A few weeks ago, I attended a birthday party at the University of Chicago called “Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” It was a stimulating event, and I left with many thoughts, problems, and puzzles. Below, I try to capture the gestalt of the presentations and discussions there. My post follows a nice summary that Michael Barany gave us of a sister Kuhn event at Princeton.
|Tom Kuhn Wants His Theories Back, You Hippie Sociologist!!|
If there was one theme that came through during the conference, it was a renewed interest in reasoning by exemplars, and the papers there suggested that a great deal of compelling work is being done on this topic and that a great deal more remains to be explored. At times, discussions of reasoning by exemplar took on the feeling of agenda-setting: some programmatic vision for the history of science being cast on the shores of Lake Michigan. We’ll see what it nets. You’ll see flashes of this theme throughout the summaries below.
This post is going to be damn long, and I apologize for that in advance. (Feel free to “tl:dr.”) My goal is to summarize the talks with as much fidelity as possible. No doubt the University of Chicago will put videos of the event up in no time, and all of this will have been fruitless, but perhaps someone will find it of use. I apologize to any of the speakers who I might paraphrase badly. (If I have gotten something egregiously wrong, please drop me a note, and I will change it.) I have broken the conference down by speaker. Lorraine Daston was first up.
Daston began her talk “History of Science without Structure” by bemoaning the vagaries of email. In the program, the word “structure” was printed in italics, which would refer to Kuhn’s book, but Daston wanted to discuss the more general social scientific notion of structure. “Structure” was a “word to conjure with in 1962,” Daston claimed, as Levi-Strauss and others were bringing the idea to the fore. Yet, perhaps no other word strikes current historians of science as dusty as structure. Many of the themes that Kuhn identified in his work have come back around, but “structure” hasn’t. The term “revolutions” remains a commonplace today, so why has “structure” fared so poorly?
Daston claimed that most current historians of science believe that no idea of structure could do justice to the nuance of their subject matter. Since the 1990s, the goal of history of science (HoS) has been to complexify, rather than simplify. Good papers are now “rich,” not incisive. Kuhn’s desire for history of science to go mainstream has been fulfilled, but his focus on historicism and the influence of that commitment undid ideas of structure. In this way, historians of science became historians by detaching themselves from philosophers. (During one Q&A session at the conference, an audience member joked something like, “As a philosopher of science, I’m annoyed by details.”)
Historicism also undid distinctions between science and other human endeavors. “Normal Science” evaporated under examination. Kuhn saw “unparalleled insulation” around science (the old demarcation/boundary work problem), but historians undid this view in the 80s and 90s. The contextualist approach of the 80s and 90s was not the old school externalism of Marxism (Hessen), Weber (Merton), etc. Rather, contextualism’s chops came from other social science fields: anthropology, literary theory, etc. The contextual pursuit of internal history led to “external sites”—outside the lab—where science was also conducted. In this way, HoS bid farewell to philosophy and sociology because these fields went to the general that historical investigation resisted.
For this reason, HoS diverged strongly from science studies. (Daston has, um, famously written about this topic before; scope Hank’s postmortem of that paper and an opposing one here.) In the 70s, you could ask any grad students in HoS departments what the Strong Programme was or about the idea of “experimenters regress,” but this is no longer true. If you look at Isis and other major HoS journals, very few recent articles are related to science studies. Daston claimed that, at about the same time that HoSers* (Trademark LJV) moved away from science studies, controversies around Kuhn’s Structure declined.
Kuhn would have been horrified that HoS has lost its theoretical underpinnings, even if this result came from his own historicism. Kuhn played with the idea that Gestalt psychology and other theories of visual perception were not simply analogies for paradigms in his work but were rather the way things really worked. Kuhn returned over and over to the visual. Throughout Daston’s talk, she ran video of experiments on visualization in which, for some days, a man wore glasses that inverted his field of vision. (I missed where and when this experiment was conducted.) Daston’s point in showing these videos was that, if you examine actual experiments on visualization, they don’t fit Kuhn’s view. In particular, they don’t fit Kuhn’s duck-rabbit analogy, in which an image can switch back and forth between two incompatible “pictures.” If you invert someone’s visual field, they only adapt slowly and in a piecemeal way, over days and weeks.
Rules partly explain how we adapt to new ideas/perceptions (it was unclear to me whether she thought Kuhn embraced rules, or whether this was her own recommendation). In this way, “practice” is what we have left of Structure/structure. This idea—that only rules can give us structure—is itself a product of history. The very idea that we learn from exemplars is all over 20th century thought; therefore, “paradigms” are not unique to science. Like learning to deal with an inverted visual field, learning to reason via exemplar is a gradual experience. It is context sensitive. It can be taught. Once again, this brings down the barriers that spell out science’s supposed uniqueness. Reasoning from exemplars can in fact be brought down to rule-following, though Kuhn thought it could not. This is where we should be looking and searching; this search may bring us back into contact with philosophy and sociology (she also later mentioned cognitive science).
During the Q&A period, Daston responded to a question by claiming that when historians of science focused was on ideas, the internal/external divide made sense, but the focus on practices undid all of this. Peter Galison said that we should remember that the Vienna Circle and Wittgenstein were also looking at Gestalt psychology during this time; perception was the model for knowledge. Another audience member said, “Look, vision as knowledge is a general idea in Western culture going back to forever.” A third audience member asked Daston, “Have historians of science really turned to history en masse? It seems that many just focus on more local theories.” Daston responded that the history of biology seems to hold onto philosophy and questions of “what is a theory” in ways other subfield don’t. The same audience member responded in turn, claiming that this might have to do with historians of evolutionary biology having to contend with creationists. These historians fall back on trying to distinguish what makes science “science.”
The title of George Reisch’s talk, “Aristotle in the Cold War: On the Origins of Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” is about as descriptive as they get. Reisch sought to historicize Kuhn in his Cold War context by meditating on the meaning of Kuhn’s so-called “Aristotle Experience.” (You can read more than I am going to say about the experience here.) Kuhn recounted that he had been sitting in his room during graduate school in 1947. He had been reading Aristotle’s Physics to determine how much mechanics in the later Newtonian sense the Greek philosopher knew. He quickly discovered that Aristotle knew no mechanics at all in the modern sense. In Aristotle, Kuhn found (what we often call) another “worldview.” Kuhn believed that Aristotle’s view of physics made sense, but only if you set aside the assumptions of Newtonian physics.
Kuhn sat in his room and flipped back and forth between the Aristotelian worldview of physics and the Newtonian one—duck, rabbit, duck, rabbit, duck. He described the Aristotle Experience like a kind of religious conversion. Most important, this notion of a history of science full of different, incompatible worldviews was much different than the progressive, accumulative picture held by Kuhn’s advisor, James B. Conant. The essence of science, for Kuhn’s emerging account, was “non-cumulativeness.” This also led him to history as something that could radically change our understanding of science, the sentiment that opens up Structure. As Kuhn recalled, “Nothing prepared me for the way science looks when viewed through the writings of dead scientists.”
Reisch sought to unpack the Cold War origins of the image of the scientific mind that is inherent in the Aristotle Experience. Reisch put it something like this, “It’s a picture of mind convinced not by proof but by persuasion.” Similar worried pictures of the human mind abounded during the Cold War, as people feared of communism’s persuading influence.
Conant was not much impressed with the first draft he saw of Structure. He felt that Kuhn overused the notion of paradigm and that it led to “needless problems about progress.” Conant believed that Kuhn should get rid of the paradigm altogether. Someone has likened this idea of Kuhn getting rid of paradigm to someone viewing A Street Car Named Desire and saying, “Look this play has some good parts, but that character Blanche has got to go.” Kuhn reacted to Conant by making paradigm even more central to his account. He also began to play up the conversion of the Aristotle Experience. Kuhn’s account of his own conversion changed over time. At first, he focused on reading sources (the idea of not being prepared that I have already quoted); later, he said that the Aristotle Experience came first.
Yet, Reisch asked, what did the Aristotle Experience really mean? Was it something that could be generalized across the history of science? Reisch thinks that Kuhn’s 1947 experience very quickly came to shape all of his later work. Kuhn’s earlier student papers look downright positivist. Kuhn was not yet Kuhnian. In one of his student papers, Kuhn insisted that the “essential thing” is data not concepts. Of course, he later inverted this notion, as he came to embrace postpositivist notions of “theory-ladenness” and “underdetermination” and whatnot.
An important part of Kuhn’s model is that the scientific mind is unaware of the different paradigms, including its own. The choice is not made by scientists, it is made for them by what in his early post-AE writings Kuhn calls “predisposition,” which largely has an unconscious basis. By 1951, the pieces were in place for Kuhn, including the idea that experience underdetermines theory. But Kuhn did not have paradigms in 1951. He only gained that late in 1960. Paradigms play the roles that Kuhn earlier attributed to language and predisposition. In moving towards this view, Kuhn’s picture was departing from Conant’s, but also from mainstream logical empiricism, including Carnap’s. Carnap agreed with Kuhn that mind must simplify the world, but Carnap, unlike Kuhn, believed that we are aware of this simplification.
Reisch then pointed to other works that had this people-as-dupes theory of mind during the Cold War, such as Arthur Koestler’s The God that Failed and The Sleep Walkers. Another prime example was Czeslaw Milosz’s anticommunist book, The Captive Mind, and both Milosz and Kuhn were at Berkeley in the 1960s. But Reisch wasn’t saying that Kuhn took the view from Milosz; rather he thinks this was the view that had already taken roost at Harvard in the late-40s and 50s. For instance, Conant’s 1947 essay on phlogiston chemistry makes misguided scientists sound like communist dupes.
Conant was facing constant worries about communists in the academy. In general, he maintained a philosophy of academic freedom, but Conant believed that communists were “out of bounds” as professors because they had sacrificed reason to politics. Conant did not create this picture of communists. It was largely the creation of NYU professor Sidney Hook. Communists had unfree minds. Hook began reviewing Conant’s books in 1948, and the men later became friends. Hook saw Conant as a good anti-communists who understood this idea of the unfree mind.
During the 1950s, as Kuhn was working himself from predispositions to paradigms, he played with the era’s idea of ideology: “the function of [scientific] theory as professional ideology.” In Kuhn’s view “professional ideology” limited creativity (just as paradigm’s later did). Reisch asked, was Kuhn aware that his ideas were highly politicized? At the time, probably not. Shortly after writing Structure, Kuhn wrote an essay on dogma in science. It did not go over well. Others convinced him to stop using the term dogma. Yet, Kuhn’s focus on dogma may have led Imre Lakatos to pair Kuhn against the radically anti-dogmatic Popper years later.
During the question and answer period, Reisch said that he was led to this paper by debates around intelligent design. IDers like to cast biologists as close minded and brainwashed. Additionally, an audience member pointed out that important factor in Kuhn’s belief that paradigms were unconscious was his experience undergoing psychoanalysis. (James Poskett pointed out to me—via Twitter no less—that John Forrester wrote about Kuhn and psychoanalysis. Here for those interested.) Reisch agreed that psychoanalysis probably played a role in Kuhn’s world view but insisted that we have to be careful here. Psychoanalysis talks about “unconscious ideas,” but paradigms are not ideas, so if the mind if captive to anything it is captive to (unconscious) practices.
Daniel Garber’s talk was called “Why the Scientific Revolution wasn’t a Scientific Revolution, and Why it Really Shouldn’t Matter to Kuhn.” In his slides, however, Garber has changed part of his title to “why it should matter to Kuhn.” He copped to feeling ambivalence. Over the last 30 years, Garber said, a chorus has tried to deny that the Scientific Revolution was a revolution. As Steven Shapin begins his book on the topic, “There was no such thing as the scientific revolution and this is a book about it.” But Garber asked, what lies behind this denial? Good history? Or a pomo attempt to undermine science and the Enlightenment? One colleague had warned Garber not to say that there was no such thing as the scientific revolution because it gives comfort to our enemies. He wondered aloud, “no doubt great things happened in 17th century, but was it a revolution?”
The more fundamental question, for Garber, is this: is it illuminating to liken changes in science to political revolution? One problem with this analogy: political revolutions are fairly clear. There is often a transition period where things are hazy, but this doesn’t go on forever. As Garber said, “Human nature abhors a power vacuum.” In Kuhn’s model, such change and transformation is also resolved clearly in a scientific revolution. (An aside: I once heard Paul Forman and Alexei Kojevnikov discuss someone who had written about the nature of revolutions either just before or during the time that Kuhn was in the Society of Fellows at Harvard. They postulated that Kuhn may have read this work. Kojevnikov also talked about how Soviet historians of science made heavy use of the revolution metaphor well before Kuhn.) For Kuhn, a choice between paradigms is like a choice between incompatible political regimes. But does this pattern fit the scientific revolution?
As Garber argued, we see lots of changes during the period of the “scientific revolution” (changes in practices, communication, education, instrumentation, social formations, etc., etc., etc.) But Garber chose to focus on one change: the eclipse of Aristotelian philosophy. Even contemporaries (historical actors) saw it as an essential change—the “New Philosophy.”
So does Kuhn’s model fit this case? Well, there were many attacks on Aristotelianism, including from Bacon and Galileo. Descartes explicitly presented himself as the new Aristotle, the new authority. This is what a scientific revolution looks like. But things are not so simple. Many other people challenged, complicated, and defended Aristotle’s views. Some saw challengers to Aristotle as a kind of club, and a small minded club at that. If Aristotle was the great eagle of thought, they saw the challengers as bunch of little chicks. Many terms were created for these “innovators,” the challengers who arose against Aristotle. The English term was “Novelists.” Major and minor figures were regularly listed as part of the club (Garber read a few of these lists aloud), but these thinkers held extremely varied views. Cartesianism as a movement may have fit Kuhn’s view, but there were so many other (kinds of) actors.
Some of these other actors and movements simply do not fit the Kuhnian image. For instance, a number of conferences were held during this period, each dedicated to an individual topic. The conferences often featured as many as 7 or 8 opposing views, and they had an openness of spirit. Indeed, Renaudot, who staged some of these conferences, was worried about “schools” presenting at the conferences because members would be wary of speaking their own thoughts. In other words, members would toe the party line. As Garber pointed out, here Renaudot sounds a lot like Cold Warriors worried about persuasion and brainwashing. Renaudot embraced the open mind. Renaudot held that “we should be no more willing to embrace Aristotle’s views than he was willing to embrace his predecessors’.”
As Garber argued, while some pretended to the status of being the new Aristotle, thought never really gelled around a single philosophy during this time. If we are looking for a winner, Newton would be a good candidate. But Newtonianism never had the scope of Aristotle. The varieties of anti-Aristotelianism never simplified into an alternative to Aristotle. Garber’s main punchline reminded American Science-er Lukas of something Janet Brown once noted about the persistence of variety, that scientific change was “not an eclipse so much as a Milky Way.”
In the end, Garber asserted that Kuhn was wrong; there is no reason that scientists cannot live without resolution. Science is not like politics in this way. No doubt Kuhnian revolutions do happen in science. When that happens we have what Kuhn calls “normal science.”
During the Q&A, Daston wondered, “Could this level of eclecticism exist in theology?” Garber said that we have to be sensitive to the case. Theology would be very different. Part of the problem is that natural philsoophy was so tightly tied to theology. To challenge a philosophy was to challenge theology. But we see increasing distance between these two spheres over time. He also said that few natural philosophers were willing to put forward a view an encompassing as Aristotle. We should also pay attention to efforts by some to reawaken other ancient philosophies as alternates to Aristotle during this time. Garber wanted to emphasize that things like scientific revolutions in the Kuhnian sense do occur: “I want to say that a transition from a geocentric to a heliocentric worldview really happened.”
Norton Wise’s talk was a meditation on his mysterious title, “A Smoker’s Paradigm.” Wise painted a picture of Kuhn’s ’71-’75 graduate seminars at Princeton, which covered such topics as electromagnetic theory and quantum Theory. The seminars used only primary sources, in original languages (English, French, German), about 100 pages of reading a week. He tried to have us imagine Kuhn sitting in the seminar room, saying slowly “Since no assimilation is possible,” before taking an impossibly long and deep drag of his cigarette, only to finish his sentence, “later analysts have dismissed his explanation to hand waving.” Wise’s metaphor is this: Kuhn was to the history of science as he was to his beloved smokes, deep and intense. He burrowed down into primary sources the way he ate cigarettes in a drag or two. (A friend, who also studied with Kuhn in the early 70s, calls bullshit on the idea that Kuhn burned up a whole cancer stick in only a few drags, though he did see Kuhn with more than one cigarette lit at a time. But even my friend would be entertained by Wise’s metaphor, which is after all meant to be fun. And, of course, we have the story of Kuhn throwing an ash tray at Erroll Morris’s head, and Lukas’s analysis of that tale here.)
Kuhn believed that previous history of science, especially history that scientists trafficked in themselves, tended to cover over problems with Whiggish explanations. The point of drilling down into primary sources the way Kuhn did was to uncover these problems and also to find the paradigms and paradigm shifts for which the man became so famous. But here we come to Wise’s central point:
For Kuhn, paradigms were very narrow and specific things, and they were only accessible to professionals. In Kuhn’s later book on black-body radiation, he talked of “paradigms” (he doesn’t actually use that term there) being possessed by 100 members in one place, 25 in another. Paradigms are, to use Kuhn’s words, precise, esoteric, and professional. (Earlier, I think, Wise discussed how he [Wise], Kuhn, and others actively involved in the seminars had serious scientific training [mostly all in physics, I imagine] and how they went extremely deep and in step-by-step detail into the scientific reasoning of the primary sources. Wise’s recounting of this fact about the seminar as well as his pointing out of Kuhn emphasizing the “professional” nature of paradigms recalls to mind the now moldy discussion about whether historians of science should be scientists.) Wise gave a brief example of how small and esoteric Kuhn thought paradigms were by pointing to, what Kuhn saw as a significant change, Max Planck’s very minute shift in counting procedures.
So, this is Wise’s puzzle about Structure: what is with these references to community in the book? The references seem to lead to socio-cultural explanations, but Kuhn himself uses the internal-external distinction to create a buffer for science. Wise pointed to a rhetorical move that Kuhn made throughout his career: he would reference some factor that might be important to the story but then set it aside by arguing “but this isn’t important in this essay.” These rhetorical gestures towards the idea suggest that you care. Wise claims that this is what Kuhn was doing by reference to the sociological aspect of paradigms. In fact, it precludes what it invites. For Kuhn, “community” extends no further than those individuals represented in the narrative (“100 members in one place, 25 in another”). Paradigms are about a set of deeply involved scientists making a change around some small thing. This isn’t the “community” that sociologists discuss, nor the notion that historians of science have examined since the 1970s. For Kuhn, there are no networks, no exchange relationships, no movements of materials.
These are all of the things that historians have come to pay more attention in the years since Structure. As an example, Wise pointed to Robert E. Kohler’s Lords of the Fly, which examined how the exchange of materials was so essential to how the community works. For example, Wise argued that if Kuhn had examined the national lab that measured black-bodies in his black-body radiation book, it would have brought in the things he was trying to exclude.
In his 1970 postscript to Structure, Kuhn describes a set of scientists’ “group commitments” which he calls the “disciplinary matrix.” The matrix has three parts: symbolic generalizations, metaphysics paradigms, and values. But again, the matrix makes up the intellectual commitments of a small set of individuals and it goes no further! In this way, Kuhn was extremely perturbed and distraught when sociologists and others in the 1970s began to use his theories to paint a much more “social” picture. Wise recalled Kuhn calling him into his office, “Norton come in here. Look at this. Look what they’re doing.” Kuhn called the Edinburgh Strong Programme “absurd” and “deconstruction gone mad.”
Kuhn remained skeptical about the turn to practice (which Daston outlined earlier) until his death. As Wise recalled, Kuhn said “he could not get practice.” He ended his career with relatively the same view: the essential things (for the history of science) were the small things held by a small body of experts. Wise was therefore saying that everything that has been made of the “sociology” in Kuhn’s work has been (I can’t remember his exact phrasing but it was something like) “put in there” or “stuck in there.” Wise noted that, at a similar celebration of Kuhn’s Structure in Europe, David Bloor said that he was going to send a proof to Wise that the sociology is in Structure. He hasn’t sent it yet.
The Q&A session for Wise’s paper was a fascinating experience. Daston asked Wise about the experience of the Kuhnian seminar. Wise pointed out that Kuhn never analyzed community like the seminar—who met who, how. Daston also asked if Wise had ever experienced an intellectual experience as intense as Kuhn’s seminars. Wise said that he might have in the Probabilistic Revolution Group, which had also included people like Daston and Ted Porter.
Then things got very interesting as people tried to push back on Wise’s assertion that Structure was mostly devoid of what we would consider sociology. To be frank, the room was filled with a tension and emotionality that left the younger (say, < 35 yrs old) historians of science puzzled. One young historian of science leaned over and whispered into my ear, "This is weird, right?" And she was right. It was weird. I think one explanation for our perplexity is that we simply do not have the emotional (ahem, Oedipal?) relationship with Structure that older scholars do. For example, Wise, who went to study with Kuhn after reading the book, recalled his own personal encounter with it. Wise was a low energy nuclear physicist when the NRC/AEC defunded 50 low energy phsyics labs in a year. Wise read Structure as CRISIS; he saw his own autobiography in it.
So, people took turns questioning Wise. One person pointed out that a certain set of ideas, like heliocentrism, maybe were held by a large group of people, which we could call a community. Yes, said Wise, “But what you mentioned are ideas. They can be anywhere in the world. That is an extremely weak notion of community.” Ken Alder pointed out that the one place where events external to science played an important role in Structure was calendrical reform. Wise agreed but thought that it didn’t go to the heart of Kuhn’s interest. Ian Hacking said that the real crux was “normal science”: how does normal science itself function? That has to do with with communities, education, etc., lots of external sociological stuff. One audience member suggested that some scientists find Kuhn’s account of scientific dogma appealing because of their own experiences with funding agencies like the NIH.
Peter Galison asked Wise, “What is your argument?” But I think Wise’s argument was pretty clear: he thinks that Kuhn’s definition of “paradigm” is deep and narrow in the ways listed above and that people have “added in” all of our post-Structure sociological reflections. Yet, another younger historian didn’t buy Wise’s argument, writing to me, “This is insane. Imagine Kuhn was right (to a point). He inhabited a paradigm too, which is to say that he may not have been aware of all the dimensions of his own theory—he was a philosophically minded historian who inhabited a sociological paradigm…” In other words, “Kuhn didn’t know what Kuhn was doing.” Kuhn was simply the worst interpreter of Kuhn, and the people who headed in a more sociological direction after the man-himself were right. I am not so very death-of-the-author as to go along with this fellow. I think it’s worthwhile getting straight what Kuhn was trying to do, and I think that Wise did a good job of it. That’s not an argument against sociology, of course, but Wise wasn’t making such an argument anyway.
Between showing up late, having technical problems, and being toast, my notes from day 2 are not as detailed. Probably just as well.
(As luck and transportation arrangements would have it, I missed most of Hacking’s talk. This summary is largely taken from notes on the talk from historian of science, Stephanie Dick, as well as what I heard in the Q&A period. Thanks, Steph!!)
In his paper “Paradigms,” Hacking sought to embed wand to embed the notion of “paradigm” as model-following and exemplars within the history of reasoning, from Aristotle’s Rhetoric until the present. He pointed to such recent works as John Arthos’s “Where There are No Rules or Systems to Guide Us: Argument from Example in a Hermeneutic Rhetoric.” Hacking asserted that no one has given us an explicit analysis of how reasoning by paradigm works. It has troubled us since Aristotle. Yet, he argued, if we didn’t hold deductive logic as the gold standard of reasoning, we wouldn’t be troubled by reasoning by exemplar.
Hacking gestured towards evolutionary theories of reasoning, such as that of Sperber and Mercier, which holds that reasoning is a means to arguing with others and seeking to obtain agreement and shared opinion. It is not about getting to the truth. This partly explains why there are so many tensions and paradoxes in logic—it is not about deductive demonstration itself, but rather about obtaining agreement in a given situation.
Hacking also examined Reviel Netz’s analysis of Greek culture and mathematics. He compared the repetitions found in Homer with those in Greek geometry: both are very, very repetitive because they are still working in an oral culture. You can do math without symbols, Netz shows, but it is because you remember the linguistic turns of phrase that make the proof move along.
Reasoning by exemplar was a real part of Greek and Roman philosophy and is apparent up through Bacon, but it disappeared at the end of the Renaissance, at which point inductive logic came into being (in Bernoullis, Bayes, Hume, etc.) Hacking wanted to assert the persistence of this form of reasoning: apprenticeship, common law, and other such fields are instances of learning by example (which is tied to tacit knowledge). Yet, it is in the Greek world that we see the most explicit reflections on exemplars.
Hacking claimed that “Arguments [from exemplars] work in a community only they they are ‘ritualized,’ when there is a procedure, a routine.” He turned once more to Netz who showed the rote character of geometric prose in ancient Greece. Proof is invented in this moment, which rested at the cusp between oral and written argument. Netz showed how linguistic formulae are a rote procedure, a ritualized rule for going on. The culmination of rote is a rule, and the Euclidean postulates might be seen as rules for going forward from rote behaviors. Both rote behaviors and routines are communal. As argument becomes ritualized in a community, you can teach it. In this way, sociologists are not interested in attending to little social interactions but in “observing how the rituals that underlie paradigms change. It is those rituals of reasoning that tie communities together.”
In the Q&A period, Hacking discussed Mary Douglas’s question, why do groups stay together and why do they fall apart? For Hacking, exemplars are part of the answer. He claimed, “The class of examples partly determines what the community is.” For instance, the common law tradition is, in part, based around a canon of examples. You have to pick the right exemplars to succeed in a common law argument. A set of exemplars does not guarantee agreement, of course. Examples—and their invocation and application—may be contested but they are still in the canon. Finally, Hacking noted that we should attend to how related ideas such as “rule of thumb” and “heuristics” relate to exemplars.
Andrew Abbott’s paper “Structure and Sociology: Notes for a History?” examined citations to Kuhn’s Structure in different fields. As is often the case with his work, his talk was strewn with funny one-liners. “Kuhn’s references to Gestalt psychology feel as dated today as Coke in a bottle,” he said, and Freakonomics is “mostly evolutionary psychology tarted up as economics.” Earlier, Abbott wrote a paper called “Varieties of Ignorance,” which showed that references to his own professions book were usually either unnecessary or showed that the citing author had not really read Abbott’s argument.
Abbott analyzed citations of Kuhn and showed how citations increased over time in fields other than history. The rise of Kuhn citation in the humanities raised sharply from ’75 to ’80, while citation of Kuhn still high in the field of education and other applied fields. Yet, Abbott argued, a citation to Kuhn usually is just a generic reference to the idea that people hold different worldviews. Which parts of Kuhn actually get cited? Abbott has done a detailed analysis of pages cited from Kuhn. Kuhn is cited close to once a day, but only 6% actually cite pages in the work. Of the articles that cite Kuhn, almost always cite the first pages of a chapter. The pages that are NOT cited are dedicated to detailed examples. This lack of page citations shows something important. Earlier in social science, 2/3’s of journal articles cited exact pages in works. But now citations to Kuhn are general and vague rather than pointed and precise. In this way, Abbott made a fine grained argument that scholarship today is sloppy and shoddy. As he claimed, the majority of people who have cited this Kuhn’s book have probably not read most of it, many probably have never read any of it.
In the Q&A period, an audience member pointed out that Kuhn’s book sells about 80 copies a day, “so it’s still being read.” Abbott responded, “Well, it’s being purchased.” The audience member came back, “It is being read because it’s on tests.” Abbott asked, “Have you heard of Wikipedia?”
Dave Kaiser gave a neat talk titled, “Kuhn among the Psychologists: Structures’s Early Audience.” He opened up by stating (or perhaps quoting), “There are two Kuhns. The first is the author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The second wrote a book of the same title.” He went on to describe how Kuhn responded to criticisms of Structure by examining some of the contents of box in the Kuhn archive that is just dedicated to letters around the book, containing around 170 sets of correspondence. Kuhn dictated his letters, quite literally talking through the book’s problems. Unfortunately, I was experiencing technical difficulties during this session, so I cannot give detailed summary.
Angela Creager’s talk was titled “Paradigms and Exemplars meet Biomedicine.” You could predict from the get-go that Creager was going to question Kuhn’s famous, nearly exclusive focus, on physics and neglect of biology. Creager hoped to build on Raine Daston’s statement that reasoning by exemplars pops up everywhere. For Kuhn, a paradigm was a shared example, and Creager wanted to reexamine this issue in the context of the life sciences. Specifically, Creager focused on the use of model organisms in biological research. The key aspect of such model systems is their typicality. In this way, Creager argued that these organisms are “exemplars” in Kuhn’s sense. Kuhn thought paradigms allowed scientists to see problems as things they had encountered before. Creager thinks this fits how life scientists use model organisms. Yet, whereas Kuhn focused on theory, model organisms lead us to focus on experimentation. And here’s where Creager differs from Kuhn, a difference earlier identified in Wise’s talk: in her account, she focuses on the movement and centrality of materials, especially the model organisms in question. This leads one to several kinds of insights that are not ascertainable through Kuhn’s picture or methods.
Finally, Peter Galison gave his talk “Islands of Knowledge: Boas, Wittgenstein, Kuhn.” Apparently, somewhere between submitting the title and writing the talk, Wittgenstein fell out, as he was not mentioned. Galison began by examining Kuhn’s early life as a physicist. Kuhn’s work in physics was atypical for the time. When most physicists enrolled in WWII, Kuhn was doing applied quantum theory, and his work was more like research that was done from 1923-1938, rather than the work of the war. Galison went over some of Kuhn’s quantum work and concluded, “This is normal science if you’ve ever seen it.” Pointing to a graph from one of Kuhn’s physics essays, Galison said, “This is the paradigmatic paradigm.” This would become important later in Galison’s talk because Kuhn’s physics research suggests why his picture of physics was so out-of-touch with post-war physics as historians of science have uncovered it
Galison then went on to describe a series of debates, via correspondence, between Kuhn and Paul Federabend. Feyerabend questioned Kuhn’s notion of paradigms as monistic and mystical and covering coexisting alternative theories. Kuhn saw the importance of holding somethings still for science to progress, a view very different from Feyerabend’s. Galison likened Kuhn’s view to an airplane crash investigation, in which investigators look for the little point that made the whole thing fall apart. It is the little thing that finally causes the edifice to fall, for Kuhn. But Feyerabend had a totally different picture, one of competing, conflicting, simultaneously existing theories vying for dominance.
Galison then explained a potential genealogical source for Kuhn’s “monism” (as Feyerabend called it). In 1883, Franz Boas traveled to Baffin Island, where he began his ethnographic work with the Inuit, an experience he eventually published in The Central Eskimo. Boas cast cultures as basically coherent and separate—what scholars later called cultural relativism, the “island cultures” from the talk’s title. Boas thought that culture had to be understood in its “fitting togetherness.” Cultures live in distinct worlds. Boas’s view eventually led to Benjamin Lee Whorf’s idea that we live in different languages, and, as Galison described, Kuhn was reading Whorf when he was a Harvard Fellow. For Kuhn, the essential thing is how ontology changes in science. It’s about how our ontologies map to the world. In Kuhn’s view, scientific revolutions occur when our ontological boxes move, and as they do, we move between worlds.
Galison then returned to Kuhn’s early life as a physicist. As noted before, Kuhn’s scientific work was a part of the 30s, so he did not participate in the major shift in physics during and after WWII. Science, at that time, became a world full of federal granting agencies, highly politicized research agendas, the movement of materials, and enormous, highly-sophisticated experimental apparatuses and technologies. If Kuhn had participated in this change, he would have had a very different vision, Galison argued, and it may have been one much more like Feyerabend. Kuhn’s island cultures—with a single governing ontology—make no sense in the context of post-WWII science
Unfortunately, travel plans required me to leave before Ronald Giere’s talk, “Kuhn as a Perspectival Realist,” so I’m unable to report on it.