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Cognition and Fact

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Ludwik Fleck was born in Lwów on July 11, 1896. His father Maurycy ran a middle class painting establishment there. Fleck grew up in the atmosphere of the relatively extensive cultural autonomy of Galicia: Since 1867 the Polish culture which had developed during the long period of Polish division had found favorable conditions here in the Austrian-occupied territory (cf. e.g., Hartmann, 1962, 1966). The multinational state of Austria-Hungary allowed its regions a certain measure of cultural independence. There were Polish schools, and the city boasted an old university at which classes had again been held in the Polish language since 1879 (Dobrowolski, 1960). It was precisely because of these liberal politics that the culture of German-speaking territories met with great understanding: science and culture here were closely related to those of Vienna — which was also the case for the period following Poland’s becoming independent in 1918.
Medical science, whose range is as vast as its history is old, has led to the formation of a specific style in the grasping of its problems and of a specific way of treating medical phenomena, i.e. to a specific type of thinking. In substance such separateness of the way of thinking is nothing extraordinary. One has only to realize the difference between the way of thinking of a scientist and that of a humanist, even if the subject in question is the same: for example, how great is the difference, and how great is the impossibility of a direct juxtaposition, between psychology as science and as a branch of philosophy. Even the very subject of medical cognition differs in principle from that of scientific cognition. A scientist looks for typical, normal phenomena, while a medical man studies precisely the atypical, abnormal, morbid phenomena. And it is evident that he finds on this road a great wealth and range of individuality of these phenomena which form a great number, without distinctly delimited units, and abounding in transitional, boundary states. There exists no strict boundary between what is healthy and what is diseased, and one never finds exactly the same clinical picture again. But this extremely rich wealth of forever different variants is to be surmounted mentally, for such is the cognitive task of medicine. How does one find a law for irregular phenomena? - this is the fundamental problem of medical thinking. In what way should they be grasped and what relations should be adopted between them in order to obtain a rational understanding?
In exploring the sources of cognition (Erkenntnis ), we frequently commit the mistake of regarding them as much too simple.
Until quite lately the following conviction prevailed among scientists, expressed in Poincaré’s sentence: “if a research worker had infinite time at his disposal, it would suffice to tell him: Look, but look well”. Our entire knowledge would allegedly emerge out of the description of his observations of all events.
The fundamental error in many discussions from the field of epistemology is the (more or less open) manipulation of the symbolic epistemological subject, known as ‘human spirit’, ‘human mind’, ‘research worker’ or simply ‘man’ (‘John’, ’Socrates’), which has no concrete living position, which does not basically undergo changes even in the course of centuries and which represents every ‘normal’ man regardless of the surroundings and the epoch. Thus it is to be absolute, unchanging and general.
It is highly interesting to establish to what extent scientists who devote the whole of their life to the problem of distinguishing illusions from reality are unable to distinguish their own dreams about science from the true form of science.
Let us look from a short distance at Figure 1. What do we see? From the black background the picture of a gray, wrinkled surface stands out. Some places look like rough folds, others like densely arranged warts, one place reminds us of the waves of a muddy liquid, others of clouds of smoke (perhaps because the picture in this border place is out of focus). We find a place which looks like a frizzly fur, yet this is no fur, for there are no hairs to be seen. Now what is it? Is it the skin of a toad under a magnifying glass or perhaps a part of the culture of the celebrated fungus to which we are indebted for penicillin? Or perhaps a close-up of the neck of an old mountaineer? No, this is a perfect photograph of a cloud of the type known to meteorologists as cirro-cumulus. Let us now look again at this figure, but from afar. Once we know what it is and in what way one should look at it, we see immediately the enormous depth of the sky, and a large fluffy cloud whose variable structure, while unimportant in the details of limited places, in its entirety reminds us of a sheep’s fur.
There is no doubt that science is becoming a servant of politics and industry, to the great detriment of its cultural mission. In almost all countries throughout the world politicians and industrialists dispose of scientists, often decide on their work and sometimes even on their beliefs and convictions. This happens not only because some modern scientific activities require large resources. A more dangerous factor is the growing opportunism of many, mainly young, scientists to whom Science is only a modern way to a good career.
The purpose of the present exploration is not to deal with the details of Fleck’s analysis of the scientific fact and its conceptual components. The purpose is rather to point to some trend in modern philosophy — as a matter of fact formulated at the time of Fleck’s writing of this major book — without assuming that Fleck was aware of those trends and their affinity with his own ‘style of thinking’. Hence we can say that we are concerned with the whole notion of ‘Pre-ideas ’ (Prä-Ideen) as formulated1 in several major philosophical presentations, or to take advantage of a historical expression -we are interested in the ‘climate of opinion’ in which or against which Fleck’s theory was formulated. To be sure, when Whitehead uses the term ‘climate of opinion’ he points to the understanding of the antecedents of a certain world-view.2 We are more concerned with the contemporary points of view than with that which preceded Fleck. One could say that we are interested in the contemporary milieu, in the philosophical sense, of Fleck’s position and its major issues.
The aim of this article is to contribute to an understanding of the genesis, significance and reception of Ludwik Fleck’s theory of thought-styles and thought-collectives (Fleck, 1935, 1935a, 1936) by considering its epis-temological content in relation to the philosophy in Poland in the nineteen thirties.
1. There is one thing that is certain: the ideas of Fleck, as fresh and original for his time as they were, were passed by unnoticed by Polish philosophy. The question asked here is: Why?
In the name of both my Polish colleagues and myself, as the secretary of the First Division of the Polish Academy of Sciences of Social Sciences, I should like to take advantage of the honor granted me in presenting the opening talk to extend my most heartfelt thanks for the invitation to participate in this undertaking to the organizers of the Ludwik Fleck colloquium.
In this work, I will investigate the question of the intellectual sources which influenced Fleck in the development of his theory of ‘thought-style’ and ‘thought-collective’. In this investigation, I develop the thesis that this influence was of a quite dominating philosophical nature, one exerted by the Polish philosophers working in Lwów between the wars.
This statement, taken from Ludwik Fleck’s classic book of 1935, might be read as the guiding slogan of his whole enterprise. If the theory of knowledge is to bear fruit, he tells us, it must not be founded on some Phantasiebild of Science: some a priori definition, or ‘demarcation criterion’, like that which Karl Popper has always insisted on. (Popper’s Logik der Forschung had appeared in the previous year.) Any epistemological theory developed on an a priori basis alone faced insurmountable problems: it would do no more than explore the consequences of some arbitrary initial conception, selected to indicate what Science must be, if it was to fit the prejudices of the individual philosopher in question.
Ludwik Fleck situated himself epistemologically in opposition to the two most prominant schools of the philosophy of science of his time: the Logical Positivism of Carnap, Schlick and others of the Vienna Circle, and the Historicism of Durkheim, Levy-Bruhl, Jerusalem and the sociologists of knowledge (46-51)1. A brief statement of where he stood with respect to each is helpful.
John Ziman’s great contribution to sociology of science is the establishment of a serious, working physicist’s view of science as a collective enterprise. Fleck, according to Ziman, objects to “complete inadequacy of epistemologi-cal individualism”. Ziman recognizes in Fleck a kindred spirit. Fleck, like Ziman himself, was a distinguished and creative scientist and they both belong “to ‘science’ and ‘society’ as an active person”. But for Ziman these two worlds of science and society are kept apart. Not only does Ziman accept the external/internal dichotomy of studying the scientific process but he even makes use of the sophisticated notion of internal against external sociology of the scientific community. The Mertonian norms of communalism, univer-salism, disinterestedness and organized scepticism are thus internal sociology. The external sociology of science deals with the “actual change in the social relations of the scientist within and outside science”. This is the central theme of Ziman’s paper; and is, according to Ziman, also Fleck’s main preoccupation. We learn much about the constraints that organized research imposes on the autonomy of science as regards problem-choice, methods, career-course, and validation. It is convincingly shown that conventional academic science and scientific ideology clash with the collectivized science of the 1980’s and the normative penumbra of what Ziman brings before us is that since the science of the 1980’s has brought with it great progress, there is not that much wrong with it, and we must study its departure from its earlier course, and tune ourselves to its new character: in other words conservative modernism has the imprimatur of a leading physicist.
A consideration of Ludwik Fleck’s ‘Contributions to Epistemology’, which is our present theme, is confronted first of all with the difficulty of having to differentiate between the philosophy of science (Wissenschaftstheorie ) and epistemology (Erkenntnistheorie ). In my opinion, the two disciplines differ from one another not only in so far as their statements’ claims to validity are concerned, but also in what they attempt to emphasize about the objects on which they reflect. Epistemology is understood here as a part of philosophy, as a discipline which, like philosophy, is concerned with a fundamental orientation of the totality of human action in society, and which thus, unlike philosophy of science, is concerned not only with one particular area of human activity. Although its author only uses the term ‘epistemology’ for it, Fleck’s work is primarily one of the philosophy of science. The social and historical character of a certain area of human work, i.e., of scientific work, must be made known. But in Fleck’s efforts to fulfil this purpose, he is forced — to some extent implicitly but to some extent also explicitly — to refer to characteristics that go beyond the specificity of scientific knowledge and are involved in human knowledge in general. To that extent Fleck’s epistemology is made clear by means of his philosophy of science. In reference to the latter, we must also begin with Fleck’s epistemology.
I want to examine the difficult and rather obscure idea of a style of thought (Denkstil) as it occurs in Fleck’s book on the Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact 1 and his paper ‘Zur Krise der “Wirklichkeit’ ”.2 I shall try to break down this idea and isolate some of its components. I can see at least some ways of building a bridge between what Fleck says about thought-styles and the detailed work in the history of science that Shapin has outlined for us. If I am right then it should prove possible to define some of the causes of thought-styles and to relate them, in the way that Fleck would have wanted, to facts about the social structure of the Denkkollektiv.
The core example chosen by Fleck to develop his concepts of the “genesis and development of scientific facts” is the serodiagnosis of syphilis known as the Wessermann reaction (in France and Belgium, this serological test is called the Bordet-Wassermann reaction to make the fact that Wassermann ’s contribution to this serodiagnosis was to apply to syphilis the experimental procedure of complement deviation set-up a few years earlier by Bordet and Gengou) [1, 2]. This immunological reaction, which is quite simple in its principles, turned out, when applied to the serodiagnosis of syphilis, to be extremely complex from the point of view of both its practical realization and its theoretical interpretation. Due to the socio-medical importance of the subject, this complexity had led to a tremendous volume of literature, which following Fleck’s own estimation amounted in 1934 to about ten thousand papers. Fleck concluded rightly: “There certainly cannot be many similar specialized problems which have had so many papers devoted to them” [3].
As Fleck himself encouraged us to do, I shall attempt a survey of his main work through one of his own methodological concepts. This concept which he applies in a sometimes loose but always stimulating way is the concept of style (Denkstil).
The book Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, written by Ludwik Fleck in the early thirties and which remained practically unknown for a long period, is considered today, following its recent rediscovery (mainly in relationship with T. S. Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions ) to be an important pioneering work in the sociology and in the epistemology of the natural sciences. Fleck was the first to developed in detail the view that in the natural science facts do not derive automatically from the observation of nature, but are socially constructed and, as such, dependent on the socio-cultural context, the ‘thought-collectives’ in which they evolved.
Chapter
Models are a universal instrument of mankind. They surround us our whole lifespan and support all activities even in case we are not aware of the omnipresence. They are so omnipresent that we don’t realise their importance. Computer Science is also heavily using models as companion in most activities. Meanwhile, models became one of the main instruments. The nature and anatomy of models is not yet properly understood. Computer Science research has not yet been properly investigating its principles, postulates, and paradigms. The well-accepted three dimensions are states, transformation, and collaboration. An element of the fourth dimension is abstraction. The fourth dimension is modelling. We review here the fourth dimension.
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This chapter outlines Ludwik Fleck’s philosophy and sociology of scientific knowledge and employs that approach to provide a new perspective on Arthur Cecil Pigou’s economic thinking relative to Alfred Marshall. The various characteristics and attributes of Pigou’s life and contributions that are identified in Chaps. 2 and 3 are considered from the perspective of Fleck’s notion of ‘thought collective’ and the related, but different, notion of ‘thought style’. These distinctions are then employed to develop an alternative and largely consistent way of understanding the concept of ‘Marshallian’ economics and to identify mechanisms to account for the ‘Marshallian’ thought style that evolved under Pigou’s influence. In this way, the Fleckian framework provides a means to interpret adaptation and modification in the ‘Marshallian’ thought style as part of an evolutionary process.
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Transdisciplinary (TD) approaches have increasingly been promoted in the field of land-use research. However, the theoretical discourse about transdisciplinarity is far more advanced than its implementation in practice. In particular, empirical studies about the effects of concrete TD projects on the participants are rare. We evaluated joint knowledge generation among researchers and non-academics in a TD research programme on urban and landscape development. For the assessment we used standardised questionnaires, our own observations, and a simplified implementation of the ‘most significant change’ method. The evaluation revealed that the participants gained considerable TD knowledge through encountering different thought-styles and problem owners. They together developed a feeling of companionship, broadened their views on the issue and, consequently, attributed increased legitimacy to it. The following aspects of TD research were found to be successful as the programme: offered opportunities for enthusiasm; used a form of communication that promotes mutual trust; and provided boundary objects. Similar to other studies, we observed the creation of hybrid spaces and communities of research and practice where the participants could build up mutual trust, interact with other thought-styles, and jointly develop their TD knowledge.
Chapter
The philosophers discussed in this chapter share the common emphasis of the notion that scientific knowledge is acquired by the undertakings of human beings who act as part of social environments such as academic colleges or laboratory groups. Although Ludwik Fleck was ignored for a long time, most contemporary philosophers concerned with the social conditioning of cognition now agree that his contributions are among the most pioneering and pivotal in this field. Fleck, a Polish medical microbiologist, wrote his main work in German. It was published in 1935, the same year as Popper’s Logik der Forschung, by a Swiss publisher in Basel, under the title Entstehung und Entwicklung einer Wissenschaftlichen Tatsache with the subtitle Einführung in die Lehre vom Denkstil und Denkkollektiv 1. Fleck’s book remained virtually unnoticed and it took until 1979 for an English version to appear, entitled Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, but without the subtitle, which could have been translated as Introduction to the Doctrine of Thought-Style and Thought-Collective 2. It was edited and translated by F. Bradley, T.J. Trenn and R.K. Merton, and includes a foreword by Thomas Kuhn. Indeed, it was Thomas Kuhn who had first discovered Fleck for the western philosophical world. In his foreword Kuhn writes that, when he was about to switch from physicist to philosopher around 1949, he came across a quotation of Fleck when reading Hans Reichenbach’s Experience and Prediction 3.
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Argument In spring 1888, an anonymous critic raised severe doubts about Ernst Mach's and Peter Salcher's studies, published one year before, on the processes in the air caused by very rapid projectiles. Paraphrasing the experiments for the French popular science magazine La Nature , the critic insinuated that the photographs upon which Mach and Salcher's argument were ostensibly based must have been of such low quality that they did not allow any well-founded conclusion. The critic did not deny the phenomena Mach and Salcher had presented in their article; he denied that the photographs taken in the course of the experiments could permit any observation of the phenomena. I take the resulting quarrel as a window into the actors’ ideas on the requirements of “good observations” and the role of technical devices in this case. In particular I enquire how the various arguments relate to Lorraine Daston's and Peter Galison's framing of photography as an emblem of “mechanical objectivity.” We will see that in the case under debate, actors considered naked-eye observation, observation by telescope and photography mainly with regard to the challenges of the particular research object.
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This article investigates the development of communities of practice in Thai-border Cambodian refugee camps for those international humanitarian workers involved at the frontiers of the Cold War. Under the management of the United Nations Border Relief Operation (UNBRO) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) these camps brought together various NGOs and volunteers. Their prolonged presence at the border of Thailand enabled an epistemic community to emerge which facilitated the production of knowledge on refugees. Using oral histories and the archives of NGOs, this article investigates the development of an international community of practice in which Europeans played a key role, one which centred on the medical and social needs of refugees at a time of acute political instrumental use of humanitarian aid. The focus of humanitarians' work on genocide and associated trauma, resulted in a clear political awareness that humanitarian aid had been used to maintain Khmer Rouge presence at the borders and that, in the peace negotiations of the early 1990s, it might facilitate their territorial and political return to a position of power.
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First, there are some striking similarities in the history of reception of Fleck’s and Neurath’s ideas. Due to the style of their writings they were not or often not well welcome in their national philosophical communities, i.e., the Vienna Circle and the Lvov-Warsaw School. This is especially true in the case of Fleck. On the other hand, some prominent logical positivists, like Hempel, are to some extent guilty of making of Neurath a clumsy thinker whose ideas needed to be clear by a more mature philosopher, i.e. Carnap. So their work was often considered as non-scientific. With a lack of response their theories were forgotten for many years, and even if not forgotten they were habitually ridiculed by critics. After a long period of seven thin years they have their renaissance. They are even quite popular. In the last 20 years a number of excellent books and papers on Neurath and Fleck have apperared. But one can hardly find a line of comparison. One might say that this is not surprising at all, as there is nothing to compare there. Neurath was a radical positivist while Fleck’s writing were aimed only against neopositivism. Accordingly, these are poles, and all we can say is that they are completely different. But even if Neurath was a follower of radical neopositivism that Fleck was fighting with, there are some common points in their programmes and I will try to show that even if they are in opposition, their paths intersected at certain points.
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Fleck's Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact foregrounds claims traditionally excluded from reception, often regarded as opposed to fact, scientific claims that are increasingly seldom discussed in connection with philosophy of science save as examples of pseudoscience. I am especially concerned with scientists who question the epidemiological link between HIV and AIDS and who are thereby discounted - no matter their credentials, no matter the cogency of their arguments, no matter the sobriety of their statistics - but also with other classic examples of so-called pseudoscience including homeopathy and other sciences, such as cold fusion. The pseudoscience version of the demarcation problem turns out to include some of the details that Latour articulates multifariously under a variety of species or kinds in his essay/interactive research project/monograph, Biography of an Investigation. Given the economic constraints of the current day, especially in the academy, the growing trend in almost all disciplines is that of suppression by threat: say what everyone else says or you won't be hired (tenured/published/cited). In this way, non-citation of outlier views generates what Kuhn called normal science. Finally, a review of Lewontin's discussion of biology shows the continuing role of ideology by bringing in some of the complex issues associated with the resistant bacteria (tuberculosis, Lyme disease, syphilis) and AIDS.
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