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Darwin-L Message Log 5:35 (January 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<5:35>From bsinger@eniac.seas.upenn.edu  Sat Jan  8 05:10:13 1994

From: bsinger@eniac.seas.upenn.edu (Bayla Singer)
Subject: Re: On going beyond evidence and method ---
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Date: Sat, 8 Jan 94 6:13:33 EST

Mike salovesh raises the question of how to deal with what might be called
'inspired guesses.'

Well, how do we deal with, e.g., Lucretius and atomic theory?

The ideal (normative?) way is to accept an idea as a hypothesis until it
is rigorously proven by accepted methods.  Coming back to Wegener: I
clearly remember gazing, in my elementary school years (late 1940s), at
the map of the world and thinking how well South America would fit into
Africa, etc.  How much credit should I get, who not only didn't publish,
but had not the foggiest idea that I should even -think- about a way such
movement could possibly have happened?

We can take my daydreams as one end of a spectrum: Wegener and the
brilliant-guesser linguists went further, but in the judgement of their
disciplinary peers not quite far enough.  I have had sober scientific
doctors tell me that I -<could not have had>- experiences I described
(vertical double-vision) because there was no causative mechanism they
could think of!  [Before anyone comes back on this one, I have since been
properly advised as to mechanism, etc.]

There were many theories of evolution before Charles Darwin: we credit
only his, generally, since he proposed as well a mechanism that came close
to being the one most generally accepted today (though there have been
important modifications).  There were many incandescent electric light
bulbs developed before Edison's, and he himself developed many
improvements afterward, to the point where it is extremely difficult for
the knowledgeable historian to say "this is 'the' light bulb patent."

Perhaps if we agree on why we look for single heros, we can decide on
criteria, and on how to deal with the inspired guessers :-)

--bayla

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