Ragged Clown

It's just a shadow you're seeing that he's chasing…


Who cares about this stuff?

The Times has a great series of essays by Errol Morris on Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

According to the author, Structure is a post-modern work which makes the relativist claim that people in one paradigm (or culture or era) are unable to fairly judge the ideas of another paradigm because the two are paradigms are incommensurable.

The series takes us on a breathtaking tour of the meaning of the word incommensurable through three thousand years of the history of mathematics taking in Pythagoras, the legend of the execution of Hippasus for showing that the square root of two is irrational, Socrates & Plato and the moment that Thomas Kuhn threw an ashtray at the author’s head before throwing him out of Princeton.

Before reading today’s article (article 3 of 5), I had taken seriously Kuhn’s claim that each so-called paradigm shift creates an unbridgable divide from the previous paradigm that scientists are unable to cross. Kuhn – like the creators of The legend of Hippasus’s murder – created the legend of incommensurability to imply a dramatic resolution to a crisis that never existed. He created a legend which – like all legends, we learn – is more memorable than fact.

At the end of today’s article I was left wondering: how many people are actually interested in this stuff?…

Who cares about Theories of Naming and incommensurability and proofs of irrationality and philosophy and maths and greek history.

…and where can I meet them?

Part 4 was published just now. I have reading to do.

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2 responses to Who cares about this stuff?

Tom March 10, 2011

Friday nights at my house there are often at least two of us.

Mr. K March 21, 2011

the article seems to elide quite blithely the well-acknowledged difference between synthetic and analytic knowledge – why should an example from mathematics condemn a theory about natural sciences?

the lady likely doth protest too much, but the extrapolation from Kuhn’s moment of inspiration in the square root of two to a condemnation of the broader thesis seems a disservice to the (obvious) intellect of the author. i must be missing a beat.

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