Thursday, May 15, 2014
On Edward Bellamy's "Looking Backward": Next to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) and Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage (1895), Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888) is one of 19th-century-America's most influential novels. If Uncle Tom's Cabin helped start the Civil War, and The Red Badge of Courage helped Americans to make sense of the war, then Looking Backward pushed Americans not only to move beyond the war, but also to envision what the future of their society might entail. And with such a lofty goal, Bellamy's novel essentially gave birth to the genre of utopian science fiction. Following the life of Julian West, a man who fell asleep in 1887 and woke up in the year 2000, Bellamy's novel depicts a futuristic Boston, Massachusetts, as a place of true equality. Paper money has disappeared, everybody has the same amount of credit at their disposal, public kitchens feed people for free, and crime is treated solely as a medical problem. But how did the U.S. transition from the highest tide of laissez-faire capitalism to the principles of socialist utopianism? That is precisely the question which Bellamy's novel seeks to answer in just under 500 pages.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
On Thomas Kuhn's "Paradigm Shifts": Photographed above is philosopher/physicist Thomas Kuhn, who in 1962, published a controversial book titled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. His main argument, which emphasized the humanistic and irrational components of the scientific method, challenged traditional understandings of how scientific progress occurred. Rather than analyzing a longstanding collection of data over time, Kuhn contended that revolutionary advances in science only happen in fits and starts. Thus, they are discontinuous and wholly "incommensurate" (not comparable) to previous conceptions of knowledge. The primary resulting features of these revolutionary advances are "paradigm shifts." Classic examples of paradigm shifts identified by Kuhn and other historians of science include heliocentrism replacing geocentrism, the germ theory of disease replacing miasma theory, photography replacing lithography, and telephony replacing telegraphy. Indeed, Kuhn's positions have been criticized as unrealistic at times because scientific advances are ultimately the product of numerous revisions. And "paradigm shifts" do not fully reveal the importance of revisions in the scientific method.