[ click/tap here to open a second-window aside with Editor’s Introduction for this Roses e-publication ]
from the “intepretive translation” of 1979
Genesis and Development of
a Scientific Fact
by Ludwik Fleck
[ translated from the original German by
Frederick Bradley and Thaddeus J. Trenn ]
[ A N E X C E R P T F R O M ]
[ “Epistemological Conclusions from the
Established History of a Concept” ]
[EXAMPLE] 4. The very persistence with which observations contradicting a view are “explained” and smoothed over by conciliators is most instructive. Such effort demonstrates that the aim is logical conformity within a system at any cost, and shows how logic can be interpreted in practice. Every theory aspires to being a logical system but often merely begs the question.
The following passage from Paracelsus is so much to the point here that to quote it here will spare the reader many examples.
Man, who alone walks in the visible light of nature, is unable to believe that a man could be possessed by the devil and harbor him in such a way that one must think: This man is not a man, but a devil. This possibility arouses revulsion and resentment in any living person. Must it not be a miracle of God that a man living in this world could appear to have a devil? Man is supposed to be made in the image of God and not of the devil, who is as different from man as stone from wood. Aside from the fact that man is made in the image of God, he has also been redeemed from the devil by the Son of God. How incredible therefore that nevertheless he can be thrown into such frightful captivity without protection!
[ Paracelsus, Von den unsichtbaren Krankheiten und ihren Ursachen [On the Causes of Invisible Disease], in the edn. transcribed by Richard Koch and Eugen Rosenstock, p. 21. ]
Two articles of faith confront each other here, namely, that man could be possessed by the devil, and that yet he was freed from the devil. Neither of these articles may be doubted, but something must be done to save the relevant logic. A miracle of God is invoked to bring them into accord. This saves the logic of the matter and no one need any longer harbor “revulsion and resentment.”
No matter how illogical this may appear to us, the whole thing is true to style. Let us try to imagine ourselves in the world of Paracelsus, where every object and event is a symbol, and every symbol and metaphor also has objective value. It is a world full of hidden meanings, spirits, and mysterious powers, full of defiance and awe as well as love and hate. How else could one live in such an impulsive, unsafe, and hazardous reality than to believe in miracles? The miraculous becomes the fundamental principle and most immediate experience within Paracelsian reality and permeates every aspect of his science. It anticipates every consideration, and springs forth from every consideration.
A closed, stylized system of this kind is not immediately receptive to new ideas. These would be reinterpreted to make them conform.
[EXAMPLE] 5. The liveliest stage of tenacity in systems of opinion is creative fiction, constituting, as it were, the magical realization of ideas and the interpretation that individual expectations in science are actually fulfilled.
Almost any theory can be quoted as an example here, because all contain some element of wishful thinking by their scientific proponents. But concrete and detailed examples are more useful for illustrating the extent of such wishful thinking than for merely establishing its existence.
In an age when marveling at nature was sufficient to be regarded as knowledge, and before man had learned to utilize his admiration in a practical way to stimulate proper investigation, the purposefulness of things in nature, both living and inanimate, was wondered at and enormously overvalued. Marvelous instincts aroused particular fascination. In an essay “The Nests of Animals” published in 1866, Wood tells the following story. “Maraldi was struck by the great regularity exhibited by bees’ honeycombs. He measured the angles of the rhombohedral dividing walls and found them to be 109° 28' and 70° 32'. Convinced that these particular angles must somehow be related to the economy of the cells, Réaumur asked the mathematician König to calculate what shape a hexagonal vessel bordered by three rhombi would have if it enclosed the maximum volume with minimum surface. Réaumur received the answer that the rhombic angles would have to be 109° 26' and 70° 34', constituting a difference of only two minutes of arc. Not satisfied with this lack of agreement, Maclaurin repeated Maraldi’s measurements and confirmed them. But when he repeated the calculation he spotted an error in the table of logarithms used by König. It was not the bee but the mathematician that had made the mistake. The bees even helped to discover the error.” Mach also comments on this case: “Those who know how to measure crystals, and have seen a honeycomb with its rather rough and non-reflecting surfaces, will doubt that an accuracy of two minutes can be achieved in its measurement. The story must therefore be considered only a doughty legend of mathematics.... It must also be said that the mathematical problem had not been fully presented, so there is no way to judge to what extent the bees have actually solved it.”
Those who find this story, written as it is in a quite scientific style insufficiently convincing to demonstrate the occurrence of self-fulfilling scientific expectation [Wunschtraumerfüllung], may prefer to look at even “more objective fiction” in the form of pictorial representations.
In an Amsterdam transcription by N. Fontanus of Vesalius’s Epitome, the uterus is illustrated on page 33, with the following legend on page 32. “Question: How does the seed enter the woman during ejaculation if the womb is so tightly closed that not even a needle can enter through it, according to Hippocrates, book 5, aphorisms 51 and 54? Answer: Through a branch leading from the ejaculatory duct entering the cervix of the uterus, as this illustration shows.”
The idea of a fundamental analogy existing between male and female genitals, as held in antiquity, is exhibited most effectively here, and illustrated as if it really occurred in nature. Anatomists will notice immediately that the proportions of the organs, as well as the corresponding positioning, have been restyled to conform to this theory [see Figure 1]. Truth and fiction or, perhaps better, relationships that have been retained within science and others that have disappeared from this structure appear here visibly side by side. The duct labeled S, “through which the woman becomes impregnated by the seed ejaculated at the time of intercourse,” is typical, and it is indispensable to this theory of analogy. Although unknown in modern anatomy, it is pictured in early anatomical descriptions in a style appropriate to that theory — right amidst other excellent data of observation.
When I selected this illustration for the present work, I was tempted to add a “correct” and “faithful” one for comparison. Leafing through modern anatomical atlases and gynecological textbooks, I found many good illustrations but not a single natural one. All had been touched up in appearance, and were schematically, almost symbolically, true to theory but not to nature. I found one particular photograph in a textbook on dissecting techniques. This, too, was tailored to theory with orientation lines and indicating arrows added to make it graphically suitable for use in teaching. I thus once again convinced myself that it is not possible to carry out such a comparison. It is only theories, not illustrations, that can be compared. It is true that modern doctrine is supported by much more sophisticated techniques of investigation, much broader experience, and more thorough theory. The naive analogy between the organs of both sexes has disappeared, and far more details are available. But the path from dissection to formulated theory is extremely complicated, indirect, and culturally conditioned. The more clearly we visualize it, the more we will be confronted with connections in the history of ideas and psychology leading us to their originators. In science, just as in art and in life, only that which is true to culture is true to nature.
Any attempt to legitimize a particular approach as the correct one is at best of limited value, since it is inextricably bound to a thought collective. Neither the style characteristic of opinion nor the technical skills required for any scientific investigation can be formulated in terms of logic. This sort of legitimization is therefore possible only where it is actually no longer required, namely among persons whose intellectual constitution is thought-stylized in common and, more particularly, who share approximately the same educational background.
Berengar, for instance, discusses somewhere the old argument about the origin of the veins. According to Aristotle the veins originate in the heart, according to Galen in the liver. “I say that the veins originate neither in the heart nor in the liver except in a figurative and metaphorical sense, yet metaphorically they originate more in the liver than in the heart, and thus in this respect I agree more with the physicians than with Aristotle.” Here it is obvious that any logical discussion is bound to fail. We do not recognize such “metaphorical and figurative” origins for the veins, but only a morphological, phylogenetic, and embryological “origin” of the blood vessels. To us the human body does not represent such a collection of metaphors and symbols, although we are unable to provide a logical reason why we have changed the style of approach.
Simple lack of “direct contact with nature” during experimental dissection cannot explain the frequency of the phrase “which becomes visible during autopsy” often accompanying what to us seem the most absurd assertions. Such contact was generally very tenuous. It was much less the autopsy itself than the ancient views that were consulted, yet this only served to reinforce the ancient thought style. Stereotyped opinions handed down a thousand times meant more to and were considered safer by those authors than any autopsy as such, which was only a “gruesome duty.”
This period was associated with a specifically symbolic “anatomia imaginabilis” and was followed by another period when a purely morphological approach to anatomy was attempted. The latter, however, could not be pursued without phylogenetic, ontogenetic, and comparative symbols. Then came physiological anatomists, using physiological symbols and evolving chemical organs, the endocrine system, the reticulo-endothelial system: structures to which no sharply outlined morphological organs correspond. During each period with its own characteristic style the concepts used were absolutely clear, since clarity is based upon reducibility to other stylized concepts. Despite this clarity, direct communication between the adherents of different thought styles is impossible. How is the ancient anatomical term “bosom” [Schoss], for instance, to be translated into a modern one? Where is this mystical organ to be positioned?
An example of a nineteenth-century scientific illustration might be added, very similar to the one from the seventeenth century. When Haeckel, the romantic, high-spirited champion of truth, wanted to demonstrate his ideas about descent, he did not shrink from occasionally using the same blocks for the illustration of different objects such as animal and human embryos which should look alike according to his theory. His History of Natural Creation abounds with biased illustrations appropriate for his theory. Compare, for instance, the intelligent faces of the old chimpanzee and the old gorilla on figure 13 with the exaggeratedly gruesome ones of the Australian aborigine and the Papuan on figure 14. I should like to mention in conclusion a particularly gross example of the tendency to save a point of view. “The seemingly best support for the heredity of acquired characteristics comes from the experiments of [Paul] Kammerer. Using the effect of dampness, yellow background, and other, general factors he had altered specimens of spotted salamanders, Salamandra maculosa, to appear as striped ones. He excised the ovaries of these artificially striped salamanders, transplanting in their place ovaries of spotted specimens. When he mated these animals with normally spotted salamanders, the latter produced offspring with spots arranged in rows. It appeared here that the artificially altered somatic cells had influenced the egg cells of the mate.” These results caused lively discussion until suddenly “Kammerer’s experiments were proved to have been fraudulent (1926), a discovery which led to his suicide.”
To the objection that such examples, particularly the last one, are not representative of the normal function of cognition, I would admit that many of these self-fulfilling expectations could be viewed in this way. But as a physician I know that we cannot distinguish sharply between normality and abnormality. The abnormal is often only an enhancement of the normal. It is also known that both normality and abnormality often have identical social effects. Although the philosophy of Nietzsche has, for instance, a psychopathological motif, it generates social effects no different from those produced by a normally conditioned outlook on life. At any rate, once a statement is published it constitutes part of the social forces which form concepts and create habits of thought. Together with all other statements it determines “what cannot be thought in any other way.” Even if a particular statement is contested, we grow up with its uncertainty which, circulating in society, reinforces its social effect. It becomes a self-evident reality which, in turn, conditions our further acts of cognition. There emerges a closed, harmonious system within which the logical origin of individual elements can no longer be traced.
Every pronouncement leaves behind either the solution or the problem, if only the problem of the problem’s own rationality. The formulation of a problem already contains half its solution. Any future examination must return along existing thought tracks. The future will never be completely isolated from the past, whether normal or abnormal, except when a break with it occurs as the result of the rules characteristic of the thought structure in question.
The tenacity of systems of opinion shows us that, to some extent, they must be regarded as units, as independent, style-permeated structures. They are not mere aggregates of partial propositions but as harmonious holistic units exhibit those particular stylistic properties which determine and condition every single function of cognition.
The self-contained nature of the system as well as the interaction between what is already known, what remains to be learned, and those who are to apprehend it, go to ensure harmony within the system. But at the same time they also preserve the harmony of illusions, which is quite secure within the confines of a given thought style.
[ A N E X C E R P T F R O M ]
[ “Epistemological Considerations Concerning
the History of the Wassermann Reaction” ]
To obtain an even clearer picture of how scientific observation differs when two different thought styles are involved, it is perhaps appropriate to compare anatomical descriptions and illustrations in early and recent textbooks. I browsed through several seventeenth- and eighteenth-century anatomical textbooks, all of which provide almost equally suitable examples. Let me cite the description of the collarbone (clavicle) from Thomas Bartholin, Anatomy, Old and New Observations, Especially the Teaching of my Father, Caspar Bartholin, about Harvey’s Blood Circulation and Lymph Vessels [Anatome ex omnium veterum recentiorumque observationibus], fourth edition, Leyden, 1673.
Clavicles are called keys because they lock the chest, and like a key also lock the shoulder blade to the breastbone, or because they recall the keys to houses of ancient times, noted by Spigel at Padua in ancient houses. Celsus calls them jugula because they connect. Others call them tongues, the forked bone, or the upper support. They are located transversely below the lower neck, in the highest part of the chest, one on each side. They are shaped like an elongated Latin letter S, that is two semicircles sigmoidally joined, convex towards the outside joint and slightly hollow so that no vessels, which are large there, are compressed. In the male they are more curved so that the movement of the arms is less obstructed. In the female they are less curved to enhance her beauty, so that the depressions in this area are less conspicuous in the female than in the male, wherefore she is less proficient in throwing stones. The material is thick, but perforated and spongy. It is therefore often fractured, but easily knits together again. The surface is rough and uneven. They are connected to the upper process of the shoulderblades by cartilage, which joins them so that movement of the shoulderblades and arms is not restricted. But they are immobilized by ligaments surrounding the joint, with a broad and longish end, and joined to the breastbone at the other end as previously described. The collarbone is utilized for various movements of the arm, and because it is fixed by a bone like a stake, it can be more easily moved backward and forward. Hence animals except monkeys, squirrels, mice, and hedgehogs have no collarbone.
[ Pg. 745 ]
This description consists of: (1) a linguistic analysis of terms, taking up one-fifth of the chapter; (2) a brief description of the arrangement and a fairly detailed description of the connection with other bones; (3) a very graphic description, although poor in detail, of the shape; (4) a very brief description of the surface (“rough and uneven”) and of the internal structure (“thick, but perforated and spongy”); (5) some comparatively comprehensive and very detailed teleological remarks, taking up about a quarter of the entire exposition; (6) and some brief remarks on comparative anatomy, such as, “Hence animals have no collarbones.”
Let us compare this with a modern description, for instance the one under the heading “clavicula, clavicle” by Möller and Müller in a very concise compendium of anatomy.
Concerning the S-shaped bone inserted between shoulder blade and breastbone, we speak of the middle section and the sternal and acromial ends. The middle section has an upper and a lower face with a shallow groove (musculus subclavius), an anterior (mm. pectoralis major and deltoideus) and a posterior edge. The sternal extremity is prism-shaped with anterior (m. pectoralis major), posterior (m. sterno-hyoideus), inferior and median faces (=facies articularis sternalis), superior (m. sternocleidomastoideus), inferior and posterior edges. The costal tuberosity is situated on the inferior face (ligamentum costoclaviculare). The acromion has a superior, inferior, and lateral face (=facies articularis acromialis), an anterior (m. deltoideus) and a posterior (m. trapezius) edge. The coracoid tuberosity (lig. coracoclaviculare) is on the inferior face. Development: main core is in the middle section with epiphysis at the sternal extremity.
Compared with the seventeenth-century description, the following changes will be noted. No trace remains of (1) the pseudolinguistic analysis of nomenclature, (2) most of the vividness in the description of shape and arrangement, and (3) the teleological observations. On the other hand, (4) detailed information about muscle and ligament connections with the bones is provided, and (5) the description of the surfaces, the edges, the various parts of the bones is far more detailed. The shift in intellectual interest is very clear. What Bartholin described in just a few words has become ten times as detailed, but what he described in great detail has almost disappeared. In the place of the nomenclature analysis and teleological observations, constituting almost half his text, detailed connections of bodily organization are now described. Personal names as well as any popular aspect of form and purpose have been relegated to the background by a detailed description of connections in terms of a mechanico-technical theory.
The characteristics listed here can be found in all early anatomical descriptions, often in a style even more pronounced and gross. There are nomenclature analyses occupying half a page, with citations, discussions, deductions, and opinions. In an epitome of Vesalius’ Anatomy, edited by Fontanus, the chapter on the thighbone (femur) devotes only 31 words to its anatomical structure, in the modern sense of the term, compared with 135 to a description of the name “femur” and its meaning in Pliny, Plautus, Virgil, Horace, etc. In Bartholin we read, for instance, “The belly-as-stomach is called as it were a little belly-as-abdomen” (p. 66), or “testes or testicles attest to a man’s virility” (p. 208), or “The ticker-as-heart is so called in virtue of its ticking motion” (p. 353). A name here has a completely different significance from what it has today. It is not an arbitrary, conventional designation or one that arose by historical accident. The meaning is inherent in the name, and its investigation constitutes an integral part of acquiring knowledge about what it names. The name ranks as a property of its object of reference.
Early anatomical descriptions and illustrations are characterized by their graphic quality. We noted this in the description of the collarbone. Bartholin wrote about the kidney as follows: “Its shape is that of a kidney bean, or of a Iiverleaf when looked at in profile. Outside, the shape is gibbous and round in the back as well as towards the abdomen. The inside upper and lower parts are gibbous in shape, but the middle section concave and snubnosed” (p. 177). Books on anatomy from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries contain absolutely superb graphic pictures of nerve men and vein men which can never be found in modern textbooks. But this clarity has a distinct coloring. Figures of skeletons, for instance, do not just illustrate bones, or even a systematic arrangement of the bones, but express an emotive symbolism. They symbolize Death by carrying spades, scythes, or other insignia of death [see Figure 3]. Figures of muscular men are represented as martyrs. Other figures also assume pathetic postures. Faces do not exhibit the empty expression of corpses or the diagrammatic features typical of modern anatomical illustrations, but are expressive and distinguished. In the representation of an unborn child, both the proportions of the fetus and the position of the limbs are arranged in a conventional, amoretto-like way. The head is much too small and the limbs assume a comely position not corresponding to the compact position of the embryo [see Figure 4]. If we look at the earliest anatomical illustrations, such as the accompanying illustration from the twelfth century, the first feature that strikes us is their schematic and primitive symbolic character. We see figures set in conventional uniform postures, the organs are indicated symbolically, such as the circular duct in the thorax, meant to represent the circulation path of the pneuma in the chest, and below on the right the schematic five-lobed liver. What we have here are ideograms [Sinnbilder] corresponding to then-current ideas, not the form which is true to nature as we construe it. Intestinal loops, for instance, are not portrayed as a certain number of sections positioned in a certain way but as spiral lines symbolizing the loops (see illustration). Nor do we see definite convolutions of the brain but the “curliness of the brain surface in general”; not a certain number of ribs but the “ribbing of the chest wall in general.” The cross section of an eye does not reveal a definite number of wall layers but its multilayered structure schematically represented, which makes the illustration resemble a cross section through an onion.
We are thus confronted with ideograms [Ideogramme], or graphic representations of certain ideas and certain meanings. It involves a kind of comprehending where the meaning is represented as a property of the object illustrated.
The very detailed teleology, endeavoring to find a meaning in every detail, is perhaps connected with such ideovision [SinnSehen]. The book of Fontanus (p. 7) contains such a description. “The lower ribs are shorter, so that the full stomach is not compressed, and they are more pliable for the same reason.” The bone sutures of the crown of the skull have the purpose of releasing “vapors” from the skull (p. 3). That the fingers each have three phalanges, that the cartilaginous rings of the trachea are not completely closed, etc. are further details each allotted a simple, as it were, primitive purpose.
The interpretation of the anatomical illustrations as ideograms forces itself all the more upon us the more alien the author’s thought style and the further removed from us the era concerned. All we see in medieval, in Persian, and in Arabic illustrations is schematic sign language but almost no realism [see Figure 5]. The difference between one of these alien thought styles and the modern one does not rest simply on our greater knowledge. They have actually more to say about that which in their particular reality has a greater value than it does in ours. Bartholin has also written a chapter on the sesamoid bones (p. 756). This is even longer than the chapter on the cervical or collar muscles and consists of about thirty times as many words as the few that are included in modern anatomies about these bones [or superfluous cartilaginous nodules].
These [sesamoid] bones are important in Bartholin’s osteology but without importance in ours, standing as it were beyond the pale of the osseous system altogether. Bartholin still subscribed to ancient, fanciful legend according to which these little bones are seeds from which bodies will one day again grow “like a plant from its seed.” He did not believe very firmly in it, but he nevertheless felt obliged to cite the other authors, discuss the purpose of the bones, deal with their form and position, show surprise at the variability of their number, etc. Accordingly he had more to say about them than we do, and even more than about the cervical muscles, which today constitute an important part of myology.
He wrote almost five pages about the hymen, which today is described in one or two sentences. A great deal of space in these old descriptions is devoted to counting the number of anatomical parts. Fontanus notes: “There are twenty bones in the skull, of which eight are in the head and twelve in the upper maxillary” (p. 36). He tells us that there are twenty-eight bones in the toes, and the total number of human bones is 364; that there are seven pairs of muscles which move the eye and four pairs the cheeks and lips; that the portal vein forms five branches, etc. Today such counting is impossible, since we often regard it as arbitrary whether three bones or four, for instance, can be separately identified in a given articulation. But thought styles exist in which the number, just like the name of the object described, is important not as a means of description but in its own right. Only a vestige of such number mysticism remains with Fontanus. But in many thought styles such as the Indian thought style and that of the Chinese, such a system was elaborated until it formed a rich number cabala, in which numbers were accorded special signification and meaningful connections were established among them. If a thought style is so far removed from ours as this, no common understanding is any longer possible. Words cannot then be translated and concepts have nothing in common with ours. Even shared motifs such as the affinity exhibited between Löw’s concept of phosphorus and the modern one are missing.
To the unsophisticated research worker limited by his own thought style, any alien thought style appears like a free flight of fancy, because he can see only that which is active and almost arbitrary about it. His own thought style, in contrast, appears imperative to him, because although he is conscious of his own passivity, he takes his own activity for granted. It becomes natural and, like breathing, almost unconscious, as a result of education and training as well as through his participation in the communication of thoughts within his collective. Modern anatomists would regard as a useless emotional frill any representation of the skeleton as a symbol of death, such as was typical of Vesalius himself as well as of his predecessors and contemporaries. But we can learn to see their particular intellectual mood even in our present-day anatomical illustrations. Consider, for example, figures 120 and 121 of Heitzmann’s anatomical atlas, which represent the rib cage [see Figure 3]. A mechanico-technical cage motif is in keeping with this representation, just as much as a salient death theme with the skeleton figures of Vesalius. It cannot be claimed that the resemblance to a cage arises “automatically.” It appears only after (1) a purposeful stripping of the ribs, (2) a purposeful assembly of the plexus, as well as (3) a purposeful arrangement of the whole to bring about this resemblance in perspective, in a manner analogous to the purposeful ideography [Aufstellungen der Sinnbilder] of early anatomy. Furthermore, (4) the lines added to indicate muscular insertions underscore the symbolism of a mechanical apparatus every bit as much as the scythe underscores the symbolism of Death for Vesalius. These modern figures are ideograms just like those of Vesalius. There is no visual perception except by ideovision anel there is no other kind of illustration than ideograms.
A technico-mechanical motif is in keeping with all osteological figures of modern anatomy. Accordingly the skeletal system is regarded as a supporting frame. Everyone is so familiar with this idea both from school and from our thought style that we are forced to exclaim that of course “it really is the supporting frame.” It certainly is, provided we are thinking according to the thought style of modern science. But it is not difficult to imagine a system of knowledge in which the skeleton is not construed as a frame supporting the body. If one adheres to the concept of heaviness [Schwerebegriffe] found in Schreger and even in Löw, for instance, it is by no means impossible to look to the airy and fiery spirits as supporting the body, because these keep the body upright by their urge to rise. Here the bones would really be the opposing element, which is lifeless “metallic” and non-“inspirited.” “As all persons, when they die, become heavier or metallic ...” As the non-inspirited principle of the body, and mere ballast, the skeleton would attract much less attention and be depicted as a pile of bones rather than the frame shown in modern anatomical illustrations. In about the same way, fatty tissue appears in modern anatomical illustrations not as a continuous system but as a kind of photographic negative. It “appears” as that which has been cut away [much like the “lack of coction” which Löw “observed”].
We have defined thought style as the readiness for directed perception and appropriate assimilation of what has been perceived. We have already mentioned the particular mood which produces this readiness for any particular thought style. An exhaustive investigation of thought styles cannot be assigned to this book, for it would take up the working capacity of a lifetime. There is but one element of the thought style of modern science that ought to be discussed, namely the specific intellectual mood of modern scientific thinking, especially in the natural sciences. This mood stands in direct relation to the specific structure of the thought collective of science as has already been described.
It is expressed as a common reverence for an ideal — the ideal of objective truth, clarity, and accuracy. It consists in the belief that what is being revered can be achieved only in the distant, perhaps infinitely distant future; in the glorification of dedicating oneself to its service; in a definite hero worship and a distinct tradition. This would be the keynote of the common mood in which the thought collective of natural science lives its life. No one already initiated would claim that scientific thinking is devoid of feeling. Nor can there be any doubt, according to our argument, that the particular attitude influences not only the work method but also the results. It manifests itself concretely as a readiness for directed perception.
But how is this mood put into effect? First, every scientist has the obligation to remain in the background. This obligation is also expressed in the democratically equal regard for anybody that acquires knowledge. All research workers, as a matter of principle, are regarded as possessing equal rights. And all, in the service of the common ideal, must equally withdraw their own individuality into the shadows, as it were. Personal supposition in science is regarded as provisional; this is a specific structural aspect of the thought collective of science. We previously discussed in detail the centrifugal tendency of the products of scientific thought [der naturwissenschaftlichen Denkgebilde] and the centripetal feedback of this tendency in the form of a migration of ideas throughout the collective between the esoteric and the exoteric circles. We emphasized the distinctive “modesty of the plural” as well as a characteristic personal modesty and caution.
The mood of the thought collective of natural science is further realized in a particular inclination to objectivize the thought structures [Denkgebilde] that it has created. This is the counterpart to the obligation of the scientist to withdraw as a person. This tendency to reify and objectivize the conceptual creations of scientific thought [Denkgebilde] arises, as has already been described, during the migration of ideas throughout the collective and is inseparably bound up with it. Graduated in several steps, it begins with statements by different scientists as well as the historical development of a problem, so that it becomes depersonalized. Special expressions or “technical terms” are introduced. To these are added special symbols and possibly a whole sign language such as is used in chemistry, mathematics, or symbolic logic. Such a lifeless [lebensfremde] language guarantees fixed meanings for concepts, rendering them static and absolute. A further factor is the particular reverence for number and form as well as the striving for vividness and a closed system. A maximum of information is demanded, the greatest possible number of mutual relations between individual elements, in the belief that the ideal of objective truth is all the more closely approached as more and more relations are found.
Thus, a structure [Gebilde] is created step by step. Starting as a unique event or discovery, as seen from the history of thought, this is developed by the extraordinary forces of the thought collective into what seems to it to be a necessarily recurrent and thus objective and real finding.
The disciplined, shared mood of scientific thought, consisting of the elements enumerated, connected with the practical means and effects, yields the specialized thought style of science. Good work done according to style, instantly awakens a corresponding mood of solidarity in the reader. It is this mood which, after a few sentences, compels him to regard the book highly and makes the book effective. Only later does one examine the details to see whether they can be incorporated into a system, that is, whether the realization of the thought style has been consistently achieved and in particular whether procedure has conformed to tradition (= to preparatory training). These determinations legitimize the work so that it can be added to the stock of scientific knowledge and convert what has been presented into scientific fact.
return to TOP of page