Generating rebellions in science

Download Generating rebellions in science

Post on 06-Jul-2016




3 download


  • 583

    GENERATING REBELL IONS IN SCIENCE or : e = mc 2 with mass rebell ious and energy generat ional*


    The title, Einstein and the Generations of Science, is a conscious double entendre. In this book Lewis S. Feuer is concerned with the social and

    psychological origins of key discoveries in modern physics: hence with the factors extrinsic to science which generate scientific concepts. His primary explanatory thesis centers on generational rebellion as the creative force appropriately channelled by the "reformist, intergenerational, constitutional republic" which is the international scientific community. The problem is important, for it has the potential to clarify our notions of how people's ideas relate to their activities and environment. In its pursuit Feuer has gathered some valuable material and charted a course not frequently attempted. Unfortunately his thesis illuminates his subject less than it exposes his own political stance. The title's pun veils a disproportion between intention and accomplishment resulting from a political bias no less obtrusive for being disclaimed. (Sociologists who still insist that their approach is value-free require sharp watching.)

    There is an increasing recognition thai factors extrinsic to science may be decisive in shaping the hypotheses and concepts with which scientists work. As usual, academic teaching of the subject lags behind. However, few philoso- phers or historians of science would argue any longer that the concepts that scientists use to organize so-called "raw data" derive directly and immediately from those data. As a poetic passage in a recent textbook in anthropological theory points out:

    One has merely to observe birds flying, smoke rising, clouds drifting, feathers floating and stones plummeting to realize that Galileo's formula-

    Princeton University, Program in History and Philosophy of Science

    * I am most grateful for the careful reading and instructive comments on earlier drafts of this essay by Ludo Abicht, Oliver Loud, John McChesney, and Andy Winnick.

  • 584

    tion of the laws of motion could not possibly have resulted from the mere

    collection of facts9 9 The normal mode of scientific procedure i s . . . something quite differ- ent from what Bacon supposed. 1

    Of equal interest is that scientists themselves, at least some of the most

    creative, have recognized this all along.

    Galileo himself, in an oft-quoted and pungent remark, expressed his admira- tion for Aristarchus' and Copernicus' ability to reject their unmediated empirical perceptions and instead enable "reason . . . to commit such a rape upon their senses as, in despite thereof, to make herself mistress of their belief. ''2 As to his own work, he wrote that his conclusions did not derive from his experiments, since he did the latter only to persuade others of what he had already figured out. "To satisfy his own mind alone he had never felt it necessary to make any. ''3 It seems likely, if the story is not wholly apocryphal, that the famous experiment of dropping objects of differing physi- cal characteristics off the tower of Pisa was performed not by Galileo but by an opponent9 Given that special conditions not regularly occufing in the atmosphere of Pisa are necessary completely to confirm Galileo's mind- experiment, this forgotten scientist, depending on the physical qualities on which he focused, probably went home either confused or triumphantly beguiled by the evidence of his senses9

    Ernst Mach, an important influence on Einstein, explicitly adhered to a modern nominalism in which concepts are means of organizing experience rather than eternal verities about an underlying objective reality. He also had followers among some of the Bolsheviks, who read him as saying that the tools for organizing scientific experience are social products and thus that major scientific breakthroughs would require a social revolution9 His influ- ence was such that Lenin took a year off to study Machian physics and compose a critique, which has been an embarrassment to Marxist philosophy ever since. 4

    Both Einstein and Niels Bohr thought extensively about epistemology. Neither was able to recognize the prevailing inductive model as conforming to their own creative experience. Both were great physicists precisely insofar as they were philosophers9 Indeed, as Feuer tells, the repudiation of Baconian methodology was for each of them an important contribution to their physical theories. For Einstein, the conviction that scientific concepts are not responsive exclusively to sensory observations and purely rational considera- tions was itself a recognition of relativist premises. Likewise Bohr's musings

  • 585

    on the role of personal choices by the experimenter and the absence of any absolutist determinism, shaped his anticipations of discontinuity and indeter- minacy in ultimate, sub-microscopic, physical phenomena.

    I do not mean to imply that Einstein and Bohr were in accord on a positive model of science or on what other kinds of factors do influence conceptuali- zation. Their agreement was only on a negative, on what valid scientific methodology is not. In important respects their scientific goals and expecta- tions were radically different. Bohr, by way of Kierkegaard, is reminiscent of the medieval positivists who despairingly renounced the hope that mere humans could ever know the reality behind phenomena. Einstein, on the other hand, was a modern Copernicus, intent on providing a new cosmology closer to how things really are, while hopefully improving on the predictive capacity of the archaic understanding. In his continued unease with probabi- listic quantum theory, he explicitly reacted against the discordant world-view of which he saw it a manifestation.

    Of course, recognizing that concepts are mediated, that there are intervening processes between conceptual formation and perception of the data, and that those processes are influenced by factors outside science, still leaves a range of possibilities. It may be that the concepts inhere in the data and that external factors enable us to perceive the pre-existing relationships. A subtly distinct view is that external factors enable a creative prams by scientists. From this perspective, the connections do not simply inhere in the data waiting to be discovered, but rather, in part, are brought and imposed by scientists. The same data permitting multiple interpretations, the test of validity actually employed (though rarely on a conscious level) is both what connections seem to make sense in terms of how scientists at any particular

    time think about tile world as a whole, as well as what is sustainable by the data. It is the former, I shall suggest later, which is the point of entry for factors external to science, primarily the scientists' social existence and societal context. Only what seems to make sense from a socially conditioned general perspective is actually perceived in and tested out on the data. In this view, close to that expressed of Mach, science is not simply an ever- nearer reflection of an integral underlying reality, and scientists are more than neutral mediators between that reality and an audience.

    The really creative scientists, in general, have been those not tracked into "normal science" (in Kuhn's connotative phrase). They have developed their new insights when relatively young, and have tended to be outside the established institutions. They have also been characterized by philosophical leanings, questioning the premises and outlooks on which the prevailing

  • 586

    understandings in their field have rested and thinking deeply about the processes of their own creativity. Sometimes that questioning has led them to recognize that factors extrinsic to science are important in how data are chosen and construed. Some of these attributes are sufficiently familiar to bring occasional anguish to ambitious thirty-five year olds who have not yet made their mark, and disquiet some who see few personal alternatives to academic careers. As components of a somewhat stereotyped model of scientific creativity, they are also implicit acknowledgements of deficiencies in the usual image of scientists as split personalities whose scientific thinking in unaffected by the rest of their thoughts and lives.

    To an extent remarkable only by contrast with how we have been taught to think about scientists, twentieth century physics has been significantly influ- enced by twentieth century politics. By that I mean neither the micro-politics of scientific institutions-who gets promoted or how research resources are divided-which sociologists of science are now extensively exploring, nor the macro-politics of resource allocation by governments and how that affects the training of scientists and which research problems and approaches are con- sidered feasible, nor the scientists' own anticipations and fears about the potential social and military uses of their findings. Rather I have in mind here the impact on their most basic tools of understanding the world, their concepts and modes of conceptualization, of their own political participation and perceptions. Because scientific concepts have usually been immune to this type of analysis, and because the biographical information is not widely known, Feuer's contributions on this question are the most suggestive part of

    this book.

    Take, for example, the principle of relativity. In its everyday usage the concept underlying the word was the focus of political debates by the radical student groups of which Einstein was a member. From Marx, through reading Veblen, he derived the understanding that social and economic laws are not eternal or absolute but historically relative to particular systems. He took part in discussions on whether proletarian and bourgeois observers could arrive at a common description of the same society, and which social standpoint would permit a closer approximation to an understanding of reality. These were debates which led to the later establishment of the sociology of knowledge as a formal discipline, and which also had direct implications for political ethics. When Einstein's friend Friedrich Adler, a Maqhian physicist, prominent socialist leader, and political assassin, was on trial for his life, his statement of defense used the idea of relativity to discuss the difficully of justifying his act. Adler intermingled relativity in ethics, in history and in physics, seeing the same world-view as the foundation of each.

  • 587

    Actually, while Einstein very likely developed some of his basic outlook and

    came to some of his insights about physics through these debates, his principle of relativity is more than an application to physics of ideas gleaned from politics. What is relative is not simply the knowledge possible of reality, but reality itself, consisting of different coordinate systems none of which is more irreducibly objective than the others. Underlying that relativity, how- ever, are certain absolutes: the independence of the laws of nature from the standpoint of the observer, their conformity to the three mathematical transformations of relativistic mechanics, and the constancy of the speed of light in free space, no matter its source or the observer's frame of reference. "Relativity," as Einstein later wrote, is thus a misnomer. Why, then, did he use this politically charged phrase? Its choice lends support to the case for political influences on the formulation of his physical theory.

    Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle partly originated near the other end of the political spectrum. As a youth, Heisenberg was a member of an authoritarian and anti-Semitic group, which looked for its ideals to the myths of medieval romance. His politics, of course, were consciously anti-Marxist, and his sensibilities anti-materialist. Against the determinism of the Marxists, the Bavarian romantic activists reinstated human intention as an active force. Against the notion of elementary particles as physical substances, Heisenberg rebelled even as a schoolboy, replacing materialism with mathematical forms. These shades of an earlier outlook later solidified in his argument that measuring the position of an electron causes unknowable changes in momen- tum, and vice versa, and in his insistence, with others, that physical laws, even as to individual events, are operative only statistically.

    Einstein showed profound judgment in probing for the underlying attitudes and more general outlooks on life which scientific concepts manifest. Natural science theories influenced by political perceptions probably do not retain

    the original ideological implications. The origins of anything need not neces- sarily reflect on its continued usage and value. Often the same ideas have very different implications in different contexts. On the other hand, there is a broader sense in which scientific concepts do have political implications. Insofar as they reaffirm the socially based world-views on which in part they rest, concepts in science as in other areas of thought either reinforce or challenge an existing social structure. Further, William Leiss has recently argued provocatively that modern science as a whole has premises which must be considered political. He suggests that science is not inherently bound to an attempt at dominating nature, and that this attempt has been a historical adjuvant of social domination in the interest of some social groups over others, s

  • 588

    In any case, recognizing that concepts are shaped by more than the data with which they are directly concerned raises the possibility of distinct scientific approaches, not perforce reconcilable, dealing with the same phenomena. The same suggestion has been aired in discrediting circumstances. However, the best response to nonsense like that of the Nazis about "Jewish science" may not be to insist on the invariable unity and integrity of science. Such insistence carries with it the baggage of commitment to the status quo in inore than science. Ascertaining, to the extent possible, what factors specifi- cally have shaped particular concepts raises the prospect of scientists no longer trained to attribute their concepts only to the data, but instead even to take some personal responsibility for how they have come to interpret the world. Dare it be said? Even in science the realm of necessity could become, within the bounds set by the existence of an objective external world, the realm of freedom.

    Observers are people conditioned by their~societies; the directions, empha- ses, and repressions of their observations depend in part on the social character of the observers.. . The purely 'personal equation' in perception has long been known. . , dependent not only on movements in the objective stimulus but on the 'expectations' of the observer.. . The great observers have been the unsocialized personalities of their time, who were still able to observe with naivet& 6

    An adequate explanation of scientific concepts in social terms, whatever else it includes, would at least have to do the following: First, it would have to get behind the specific concepts to the world-view on which they rest, and second, to link that world-view to the concrete social existence of which it is an effort to make sense9 Attempts to use socio-economic conditions as direct explanations of ideas have sometimes provided striking insights, but cannot be wholly satisfactory. Ideas are neither simply nor directly reflexes of the society in which they occur. They are, however, manifestations of more general attitudes and outlooks on the nature of reality and how individuals fit into the whole9 These world-views, or cosmologies, in turn derive primarily from social experience. They are efforts to explain to oneself and make sense of one's activities and surroundings, nearly all of which are conditioned by their social context. 7 As individuals we have world-views and responses in common with other people whose configurations of experience are similar or. overlapping. In this view there is no sharp division between the psychological and social dimensions of an explanation, although there are somewhat differ- ent questions to be asked in investigating the germination of new ideas and the phenomenon of widespread receptivity to them.

  • 589

    Manifold qualifications are necessary, both too numerous and too complex to explore here. Merely to indicate some: World-views may not be entirely self-consistent, as the reality in response to which they are formed has its own contradictory elements. (These inconsistencies sometimes, in circumstances about which we know too little, provide the key to changing people's perspectives, sometimes to an all the more rigid adherence to cardinal beliefs.) The distinction between ideas and social conditions is not absolute. Widely held beliefs, for example, while themselves still requiring a social explanation, may be active components of one's social milieu. Further, making sense of one's surroundings is not always strictly a mental accommodation; it may involve direct intervention in the surroundings to order them in accord with one's cosmology. In practice, an adequate social explanation, of which we have had conspicuously few specimens, is anything but mechanical or schema- tic. Rather at all of its levels it requires a great deal of imaginative empathy.

    Two brief illustrations must suffice. In a recent book, which is a model not only of current research lucidly made accessible to interested non-specialists, but also of a scientists's awareness of the social context of his own work, Steven Rose has a section detailing historically changing conceptions of brain fuctioning. His point, that scientists often conceptualize the subject of their study in conscious analogy with other "systems," is slightly different than the one I want to make, but wholly compatible. The question is on what bases

    the analogies are chosen. His discussion clearly recognizes their foundation in "the prevailing view of the universe," derived from common social experi- ence. The dominant early twentieth century paradigm depicted the brain as the administration of a factory, with its managers of speech, of reflex action, etc., all linked through internal telephone lines and scurrying office boys. "The implications of such a model are, of course, of some interest from the point of view of the model-makers' vision of the human world, one in which management always knows best and is right, one in which big and little executives and factory operatives know their p lace. . . This is a universe ordered, if not by God, then a post-Victorian rationalist economic and physiological imperative." Although this vision lingered for a while in chil- dren's encyclopedias, neither the paradigm nor the world-view on which it was based survived the shaking of earlier economic and political certainties. In accounting for the current paradigm, in which the computer has replaced the telephone and a simple mechanics has given way to probabilistic and statis- tical premises, Rose looks to some of the same social factors which we shall see in the case of modern physics, s

    A shift in perspective at least as fundamental as any that has occurred since, is that associated with Copernicus. For our purposes the Copernican revolution

  • 590

    is a revealing example, for it clearly cannot be explained on grounds internal to science. The new astronomy, when initially formulated and when it won its early adherents, was neither more accurate in its predictions nor much simpler in its design. Nor, with insignificant exceptions, was it based on data that had not been available for well more than a millenium. It is a good example also in that, partly because it precipitated a major controversy, its underlying world-view is readily visible.

    The prevailing understanding was an uneasy Christian amalgam of Aristotle and Ptolemy. It postulated a rigid hierarchial ordering of the universe, from the Empyrean through the crystalline spheres to earth and below. This further presupposed a split model of reality, in which one could attempt complicated calculation and prediction of heavenly movements but relin- quished the ambition to know the necessarily simple, actual paths of planets and stars. The heavens and the sub-lunar sphere were subject to different kinds of laws; only the latter were accessible to human understanding.

    Brecht's mockery discerned the bond between astronomy, theology and the social order:

    When the Almighty made the universe He made the earth and then he made the sun. Then round the earth he made the sun to turn- That's in the Bible, Genesis, Chapter One. And from that time all beings here below Were in obedient circles meant to go:

    Around the pope the cardinals Around the cardinals the bishops Around the bishops the secretaries Around the secretaries the aldermen Around the aldermen the craftsmen Around the craftsmen the servants Around the servants the dogs, the chickens, and the beggars.

    (Galileo, scene 9)

    Copernicus and the partisans who developed the implications of his theory rejected the older premises. To them, the notion of a rigid hierarchy and the attendant restrictions on human capability no longer made sense. Their world changed enough that they required new explanations. The society was still structured hierarchically, of course; however, its former rigidity no longer existed. Wealthy new urban strata had developed with the thirteenth century

  • 591

    commercial boom. Growing state centralization and moves by monarchs against the landed feudal nobility created new jobs and possibilities of social mobility for commoners. Medieval criteria of hierarchy were now obscured by competing, though often intermingling hierarchies, embodying different sets of values. An economic slump lasting a century and a half, and regression toward more rigid class distinctions and obstacles to upward mobility in Copernicus' own lifetime, only enhanced the widespread sense of individual self-fulfillment possible to those already of relatively high status. Much more of one's life and ambience was seen to be within human control and under- standing. This new outlook both made possible Copernican astronomy and made it attractive to others.

    A deeper investigation, of Copernicus himself, his own socialization, social position and the institutional setting in which he worked, as well as other aspects of the world-view which underlay his astronomy and further specifics of his society and how it had changed, would provide further confirmation. We would find a similar outlook as foundation for Copernicus' work in quite different fields, for example his writing on economics, and manifestations of similar cosmologies in other spheres of thought by other authors even earlier than Copernicus. Making sense for themselves of their own changed social setting provided these thinkers both with some of the nerve and the possibili- ty of new insights to revolutionize their field of thought.

    Early adherents to a new viewpoint are won on a different basis than that which makes for a more widespread receptivity. Even before new, confirming evidence resulting from experiment or technological development (e.g. the telescope), some people are attracted to the new outlook because it fits how they have come to view their society and world as a whole. It is in the germination of new ideas and in this early partisanship that factors extrinsic to science are most prominent. Acceptance by most of the profession, if it comes, generally results from a combination of scientific evidence and propa- gandizing by the early adherents. Social factors continue to be important, shaping the general perspectives in terms of which the new evidence is inter- preted; however, more narrowly 'scientific' considerations play a much larger role. Perhaps different designations, for example "rebellion" and "revolution," are warranted to distinguish the early adherents from those won on somewhat more scientific grounds. The distinction is complicated in that the perception of evidence is itself colored by external influences. Often, from the new perspective, it appears that confirming evidence has been available all along. Comets had been seen, of course, long before Copernicus. From the stand- point of a cosmology which postulated perfect, immutable heavens, they were interpreted as omens and portents. Only with the social changes and

  • 592

    attendant new premises denying separate laws to the heavens, were comets perceived in the West as regular astronomical phenomena. They had been recognized as such by other cultures long before.

    Modern physics, although it is impossible to speak of it as a unity, represents very basic changes in conceptualization from what preceded it. It is these changes that Feuer attempts to explain. His most satisfactory effort is with the science that came out of Weimar Germany, primarily Heisenberg's uncer- tainty principle. As the extraordinary and tragic literature of that period conveys, the event and aftermath of the First World War profoundly disrup- ted continuity in transmission of values and outlook. Parental authority and guidance were drastically weakened; older moral codes were seen as ineffectu- al. The kind of governmental regime changed, and new social groups seemed to dominate politics. Previous stabilities were upset. What before had appeared obvious or decipherable was now unpredictable. Notions of "order" in politics, morality and society were unclear and in conflict. In Munich, where Heisen- berg was a youth during the most unsettled period, governments periodically were overthrown, social status was uncertain, and fighting was constant and confused, marked by indeterminate shooting. (Feuer weights his argument slightly overmuch through his choice of words: "unpredictable" outcomes, "indeterminate" shooting, etc.) One may conjecture that the strong scientific interests and accomplishments in the defeated countries, Germany in particu- lar, were, for many, desperate attempts to find elements of stability, even if the result was a sharper formulation of what could not be known.

    A recurrent philosophical response to social turmoil has been a turn to timeless platonic abstractions. That response was basic to the sixteenth century origins of modern science and it enabled some of the mathematical directions of our own century. We have already noted Heisenberg's political sympathies and his repulsion from materialism and determinism. His politics and his physics were both manifestations of the same world-view. In response to the crude textbook visualizations of atoms, he read and was receptive to the Timaeus. Through Feuer's account, we are able to see some of the circumstances that freed Heisenberg from received viewpoints and some of the specific features of his own surroundings and activities that helped provide his perspective and insights.

    Other facets of modern physics could be illuminated through the same social approach. The concept of relativity, for instance, was not original to Einstein. Indeed I was excited to discover a casual mention by Feuer that Einstein thought most highly of The Brothers Kararnazov. Dostoevsky has seemed to me to be a precursor of Einstein, with The Brothers Karamazov in particular a

  • 593

    relativist novel. Not only is it a brilliant and plausible showing that knowledge of reality varies with the observer, but also that reality itself is not an objective absolute. This is Ivan's torment and the readers' enigma. Did Ivan know that Smerdyakov would kill? At some level, probably he did. What for Dostoevsky was a psychological probe, and for Veblen a principle of social and economic investigation, was the cornerstone of Einstein's physics. A similar understanding of reality common to so many fields is itself a social phenomenon requiring a social explanation. What in their common experi- ence made this understanding plausible? Unfortunately, Feuer leaves us in the lurch. Except in his study of Heisenberg, he does not have much to say about the specific societies from which the innovations arose. He does suggest a characterization of Einstein's companions that distinguishes them from scien- tists who rejected relativity theory: In contrast to the Zurich-Berne circle of cosmopolitan refugees leaning toward Marxism, the anti-relativity Cambridge group (Whitehead, Russell, G. E. Moore) was upper class and pro-establish- ment. These are features pertinent to the fact of rebellion or to its absence, the continued adherence to traditional perspectives. They contribute little, however, to explaining the particular alternative developed by the innovators.

    Feuer's preferred approach to an explanation derives from psychoanalysis. Thus, on Ernst Mach:

    The relativized world, in which there was no privileged frame of reference, no absolute, was a universe in which one's longings for the dethronement of paternal, clerical, political, and sexual absolutes were projected. 9

    In short, a reality deatomized was a projection, we might infer, in which the father himself was unmanned. 1~


    Bohr's daring adaption of the quantum notion to the electronic transitions in the atom was not the result of neutral, dispassionate hypothesizing; the discontinuous leaps of the electrons formed the kind of hypothesis for which his emotional character was longing - a resolution of his personal anxieties projected onto the atomic world, it

    It is unfair, of course, to present such unfamiliar conclusions out of context, separate from their substantiation. Or it would be unfair if they bore an integral relation to the evidence. Psychoanalysis, as any system of thought, runs a risk of imposing its categories on the material with which it deals. In a clinical situation there is at least some test for the validity of the analysis

  • 594

    through the patient's response and subsequent behavior. Feuer's writing aggravates the inherent risk. In the discussion of Mach, on whom he uses this approach more than in any of the other studies, there is an elision of the distinction between substantiation and conclusion. It is simply unclear how much is inference and how much surmise, how much is really based on Mach and how much is Feuer filling in the gaps. This could be a problem of style. Alternatively, the stylistic deficiency might indicate a thesis which cannot quite be carried by the evidence available.

    In his other case studies, the problem is greater yet, with only a tenuous methodological consistency from one section to another. Often the argument is incomplete and even circular, with a highly selective search for anti-paternal tendencies. Evidence for Bohr's emotional state comes largely from his scientific formulations, whereas it is the latter that ostensibly is being explained in terms of the former. A strong oedipal complex, were its existence adequately demonstrated, would be an important part of an explanation of rebellion. Awareness of it does not help very much in accounting for the affirmative vision of the rebels. (Based on his particular use of psychoanalysis, we might expect quite a different dynamic of creativity as female scientists gain opportunities.) Feuer repeatedly raises, in the abstract, the necessity of sociological considerations. What he seems to mean by these varies. Other than the presence of counter-cultural support for rebellion, he most often adduces factors of intellectual lineage. The existence of certain sets of ideas undoubtedly may be a salient influence, however it is not self-explanatory. Why the particular ideas are chosen in preference to others and why they are interpreted as they are, are basic questions for which, again, a systematic look at their specific societal context is indispensable.

    In neglecting concrete social analysis and going only as far as trans-historical generational rebellion and individual psychology, Feuer stops himself short of potentially valuable insights. He notes, for example, as have many others, that significant advances in scientific conceptualization tend to come from rela- tively young people. He further observes that the new perspectives on which the concepts are based often develop even earlier in life, when the future scientists are still youths. Thus he is able to suggest both that scientific revolutions are most often led by the young and that they derive from broader, non-scientific outlooks. About when they are likely to occur he has considerably less to say. Fundamental new insights do not come with every new generation. A likely precondition which Feuer's approach cannot encom- pass, is that the societies have changed sufficiently for the world-views of some particularly sensitive youths to differ substantially from those of their elders.

  • 595

    Shying away from the specific social circumstances, Feuer pays much more attention to the origin of new concepts through individual "discoverers" than to the question of what factors influence the acceptance of the new views by others. He is aware that perspectives similar to those which underlie new scientific concepts usually may be found manifested in other areas of cultural expression about the same time. These he interrelates through his notion of "isoemotional line," ideas, possibly in quite different fields, that express or derive from the same emotion. The contrast between "world-view" as I have been using the concept, and "isoemotional line," is suggestive. World-views, as explanations to oneself of one's activities and environment, contain ele- ments of emotional response to one's situation. By isolating that particular component, Feuer eliminates the connection with the specific social reality. As he later remarks apropos of someone else, "a linguistic usage can bring with it the constraint of some narrowing doctrine."

    What unifies Feuer's approach is one pervasive consistency: a de-politicization of the categories of analysis. He presents us with rebels abstracted from the objects of their rebellion, or with those objects reduced to personal, psycho- logical motivations. Generational rebellion and counter-cultural support are purely formal factors. They may be prerequisite to an explanation but hardly suffice in themselves. With only ambiguous exceptions we are left with the sense that the new scientific insights could have come at any other time, in any other society that met his formal criteria. His main concern is with negative conditioning, what estranged a few exceptional people from accepted viewpoints, what permitted their naivetO. The key word is "naivet~." Feuer's vision has these exceptional individuals existing in an ethereal limbo, transcending influences by their .society, and surrounded by brilliant new insights waiting eternally to be plucked by scientific spirits still in this world but, during working hours, not of it.

    As I read the case studies I felt a growing disquiet. My appreciation for the information new to me was reduced by a strengthening premonition that the analytical inadequacies betokened an ideological blindspot or even ulterior motive. The concluding third of the book which follows the case studies confirmed my apprehension. Feuer sets up his misunderstanding of modern physics as both springboard and contraposition to attack political rebellion in general and contemporary radical sociology in particular. It is rare that we encounter a scholarly book in which the ideological biases are so transparent and in which their implicit presence in the methodology is so readily con- firmed in the concluding arguments. Indeed it may be that Feuer's insistent self-perception as objective and "scientific" is what permits the transparency. Less self-righteous writing would have resorted to more subtle opacities.

  • 596

    According to his thesis, in the important areas of human endeavor which show progress, revolutionary impulses (by which he means those of genera- tional revolt, the sole kind of revolutionary impulse he recognizes) are successfully channelled into evolutionary straits. The key to progress in natural science as in scientific sociology, is de-politicization. Thus he equates all rebellions, explicitly treats radicalism and proto-Nazism as equivalent, ignores the historical accomplishments of revolutionaries and the valid reasons why revolutions may be desirable, and counterposes to the "constitu- tional republic" of science, a reified category of "rebellion," with all its distinctions obscured as generational. In its latter pages, the book becomes an epigonic example of the academic mudslinging that developed in the 1960s as

    part of an entrenched professional response to the radical student movement.

    Some of his most valuable if sometimes only implicit recognitions from earlier in the book are downplayed or even repudiated by this line of argument. In his awareness that factors extrinsic to science affect the germi- nation of and response to scientific concepts, he seemed to suggest that how one understands the influences on human creativity has political implications] He further seemed aware that new perceptions of reality have not only political connections but also political corollaries and consequences. Just as his recognition of social conditioning faded to its opposite, a notion of great men able to attain naivetO, so does he shy from the import of his earlier political perceptions. The metaphor of a "constitutional republic" is not only misleading as a description of science, but also reveals where Feuer's preposses-

    sions have interfered with his ability to follow out the consequences of some of his own better thought.

    It is fundamental to his thesis as to his metaphor that science advances through continuity. Thus his most extended polemic attempts to invalidate the notion of "scientific revolution." A complete look at the argument would be wearying; however, an examination of some of the main points is worth- while. Surely the analogy between scientific and social revolutions is not airtight and certainly it is overworked. It does, though, have significant conceptual advantages which Feuer's critique misconstrues.

    He begins with a series of putative prerequisites for revolution, then attempts to show that their analogue in science did not exist. Thus, revolution presupposes a preceding "revolutionary situation" defined by universal aware-

    ness that such a situation exists. Since he can show that some scientists were complacent at the same time as those of his case studies were pregnant with major advances, he concludes that there was no "revolutionary situation" in the science of that time, therefore no scientific revolution, demonstrating

  • 597

    that science does not proceed through revolutions. Q.E.D. The weakness of the terms of the syllogism is established by evidence which he himself provides. Earlier, in other contexts, he has quoted most of the main figures of the book to the opposite effect. ( " . . . the great revolution which I felt was preparing itself in physics," noted de Broglie. There are similar statements by Heisenberg "and Einstein.) The requirement of universal awareness is exag- gerated rhetoric. It applies neither to social nor to scientific revolution. Selec- tive quoting from those who did not see the crisis may indicate only their lack of foresight.

    "Revolutionary situation" as an analogy is valid to the extent that there is a widespread sense that the prevailing system in basic respects is illegitimate and unstable. Part of that instability consists in the awareness of potentially feasible, potentially desirable alternatives, whether of scientific ideas or of social order. A "revolutionary situation" does not exist in the abstract, divorced from people's sense of alternatives. Thus the real analogue to early 1917 in Russia, antedated by years of political struggle, is not pre-Einstein in physics, but rather Einstein and others attempting to spread the new under- standing. New theories are manifestations of vanguard efforts in science helping to create a revolutionary situation, not simply reflections of an external situation already existing. Feuer misunderstands the scientific enter- prise. Vis_gt_vis their colleagues as well as their data, creative scientists are engaged in a sort of prams. They act as intentional organizing agents instead of merely acted-upon objects of history.

    Criteria for distinguishing between lesser change and revolution in scientific thinking may be no more clear-cut than criteria for making the corresponding distinction with respect to society. Nevertheless the distinction is indispen- sable. Feuer ignores it, accepting as "scientific revolutions" whatever are advertised as such. He thus ends up comparing some relatively minor scienti- fic changes, by which I mean those that remain within the prevailing frame- work, to such vast transitions as that from feudalism to capitalism. Of course he easily is able to discredit the former as unworthy of the comparison. From this one could justifiably and modestly conclude that changes in conceptuali- zation are frequently called "revolutionary" which do not deserve the desig- nation, but not that there are none which do. A more valid, if obvious, counterpart to the fundamental social changes in the early modern West might be the Copernican revolution. I have already suggested that these two parallel transitions are more than abstract analogies, being interconnected. Changes in the society (so varied that the phrase "feudalism to capitalism" is inadequate) required new general explanatory frameworks, which in turn made possible basic new scientific approaches (the accomplishments of which

  • 598

    confirmed the new approaches and helped to order the society in line with the new world-views, etc.).

    Not all of Feuer's examples are incongruously minor. Regrettably his anaiyses are suspect for they approach nowhere near the depth of his earlier case studies, which I read as, if anything, confirming the hypothesis of scientific revolutions. It is as if the particular conclusion at which he wished to arrive caused him to ask more limited questions in the later examples. As an additional argument against the analogy of revolution he contends that breakthroughs in science are not immanent, are not the working out of normal science. Rather, again, he looks to social factors extrinsic to science which encourage the breakthroughs. Here his criticism of Kuhn's model (in The Structure of Scient,fic Revolutions) against which he has been contend- ing with little acknowledgement through this entire section, is, I believe, just. He is not justified, however, in extending his rejection of one use of the concept to the concept as a whole.

    He makes an emphatic point that there is no necessary union between a revolutionary temperament in science and one in politics. This would be important only if "revolutionary temperament" were in itself an explanation. We know that it is not. Often, by interposing some distance between people and their society, radical sympathies open them to new perceptions across a wide range of thought. However, the important questions are those of the underlying social changes and the concrete factors in people's lives that enable them to perceive or react to those social changes, whatever stances they adopt toward the political issues of their day.

    Science, both as imputed objectively and in its history, has been used by Feuer as a means of attack on political opponents and on viewpoints that differ from his own. Having half glimpsed some important recognitions about the interrelationship between ideas and social conditions, recognitions which would have challenged his self-image as "scientific," he backed off. I can only characterize his attitude toward any manifestation of rebellion as patronizing: partly attracted, in practice repelled, and entirely preoccupied. He cannot concede, will not even consider, that there might be substance other than oedipal behind revolt. His response to radical sociology is that of a would-be after figure and would-be scientist:

    Today. . . a new generation of revolutionary sociologists, finding that observed fact and statistical methods do not confirm its biases and longings, is constrained to revolt against the notions of objective science and objective methods of verification, and to announce itself opposed to

  • 599

    value-free sociology. The generational waves have thus taken sociologists from religion to science to ideology. 12

    Feuer makes clear with which "generational wave" he identifies. If this book is a testimonial to his version of science, the impression it leaves is far from what he obviously expects. Perhaps only a strongly partisan position could have raised such interesting questions. Feuer's partisanship, however, inter- feres with useful answers.


    1. Marvin Harris, The Rise of Anthropological Theory, p. 288. Harris follows this with a confirming quotation from Einstein, so it seems only apposite to quote the anthropologist here in an essay on natural science. For too long the interaction between natural and social sciences has been too heavily one-way, based on a misleading model of the former.

    2. Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, p. 328. I've used the Salus- bury-de Santillana translation.

    3. Quoted in Robert K. Merton, Science, Technology and Society in Seventeenth Century England, p. 219.

    4. Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. Lenin was concerned with what he saw as solipsistic implications if concepts do not directly correspond with reality. Later he reworked this question in his Philosophical Notebooks which were not, however, published during his lifetime. The earlier work was used by the Comintern to condemn Georg Lukfics' History and Class Consciousness.

    5. William Leiss, The Domination of Nature. 6. Lewis S. Feuer, Einstein and the Generations of Science, p. 290. 7. Even the expression of biological drives, such as how and what we eat, how and

    with whom we make love, etc., are affected by the social environment. The exceptions to social conditioning are certain basic experiences, rare to the individu- al, albeit habitual to the species, for example, the trauma of birth from the standpoint of the baby. The necessity of making sense of one's place in the cosmos is I believe, an outgrowth of a biological attribute prerequisite to survival. As a means of coping with abundant and divergent stimuli, it has both made possible and been transformed by human social evolution.

    8. Steven Rose, The Conscious Brain, pp. 24 ft. 9. Feuer, op. cit., p. 34.

    10. 1bid., p. 39. 11. 1bid., p. 126. 12. 1bid., p. 309.

    Theory and Society 3 (1976) 583-599 9 Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Amsterdam - Printed in the Netherlands