2 years ago

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

‘war’, and by

‘war’, and by implication ‘politics’ and ‘science’,must be understood in a rather specific sense.Francis Fukuyama has usefully distinguished twoways of thinking about war – as a struggle for survivalor a struggle for recognition. In these Darwinised days,we tend to presume that war arises from too manypeople chasing too few material resources: astruggle for survival. For example, at the writing ofthis book, a ‘deep’ explanation often given for UShostilities toward Iraq is the American need foraccess to Iraqi oil reserves. However, the Greeksenvisaged warfare as arising under conditions ofmaterial abundance, not scarcity. A second-order,specifically cognitive scarcity was involved in theGreek struggle for recognition. Combatants struggleover who will be remembered by future generations.Nothing more clearly signals victory thanthat the histories told of the conquered arepopulated by descendants of the conquerors. Proofthat we currently live in such a state of second-ordercolonialism is that ‘our’ history of science turns outto be a tale of great white males with unique mentalpowers – that is, people who look like heroicversions of today’s professional scientists, ourcognitive conquerors.Imagine our bodies possessed by alien spiritswhose hold over us is marked by the resistance theyprovide to what we might otherwise say or do. This106

is how second-order colonialism feels. (We shallbecome re-acquainted with this feeling below as theCartesian ‘evil demon’.) For example, today anaspiring biologist inclined toward divine creation isforced to deal with the theory of evolution bynatural selection in one of two ways: either keep herown counsel and accept mental colonisation orpublicly wage an uphill battle against evolution.The starkness of the choice shows that evolution iswinning the struggle for recognition: it is presumedtrue, until proven otherwise. A Popperian sciencepolicy would enable the aspiring biologist to takethis decision without inhibiting her capacity totake similar decisions in the future – especially if sheturns out to be wrong. In other words, the ideas atstake would be sufficiently detached from thedecider’s personal circumstances that neithersecular power nor financial advantage is bound tothem. Only then can the ideas be considered solelyon their merits. The alternative is the scientificequivalent of stasis.Like most other philosophers and scientists,Popper was a kind of ‘rationalist’. However, unlikemost of them, he realised that rationality requiresspecific social and material conditions that areby no means ‘natural’ to the human conditionbut must be explicitly constructed and activelymaintained. If there is any sense of ‘unconditional107

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