phases and from relevant nonsciences; in the latter two, people don't share an overall disciplinary matrix. So you're not doing any good to claim that revolutionary sciences and nonsciences also have ruling paradigms, unless you're doing so in order to jettison Kuhn. Which you're allowed to do, but most people who want to do so try it from the other direction, by claiming that no science has a ruling paradigm and that the premises of a science are always under attack.

("Relevant nonsciences" might be psychology and economics and, um, semiotics, disciplines in which some members aspire to be "scientific" but which have not achieved consensus. I'm wondering if some sports can be said to have ruling paradigms. Or whether mathematics can. Rock criticism isn't even trying for consensus. Rather, it builds itself around maintaining basic disagreements.)

Obvious question: When is a premise seriously under attack? E.g., I don't think creationists have mounted a serious attack on natural selection or genetic drift, even if they eventually succeed at decreasing the funding for evolutionary biology. This is because "God did it" doesn't work as an interesting explanation in biology, and biologists therefore don't even have to bother with it, even if they do so elsewhere in their life.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Tuesday, 1 July 2003 20:31 (seventeen years ago) link

Evolutionary theory is perhaps not the best example for premise-under-attack--it's not like evolution was ever totally accepted and then this wacky new creationist theory arose to take it down. It's more the other way around: the creationists are under (prolonged) attack from the evolutionists. The last vestiges of the once-ruling creationist paradigm are being swept away, slowly but surely--there are just these last hiccups of resistance.

Check geocentric (is that the word? Universe revolving around the earth etc) vs heliocentric back in the day. The established premise/paradigm was under attack and (to extend the metaphor) defeated by the upstart.

adam (adam), Tuesday, 1 July 2003 23:51 (seventeen years ago) link

First off, I was using it as an example of premise not under attack. Second off, it is a good example, since if you don't accept evolutionary theory you're simply not a biologist, just as someone who doesn't accept quantum mechanics isn't a physicist. (I mean, assuming that what I've read is correct; I don't actually know the physics or biology well enough. But the point here is to understand what Kuhn meant by "disciplinary matrix," and why evolutionary biology is said to have one while rock criticism for sure doesn't.) "Ruling paradigm" and "disciplinary matrix" means "rules the discipline" not "is accepted by everybody in the world." The Copernican Revolution was won by Newton, even though the Catholic Church condemned it for another 200 years. My point is to distinguish a ruling paradigm (natural selection, genetic drift) from a nonruling paradigm ("rockism," if it were a paradigm rather than a buzz word). The difference isn't that there are no contrary voices in the world, but that if there's a ruling paradigm/disciplinary matrix, the discipline doesn't have to take the contrary voices into any kind of intellectual account. This is not the situation in philosophy, history, psychology, and so forth. A discipline with a ruling paradigm/disciplinary matrix, as Kuhn has defined it, is rare.

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Wednesday, 2 July 2003 14:33 (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

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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