A Familiar Pattern

In his seminal The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962),  Thomas Kuhn details how people most often recognize major changes only after they occur–when, he says, “the pieces suddenly [begin] sorting themselves out and coming together in a new way.” (The Road Since Structure, Thomas S. Kuhn, edited by James Conant and John Haugeland, Chicago: 2000 University of Chicago Press, p. 17)

This is happening now, with economic growth.

Kuhn asserts that new ideas catch on, not when people change their minds, but when the older generation, raised and educated on the older ideas, dies out.  Florence Nightingale, for example, is justifiably famous for her work promoting cleanliness in hospitals, yet she died in 1910 still convinced vapors from the earth, and not germs, cause infectious diseases.

Resistance to new thinking about economic growth will continue, of course, but will disappear in accordance with another familiar process. Jacques Monad, who won the 1965 Nobel Prize in medicine for his work in the genetics of microbes, observed that many people continue to call new ideas absurd long after evidence to support them becomes overwhelming.  They then, he says, begin to call the new ideas obvious.



Mayu says:

So is it Dr. Swerdlow’s position that we have to wait for a certain generation to die out in order for there to be significant and actual change?
Materialism is so entrenched in our culture that it seems as if waiting for a new generation of non-materialists will take decades, probably more, to enforce this new concept of economic growth.
How many more generations will it take before we’re ready to really take on the challenge?
Maybe the truth is that we will never really get rid of materialists, but we can change the way people think at a bottom-up level.
Like Dr. Swerdlow says, most of the difficult work has already been done. Even at a basic level, there seems to be significant alterations in the concept of wealth.
Most people seem to think that materialism is wrong, or at least démodé. Tell any of my college classmates that inequality and material obsession sucks, and they’ll sit there, nod, and agree.
Maybe I’m preaching to the choir here. What our generation needs isn’t more convincing. What we do need is more of an accessible vehicle to mobilize our sentiments.
Let’s hope, Dr. Swerdlow can provide us with that.

Joel L. Swerdlow, Ph.D. says:

I can and will.
Hint: My theory is that it takes only about 5 percent of any generation (very dedicated) to trigger a cultural shift.
Another hint: Where is power ultimately? In ideas.


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