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  • Tuesday, January 18, 2005


    Cultural Gestalt and Science

    Bubbling under recently is the not-so-new thought that facts, even "scientific" facts, never appear in isolation. The popular mind, the cultural gestalt, shapes theory and perception. The words, the concepts are all partially dependent on the larger community's ability to comprehend and grasp them. This is often more apparent when looking back upon scientific theories that failed. It's difficult to assess the theories from within the cultural matrix expressing them. Part of this is the "scientific method" proving out the "good" theories and eventually discarding the untenable.

    But scientific theories are rarely "pure" science; often strong social components are integral to the expression of the theory. Even when you have a relatively pure scientific field (e.g., mathematics, chemistry), the actual real world application of these findings are inevitably tied to social, economic, and political forces. A chemical reaction is a pure event; procuring the chemicals for the reaction is an economic process as is the massive use of the reaction in production of a product (e.g., plastics).

    I was struck again by this while watching a science show detailing the competition between the theories of the "steady state" universe and the "big bang" universe. These theories also struck me as metaphors for the times when they were concurrent, kind of dualing examples of "is the glass half empty or half full?" Not really sure of the point here but, as usual, it seemed important at the time.

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