The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher

By Martin Gardner | Go to book overview

27 Fools' Paradigms

Frames of Meaning: The Social Construction of Extraordinary Science ( London: Routledge, 1982) is the most peculiar book about the sociology of knowledge to come along since Paul Feyerabend Science in a Free Society. The authors, H. M. Collins and T. J. Pinch, are sociologists at the University of Bath. Pinch, who was trained as a physicist, is mainly responsible for the book's excellent chapter about rival interpretations of quantum mechanics and the possibility that quantum laws underlie psi phenomena. Collins was in the news in 1975 when he and Brian Pamplin, a physicist, conducted an experiment with British children who pretended they could bend cutlery by PK (psychokinesis). Watching through a secret one-way mirror, Collins and Pamplin were amazed by how crudely the children cheated.

The authors view themselves as radical Kuhnians. Although Thomas Kuhn has made clear that in his famous book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions he did not mean to deny that science is a rational enterprise, Collins and Pinch prefer to believe what they thought Kuhn originally intended. Their approach is a relativism as extreme as Feyerabend's. No methods exist for the overall evaluation of competing scientific theories. Such theories are like disparate cultures--incommensurable ways of seeing reality. As the authors put it, "Rationality is discontinuous across cultures, and across time."

Instead of orderly progression toward better pragmatic truth, the history of science, in their view, exhibits a perpetual shifting of equally admirable paradigms. Although one can only guess what new paradigms will dominate future science, sociologists may profitably investigate how the culture of science operates while undergoing a revolutionary paradigm shift. Indeed, the authors claim that their book is the first attempt at just such an empirical study.

In choosing their potential paradigm, the authors agreed that it must be one in radical conflict with orthodoxy, as well as a challenge originating

____________________
This review originally appeared in Free Inquiry, Fall 1983, and is reprinted with permission.

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The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • Part 1 11
  • 1 - Project Alpha 13
  • 2 - Margaret Mead 19
  • 3 - Magicians in the PSI Lab 25
  • 4 - Shirley MacLaine 32
  • 5 - Freud, Fliess, and Emma's Nose 38
  • 6 - Koestler Money Down the Psi Drain? 44
  • 7 - Targ: From Puthoff to Blue 50
  • 8 - The Relevance of Belief Systems 57
  • 9 - Welcome to the Debunking Club 65
  • 10 - The Great Stone Face 72
  • 11 - From Phillips to Morris 79
  • 12 - George McCready Price 93
  • 13 - Wonders of Science 99
  • 14 - Tommy Gold 103
  • 15 - Rupert Sheldrake 109
  • 16 - The Anomalies of Chip Arp 115
  • 17 - Thoughts on Superstrings 119
  • 18 - The Third Eye 123
  • 19 - Irving Kristol and the Facts of Life 129
  • Part 2 135
  • 20 - The Great SRI Die Mystery 137
  • 21 - Perpetual Motion 145
  • 22 - Psychic Surgery 167
  • 23 - 666 and All That 170
  • 24 - D. D. Home-Sweet-Home 175
  • 25 - PK (Psycho-Krap) 179
  • 26 - Chicanery in Science 182
  • 27 - Fools' Paradigms 184
  • 28 - Look, Shirl, No Hands! 188
  • 29 - The Channeling Mania 202
  • 30 - Who Was Ray Palmer? 209
  • 31 - Prime-Time Preachers 223
  • 32 - L. Ron Hubbard 246
  • 33 - Psychic Astronomy 252
  • Name Index 265
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