Paradigms and Creativity

I was thinking recently about one of the scientists in the typhus book. In the late 1920s and 1930s, Lukwik Fleck developed a philosophy of science in which he explained that science is a collective activity based on knowledge plus a specific mood; together these are called a thought style, and the individuals who follow it are a thought collective. The thought style consists of active elements, which influence the interpretation of reality and are socially constructed, and passive elements, which together make up what is called objective reality.

An example of this can be seen in medieval European medicine. At the time of the Black Death (1347-1352 AD), Western medicine was dominated by Galenism, which was an expanded system based on the four humors. This thought style was so entrenched that to question it often brought ridicule and could lead to being pushed out of the thought collective. One positive aspect of the Black Death was that physicians began to question Galenism, due to it complete impotence in the face of Y. pestis.

Fleck was a predecessor of Thomas Kuhn, who made the phrase “paradigm shift” well-known during the 1960s. Like Fleck, Kuhn believed that the scientific community is dominated for a period of time by a paradigm, and that eventually, as new data that does not fit is gathered, the paradigm starts to crumble, and a new one is set up. Scientific progress cannot occur without these changes. Paradigm shifts are typically associated with controversy, chaos, and frantic efforts to “prove” one’s paradigm or, failing that, to disprove the other side.

Fleck applied his thought collective principle to both scientists and laymen, dividing them into the esoteric group (scientists) and the exoteric group (laymen). As far as I can tell, Kuhn’s work focused on scientists, although later writers have carried his paradigm shifts in history, politics, and religion as well. I can see the application of these concepts to the current climate change debate. I have been wondering lately how climate change deniers can so strongly disagree with something which, from my point of view, has so much overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of it. It seems they don’t trust scientists, but why? What could a scientist gain by faking climate change?

Those who believe climate change is real and those who do not are apparently in two different thought collectives — operating under two different paradigms. I wonder what will be the final outcome of this struggle.




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