Ludwik Fleck on “thought collectives”

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

A thought collective is defined by Fleck as a community of persons mutually exchanging ideas or maintaining intellectual interaction (1935a, II.4). Members of that collective not only adopt certain ways of perceiving and thinking, but they also continually transform it—and this transformation does occur not so much “in their heads” as in their interpersonal space. It is easy to observe this phenomenon in everyday life. When a group of people speak about something important, they start to speak about things which would not cross their minds if they were alone and which they would not tell if they were in another group of people. There arises a thought style characteristic for that group. There also arises a certain collective mood which straightens up the ties among the group members and inclines them to act in a certain way.

Some collectives last shortly—even only as long as an individual conversation lasts. When social forces connecting people operate for a long time, there arise thought collectives lasting for many generations. They take forms of religious movements, folk traditions, art or science. Long-lasting collectives create social institutions which enable and regulate the method by which next generations are added to a given collective: educational systems and social rituals accompanying the admission of new members.

All members of small ethnic groups belong to the same thought collective: everybody perceives and thinks in the same way, just like everybody performs the same or very similar actions. Within more developed societies there are many various collectives: religious, artistic, scientific, astrological, and those related to fashion, politics, economy, medicine, quack, sport, etc. When a thought style, developed and employed by a collective, becomes sufficiently sophisticated, the collective breaks into a small esoteric circle—a group of specialists which “are in the know”—and a wide exoteric circle for all those members, who are under the influence of the style, but do not play an active role in its formation. Members of the first group are those “initiated”—priests and theologians in the case of religion; artists and art critics in the case of art; scientists in the case of science etc. The corresponding exoteric circles for those groups are: lay believers; art-lovers; school teachers of physics, chemistry, and biology, and also engineers and all people interested in science.

Exoteric circles have an access to a proper thought style only through esoteric circles—for example through listening to sermons given by priests, or reading popular literature written by scientists. Members of exoteric circles trust the initiated. But specialists and members of esoteric circles are not independent of exoteric circles: this is the “public opinion” which justifies the efforts of specialists and gives them a stimulus to continue their work.

In contemporary societies almost everybody belongs to many thought collectives; e.g. a scientist may be also a member of a certain church, political party, mountain climbing club. An individual usually belongs to distant thought collectives, so that conflicts between thought styles coexisting in him/her do not arise. Most of people belong only to exoteric circles; only few become members of any esoteric circle, sporadically belonging to more than one. Everybody also belongs to a wide “everyday life” collective (which also differs from culture to culture).

Within the esoteric circle Fleck distinguishes the following subgroups: (1) vanguard, “the group of scientists working practically on a given problem”, (2) the main body, “the official community”, and (3) the group of stragglers (1935a, IV,4). In other places he omits stragglers and introduces a distinction between professionals (specialists sensu stricto) and more general specialists (1936, VI).

I care about this because I have a strong desire to point out that exoteric “believers” in scientism are more similar than dissimilar to the exoteric believers of a religious viewpoint. Everybody is taking someone’s word for it and talking in ways that are clichéd. But even among professionals, competency is so limited by human finitude, that I am not sure that life’s really difficult questions are fully within our reach. Scientism has a methodological problem with value, but its exoteric adherents are happy to trust their “studies” to deliver technique and call it value.


Fascinating claim on the importance of “social pressure” for research: “[the constitution of a research collective] happens when an appropriate mood arises… [A example given by Fleck was] a common demand for effective means for curing syphilis which was considered as an embarrassing and reuptation-damaging disease. (Fleck brought forward a controversial claim that the absence of any analogous success in the struggle with tuberculosis was related to a common approach to tuberculosis as ‘romantic’, which in turn resulted with insufficient social pressure to overcome it.)” SEP

The Forbearing Community

The challenge of any community is that we all have ways of being that cause tremendous pain to others. Our own assumptions of what is due to us or just our unconscious drives for love, affirmation, and satisfaction can make life unbearable to others. We sin both by demanding what others cannot give and by not giving what we never even thought of giving. Yet the real pain caused by our inattention and habitual desire is serious. This is why the only real community that can exist is a Christian community. A real community must be sustained by forbearing the pain caused by others. We must be able to say, “This pain I charge not to them, because God has not. In fact, God has not charged to me the pain I am causing them, but has become the great bearer of pain, making forgiveness possible. And since human forgiveness and forbearance is always responsive to God’s forgiving, my forbearing this pain is simply doing less than what God has done for me in Jesus.”

Remembering My Grandpa

13873197_10154161545605342_11024999247223338_nDuluth News Tribune:

“Robert John LaPine 90 of Palm Harbor, Fla., passed away Aug. 3, 2016. He was born Robert John Lapinoja in Eveleth, the son of the late John and Jenny Lapinoja.

He was a graduate of Eveleth Senior High School class of 1943. He served three years in the Navy during World War II achieving the rank of Admiral’s yeoman.

He was employed for 42 years with NW Bell as a lineman and supervisor of the motor vehicles for Northern Minnesota.

In the early sixties he served as president of the Duluth Jaycees, and he had the distinquished honor of being the first mascot of the Minnesota Vikings. Dressed up in the horns, he presented the Chicago Bears’ head coach George Halas a live bear cub at the halftime of the very first Minnesota Viking game.

Robert served on the Duluth City Council from 1964 to 1976 and served one term as its president. He also was an outstanding member of the Sertoma Club, the Kaliva of Long Lake,Town Talkers; and he also served on the board of directors for the DTA. He also taught safety courses at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

In 1982, Robert earned a B.A. from Liberty University with a degree in Biblical Education. He then served as pastor of the Wright Evangelical Free Church for 11 years. Throughout the years, he served on elder and deacon boards at Lakeside Baptist and Bethel Baptist in Duluth, and he helped plant North Bay Community Church in Superior. In his later years, he was a faithful member of Faith Baptist Church in Hermantown where he referred to it as his second family.

Robert was an avid fisherman and hunter. He took great pride in the fact that he shot a 30 point buck, cleaned over 13,000 fish in one summer as a guide on Crane Lake, and he himself shot seven moose on one hunting trip. He was the last of the great cane pole fishermen.

Robert accepted Christ as his Savior in 1964, and dedicated his life to introducing Jesus Christ to the people he would meet. He served on the local Billy Graham outreach boards, Youth for Christ boards, and mission boards for various church and parachurch organizations.

Robert is survived by his loving wife of 68 years, June (Kortes) LaPine; his sister, Ruth (Charles) Sickel of Eveleth; his sons, Kerry (Nancy) LaPine of Vashon Island, Wash., Robert (Nancy) LaPine of Gilberts, Ill., Dwight (Peggy) LaPine of Byron, Minn., Richard (Lynda) LaPine of Superior, and Jeremy (Carrie) LaPine of Palm Harbor, Fla.; daughter, Janelle (Robert) Farnham of Belton, Texas; 22 grandchildren and 42 great-grandchildren.

GATHERING OF FAMILY AND FRIENDS: 10 a.m. Friday Aug. 12, 2016 until the 11 a.m. service in Lakeview Covenant Church, 1001 Jean Duluth Rd. in Duluth.”

Calvin: Conflating Heart and Will

Calvin does use the word “heart” in many ways throughout The Institutes. But at least when he’s talking about the depravity of the psychological faculties, he takes the biblical uses of “heart” as references to the corrupt will. I think this is a problem, but I make no comment about that here. But to preserve a key example:

God, therefore, begins the good work in us by exciting in our hearts a desire, a love, and a study of righteousness, or (to speak more correctly) by turning, training, and guiding our hearts unto righteousness; and he completes this good work by confirming us unto perseverance. But lest any one should cavil that the good work thus begun by the Lord consists in aiding the will, which is in itself weak, the Spirit elsewhere declares what the will, when left to itself, is able to do. His words are, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them,” (Ezek. 36:26, 27). How can it be said that the weakness of the human will is aided so as to enable it to aspire effectually to the choice of good, when the fact is, that it must be wholly transformed and renovated?

John Calvin, Institutes, II.3.6

Exercises in Self-Justification: Losing Stuff

At what moment have I lost something, when it lands in the place it is while lost, or when I forget where I have put it? Surely, the placement isn’t the key ingredient, but rather my own ignorance of the placement. There seem to be two ways that I can be ignorant about placement, through accident or forgetting. In the first place, it’s not my fault. A thing can slip from a pocket without culpability. But in the second case, is there an exact moment of forgetting? Is it lost when I realize my memory is hazy and cannot immediately reclaim it? But what if I am not yet sure if I cannot reclaim it? I think I left it in place X, or perhaps place Y. My forgetting is not yet confirmed. I am still looking for the memory. So perhaps, is lostness the final conclusion of a fruitless search? In this case I can assure myself that I’ve never lost anything, but am still looking for it. So, if I am ignorant of a thing’s place by accident, it is not my fault. And if by forgetting, I am still looking for it. In either case, I need not be blamed. And if I forget that I’m looking for it, better still, since then I won’t suspect that I will have lost it and cannot blame myself.

The Psychology of Invisible Prejudice

My academic project leaves me very little time to reflect on current events or to comment in public on them. But I take up pen in this instance to provide a short stab at what I take to be one of the most fundamental misunderstanding in the ongoing conversation on interethnic reconciliation. On the one hand, white Americans don’t tend to think of themselves as racist and don’t ascribe racist motivations to their actions. On the other hand, minorities see very clearly the lingering racism, prejudice, and privilege. Can the two viewpoints be reconciled? Perhaps I can provide one step toward it (there are certainly other aspects that need to be addressed).

My research has enabled me to dip my toe into the emerging research on the “adaptive unconscious” (Timothy Wilson’s terminology). The adaptive unconscious is roughly our lower level cognition especially at the level of perception, involving filtering white noise and  reflex evaluations of our surroundings. There is a strong link between our lower cognition and our emotional states (see Jesse Prinz). So, for instance, lower cognition enables my to be “aware” of dangers and react before I am even conscious of them. The difficulty with lower cognition is that it has a complicated relationship with our conscious thought. For instance, I talked with a man recently who had debilitating fear of barking dogs as a result of an attack as a child, but could not “think his way out of it.” The “irrationality” of our fears is no reason for us not to have them, since they operate at another level of our consciousness. Some people talk about this as the intentionality of the body (e.g. Merleau-Ponty).

So, to make a step toward reconciling the opposing views. I suspect that the many white Americans who say they are not racist are being sincere in the sense that they do not consciously entertain ideas of inferiority towards other racial or ethnic groups. But, at the level of the body, or at the level of their lower consciousness, the fear and disdain may exist very plainly and visibly to others. This is not insignificant. Our gut reactions to others form a major aspect of social intercourse. We like people who are “open” and “warm”, even though we may not be able to say explicitly what we mean by these metaphors. What we mean by “open” may be 1,000 small types of behavior, speech, or expression that are hard to specify. Minorities can face a world where nearly all of the people they come into contact with on a daily basis are “closed” and “cold,” or hostile. And conscious intentional hostility is not the only type that produces violence. Our heads say we are open and welcoming, but our bodies and our hands may tell a different tale.

So, the police officers who have been in the news racist? They certainly are reacting with excessive force. Even if their thinking is not prejudiced (though perhaps it is), their bodies 2016-07-12 11.27.48 am.pngare. And this state of affairs is legitimately terrifying and sometimes deadly for those against whom this prejudice is directed. I grieve the lives these officers have taken.

So what can be done about invisible prejudice? The raises another feature of our “body-intentionality,” that it is largely affected by our experience. How did my friend fight his fear of dogs? He held puppies. It is absolutely essential for building racial peace for all of us to intermingle our lives with those who are different from us. We must experience the humanity of the other through hospitality to teach ourselves to love. We cannot be content with affirmations of equality but no bodily action. The role of the Christian church in this is especially important. We must take seriously our responsibility to build diverse, hospitable communities that are capable of ministering reconciliation both on a Spiritual and social level. We are to be a city set on a hill, a City of God where there is one body, as well as one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Reading Lewis on “The Model”, Ch. I

First it is necessary to note what Lewis is doing in this book. I think he is fundamentally wanting to illustrate the general psychological difference between ancient and medieval people and ourselves, in order to make us aware of our own “mental temper.” I think he holds that each age, very roughly speaking, has a sort of aesthetic that saturates its epistemic and moral intuitions. This is a claim about generalities; and as such, it will be suspect to the modern scientific mind. Morton Bloomfield objects, for instance, that “built into a book of this sort is the hazard of trying to find the mediaeval and Renaissance world-image,” and quips that Lewis has “a tendency to oversimplify and to overcategorize.” But, even this rejection of general views may be an aspect of the modern psychology. We’d prefer to stick to knowing “the facts,” the things that are falsifiable. Claims about general psychologies are not falsifiable, and therefore taboo. Frankly, I think this taboo is partly arrogance about the sorts of things “we [moderns] know”, and partly a lack of imagination about the assumptions that drive our intuitions.

(In case you missed it, I’m suggesting the reason that the notion of a “general mind” seems uncouth is because we fail to notice our “general mind.” The danger with bracketing off generalities as “unknowable” is the sort of absurd causal reductionism that is only possible to specialists [e.g. “A new study shows…”]. When dealing with persons, for every ten variables you think you’ve eliminated, there are ten more you’ve failed to imagine. Imagination is a key ability for generalizing. Generalists–at their best–skillfully balance relations of causal factors.)

At any rate, this is how Lewis sums up at the end of the book:

Pg. 222: 

“We can no longer dismiss the change of Models as a simple progress from error to truth. No Model is a catalogue of ultimate realities, and none is a mere fantasy. Each is a serious attempt to get in all the phenomena known at a given period, and each succeeds in getting in a great many. But also, no less surely, each reflects the prevalent psychology of an age almost as much as it reflects the state of that age’s knowledge. Hardly any battery of new facts could have persuaded a Greek that the universe had an attribute so repugnant to him as infinity; hardly any such battery could persuade a modern that it is hierarchical.

“It is not impossible that our own Model will die a violent death, ruthlessly smashed by an unprovoked assault of new facts–unprovoked as the nova of 1572. But I think it is more likely to change when, and because, far-reaching changes in the mental temper of our descendants demand that it should. The new Model will not be set up without evidence, but the evidence will turn up when the inner need for it becomes sufficiently great. It will be true evidence. But nature gives most of her evidence to the questions we ask her. Here, as in the courts, the character of the evidence depends on the shape of the examination, and a good-cross examiner can do wonders.”

So, to begin the series of posts. Excerpts from Chapter I of The Discarded Image:

Pg. 10: 

“At his most characteristic, medieval man was not a dreamer nor a wanderer. He was an organiser, a codifier, a builder of systems. He wanted ‘a place for everything and everything in the right place’. Distinction, definition, tabulation were his delight. Though full of turbulent activities, he was equally full of the impulse to formalise them. War was (in intention) formalised by the art of heraldry and the rules of chivalry; sexual passion (in intention), by an elaborate code of love. . . . There was nothing which medieval people liked better, or did better, than sorting out and tidying up. Of all our modern inventions I suspect that they would most have admired the card index.

“This impulse is equally at work in what seem to us their silliest pedantries and in their most sublime achievements. In the latter we see the tranquil, indefatigable, exultant energy of passionately systematic minds bringing huge masses of heterogeneous material into unity. The perfect examples are the Summa of Aquinas and Dante’s Divine Comedy;”

Pg. 11:

“They are bookish. They are indeed very credulous of books. They find it hard to believe that anything an old auctour has said is simply untrue. And they inhabit a very heterogenous collection of books; Judaic, Pagan, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoical, Primitive Christian, Patristic. Or (by a different classification) chronicles, epic, poems, sermons, visions, philosophical treatises, satires. Obviously their auctours will contradict one another. They will seem to do so even more often if you ignore the distinction of kinds and take your science impartially from the poets and philosophers; and this the medievals very often did in fact though they would have been well able to point out, in theory, that poets feigned. . . . A Model must be built which will get everything in without a clash; and it can do this only by becoming intricate, by mediating its unity through a great, and finely ordered, multiplicity.”