Using Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” to understand the left


In 1962 Thomas Kuhn, then at Harvard, published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which quickly became one of the seminal books in the history of science. Kuhn argues that radical changes in thought often require, and create, a whole new way of seeing the world. He invented the term “paradigm shift,” to describe the phenomenon. Often, it is only when you have crossed over to the new paradigm do you see reality the way it really is.

One example Kuhn uses to illustrate his point is the Copernican Revolution. In 1500, the accepted view in the Christian world of western Europe was that the earth was the center of the universe, and that the sun and the planets revolved around the earth. The astronomer Ptolemy in the second century AD had worked out a set of equations for the movements of the planets and the moon based on the the earth being the center of the universe. Of course the set of equations describing the Ptolemaic universe had terrible problems since they were attempting to describe a universe that doesn’t exist.

In the early sixteenth century, Copernicus developed an alternative view of, and set of equations for, a universe in which the moon alone revolved around the earth, and in which the earth, like the other planets, revolved around the sun. His masterwork, De Revolutionibus, was published after significant delays, due to religious and scientific objections to his work. Copernicus finally received a copy of his book on May 24, 1543, the day he died.

Many people had a lot invested, professionally, culturally, religiously, psychologically, in the notion that the earth and man were the center of all creation, and so there was considerable resistance at first to the Copernican universe. Some scientists and religious leaders of the day were horrified at the universe Copernicus described, and adamantly defended their geocentric, Ptolemaic beliefs, refusing to accept the Copernican paradigm. Kuhn writes:

In a sense I am unable to explicate further, the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds. (p. 150)

The transfer of allegiance from paradigm to paradigm is a conversion experience that cannot be forced….

Darwin, in a particularly perceptive passage at the end of his Origin of Species, wrote: “Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume…, I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are shocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine….[B]ut I look with confidence to the future, — to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to look at both sides of the question with impartiality.” And Max Planck, surveying his own career in his Scientific Autobiography, sadly remarked that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” (p. 151)

The Current Situation: The death of the Paradigm of Marxism and the USSR

In our day, a “scientific” paradigm has recently died, but its proponents have not come to terms with the death. The dead doctrine is dialectical materialism, defined by the Columbia Encyclopedia as the:

official philosophy of Communism, based on the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, as elaborated by G. V. Plekhanov, V. I. Lenin, and Joseph Stalin. In theory dialectical materialism is meant to provide both a general world view and a specific method for the investigation of scientific problems. The basic tenets are that everything is material and that change takes place through “the struggle of opposites.” Because everything contains different elements that are in opposition, “self-movement” automatically occurs; the conflict of opposing forces leads to growth, change, and development, according to definite laws. Communist scientists were expected to fit their investigations into this pattern, and official approval of scientific theories in the USSR was determined to some extent by their conformity to dialectical materialism (see Lysenko, Trofim Denisovich). Use of these principles in history and sociology is sometimes called historical materialism.

Under these doctrines the social, political, and intellectual life of society reflect only the economic structure, since human beings create the forms of social life solely in response to economic needs. Men are divided into classes by their relations to the means of production—land and capital. The class that controls the means of production inevitably exploits the other classes in society; it is this class struggle that produces the dynamic of history and is the source of progress toward a final uniformity.

Historical materialism is deterministic; that is, it prescribes that history inevitably follows certain laws and that individuals have little or no influence on its development. Central to historical materialism is the belief that change takes place through the meeting of two opposing forces (thesis and antithesis); their opposition is resolved by combination produced by a higher force (synthesis).

In the real world, Marxism has turned out to be a lot of windy claptrap, that when applied, as in the case of the USSR, led to enslavement of the people, suppression of the human spirit, universal poverty, and environmental disaster. Contrast this with our experience in the United States. Even today, more than a decade after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, America’s GDP is over $10 trillion while Russia’s is a measly $1.3 trillion, our per capita income is over 4 times theirs, and our lives are 15-20% longer (from the CIA Factbook).

America’s Paradigm: The Innovation Society

Some would call the American paradigm capitalism, and I suppse that’s fair enough, because the word has been in circulation a long time. However, it is an imprecise term, because America’s remarkable progress is due to intellectual capital much more than wealth. It would be more correct to say that America is the Innovation Society, though I readily acknowledge that innovation is often motivated by the desire to beat the pants off the competition and make as much money as possible.

I wrote previously:

Here are the signal facts of our progress in the last century. If you were born in 1900, your life expectancy was in the forties, and GNP per capita was about $4000. If you are born today, your life expectancy is about eighty, and statistically, as an average American, you are ten times richer. In reality you are a hundred or a thousand times richer, if you factor in your ability to be in Paris tomorrow for $500, your ability to watch events from fifty years ago as they actually happened, etc. – not to mention that your toddler’s severe pneumonia can be reliably cured in 48 hours or so.

Only a little of this has to do with government.

Mostly it is because 90% of everything ever invented in the history of humanity was invented in the last 130 years, and more than half of that was invented by Americans exercising their freedom and ingenuity. Milton Hershey invented the candy bar, Carrier invented the air conditioner for a tire plant, Sears invented catalogue distribution, Henry Ford invented cheap cars, some guys from Texas Instruments invented the transistor. It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of the invention and wide use of brand names, which communicate the quality and dependability of every product we buy. This alone deserves the Nobel Prize. And it was a large and growing market, the availability of risk capital, standardized accounting, and protection of intellectual and personal property by the courts that made this possible.

And it is not just inventions themselves, but the constant innovations in products, processes and organizations that lead to success building upon success. Microsoft is working on version 11.0 of Word, our PC’s can now have a gig of RAM and will have a terabyte hard drive in a couple of years, and a few years further, people will chuckle when they read this — how primitive we were. In my own company, through things that sound like buzzwords to you — Kaizen events, process re-engineering, six sigma, etc. — we have been able to cut production time in half on a thirty year old product we were already producing efficiently.

The idea that government creates wealth is so absurd that it should be laughed out of the room. Yet some still cling to this foolish and outdated notion.

My hypothesis

The left’s anger is about much more than George Bush. The diffuse nature of the anger, and its impenetrability to logic are strong indicators that this loathing goes well beyond the President.

Diffuse anger: Jonathon Chait hates his Texas swagger. Some hate his smirk or his Christian beliefs. Rush says that the left is seething because it is out of power. Charles Krauthammer has identified at least two psychological syndromes to describe the phenomenon.

Immunity to logic: If you have ever listened to even a half hour of talk radio, you’ll hear the leftie caller jump from rationale to rationale for his loathing of the president. If the host responds to “Bush Lied!” with an argument, the caller jumps to “imminent threat.” When the host responds, suddenly the arguments becomes “WMD’s,” and then Halliburton, My Pet Goat, and so forth.

I agree with the analyses of Rush Limbaugh, Charles Krauthammer and others, but I want to add someting else into the mix. It is easy to understand the many reasons Bush is an attractive focus for the left’s hatred. Yet if Bush vanished tomorrow, the left would move on to another object of its loathing.

I think the left descended into madness because its scientific Marxism, more properly thought of as a religion, has utterly failed. Its temple, the USSR, is in ruins. The Marxist professors and the Lazy Lefties of Hollywood and the Upper West Side have believed in a false god. Their god has failed them, and he is not coming back, no matter how fervently they wish it, if the electoral trends of the last ten years continue. They are like the remnant who continued to believe in the Ptolemaic universe, long after its has been shown that the earth revolves around the sun.

These people are living in the universe of the failed Marxist paradigm, and they rage at the Innovation Society that brought it down. They will stay that way until they convert to a worldview more consistent with objective reality, or until, as Max Planck said, they eventually die.

Here are some ladies who name the problem honestly:

Here are some examples that might make the black helicopter folks on the right look good by comparison:

And this is a picture that is revealing in so many ways:

More links to pictures here and here.


Meanwhile, both Darwin and Planck are vindicated in the Kerry daughters’ reception at the VMA, where they were booed by the hoi polloi of a younger generation that may not think it’s so cool to be an elitist weenie, a la jib-jab. Or maybe the kids just want to hear music, not politics. Either way, it’s a good sign for the future.

One Response to “Using Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” to understand the left”

  1. Joe Katzman Says:

    Unfirtunately, the links to the pictures are all dead. I guess you’re down about 3000 words

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