Thomas Kuhn and Big Historiography
My goal for the week-after-next’s Big History seminar is to bring up two things: phlogiston, and Marxism. Because so what if we’re ostensibly apolitical scientists who would never dream of constructing knowledge*, we’re at Berkeley! We’ve got to talk about Marxism! If there’s time I’ll shoehorn in some Foucault, too – we’ll see if any of the paleontologists are able to call me on my horrific secondhand misreadings. The designated topic is paradigms, and the operative analogy as follows:
science studies : historiography :: Kuhnianish paradigms** : ???
Not that anyone’s mentioned Kuhn yet, but if we talk about scientific paradigms without discussing The Structure of Scientific Revolutions the universe will owe me a beer. Or several beers.
Typically, I have severely limited seminar-derailing talents. I was actually asked to prepare a little something for next time on Marxism as a Kuhnian paradigm for historians***, but still I’d peg the odds of making it to Foucault as about a dinosaur’s chance in Chixulub. Anyway, I suspect but cannot prove that everyone in this class, myself especially included, needs a good thwack upside the head with some basic theory on the construction of knowledge. Can one of you humanitiesistes recommend a good Brief History of Historiography for Dummies and Scientists?
Today’s lecture was about historical contingency again, and exactly how improbably unique a snowflake every one of us is. And y’know, contemplating the improbability of my own existence strikes me (when sober) as slightly less interesting**** than contemplating the details of Brownian motion (which might at least result in an Infinite Improbabilty Drive). Am I less than fully human?
*It’s plucking theorems from the Very Real Platonic Realm of Forms for us, yes it is!
**Quoth my local humanitiesiste:
Paradigms! That was word of the year at New College, like, three or four years ago! Actually, no, it was five years ago, I’m pretty sure.
So you see, we are woefully behind on our course reading.
***Our Glorious Leader (paraphrased): There’s “deep time” and later plate tectonics in earth history, and Darwinian evolution and genetics in life history, but is there anything for human history?
Me: Isn’t that what the Marxists were after?
OGL: That’s a great thought, would you follow up on that for next time?
****Can I invoke Lacanian desire here? Huh huh huh can I can I please? Pretentious bloggers need to know, without going through the bother of reading and understanding Lacan!