I'm currently on The Grove, a climate-focused discussion portal initiated by Zerodha (India's largest Stock Broking Website). Recently, someone highlighted that their previous post received no replies, despite believing that their solution is system-driven, which they've been working on for the past four years. When I clicked on their topic and read it, I realized I also struggled to understand it because it addressed the intersection of agriculture and climate, a completely new subject for me. What's surprising is that I've experienced similar frustrations in the past when others couldn't understand my own ideas. There was a time when I used to attribute this to the mistakes of others, assuming that when I spoke or wrote something, it should be automatically understood. I've only recently come to the realization that this was one of the biggest mistakes I made as an individual.
However, I wanted to investigate whether this was solely my problem or a common issue, so I decided to delve into history. My first realization was that it's the speaker's responsibility to explain in a manner that the listeners can understand, rather than expecting the listeners to grasp the message on their own. This concept applies primarily at the individual level. When we expand our perspective to encompass scientific revolutions and paradigm shifts, we see that it often took many years and even decades for ordinary people to accept and understand these transformative ideas. This observation prompted me to capture my thoughts in the form of this essay.
I'm currently in the midst of reading a book I started last week, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas S. Kuhn. It's fascinating to draw parallels between science and technology as both bring about revolutions and paradigm shifts, with only a few differences here and there. Hence, in this essay, I've interchanged the terms "science" and "technology" to emphasize these similarities.
What I find particularly fascinating is that most of the scientific revolutions, established knowledge, theories, and laws we accept today took many decades to gain recognition. Often, the pioneers of these revolutions were considered mad by their contemporaries, a sentiment we can relate to when we encounter individuals with no exposure to certain knowledge. For instance, if you tell someone with no prior knowledge that the Earth is rotating, they might think you're mad. It's in situations like these that we can learn the art of being understood – rather than telling them they are wrong, we should explain why we are not wrong.
Before we go deep into this part of the essay, let’s have a look at what type of humans/group of humans have been mostly responsible for most of the scientific revolutions that brought the paradigm shifts in humanity’s journey. According to Thomas: Any new interpretation of nature, whether a discovery or a theory, a new process, new technology emerges first in the mind of one or a few individuals. It is they who first learn to see science/technology and the world differently, and their ability to make the transition is facilitated by two circumstances that are not common to most other members of their profession. Invariably their attention has been intensely concentrated upon crisis-provoking problems; unusually, in addition, they are humans (I changed from Men to humans) so young or so new to the crisis-ridden field that practice has committed them less deeply than most of their contemporaries to the world view and rules determined by the old paradigm.
So, the outsize outcomes, new processes, scientific theory, or new technology all emerge first in the minds of one or a few individuals. It is they who first learn to see science/technology and the world differently. In addition, they are humans so young or so new to the crisis-ridden field. Early it was true for the scientific paradigms and now it is true for the technological paradigms.
When we trace the evolution of science, from Aristotelian to Galilean to Newtonian to Einsteinian theories, we realize that scientific progress has been driven by a series of individuals and initiatives that, when combined, constitute the modern body of scientific knowledge. However, the transitions between these paradigms were not smooth and often took decades to fully adopt, even after significant discoveries. This reflects the inherent resistance of the human mind to accept and understand new concepts that require significant changes to the existing system.
This is because almost always scientific revolutions have been invisible to the rest of the stakeholders except the individual or a few individuals. But here also Thomas has highlighted why most of the revolutions have proved to be so nearly invisible: Both scientists and laymen take much of their image of creative scientific activity from an authoritative source that systematically disguises - partly for important functional reasons - the existence and significance of scientific revolutions. Only when the nature of that authority is recognized and analyzed can one hope to make historical examples fully effective. And as the new scientific revolution creates a new system hence new data points we may want to say that after a revolution scientists and the rest of the world work in a different world.
Scientific and technological revolutions share many similarities, except in terms of verification. In the case of scientific revolutions, verification hinges on the agreement of facts with theory. There's no precise answer to the question of whether or how well an individual theory aligns with the facts. For instance, when Copernicus proposed that the Earth moves, he faced scepticism because it was impossible to verify his theory with the facts of the time. In this case, the only way Copernicus could have proven his theory was by physically observing the Earth's rotation from space (a humorous notion). However, the technology operates differently. In the case of technology, it's often easier to verify the revolutionary nature of facts. For example, at Jile Health, we believe in measuring healthcare activity based on Health Vitals rather than subjective data points. We can verify our technology by applying it to individuals and demonstrating improved outcomes, providing a clear and practical verification path, distinct from scientific revolutions. Here is one of the verifications - Jile Health user stories.
Despite the significant advancements in scientific knowledge, it's important to note that widespread acceptance of today's scientific knowledge took a considerable amount of time. For instance, Newton's work wasn't widely accepted, especially on the Continent, until more than half a century after the Principia was published. Notable figures like Priestley never fully embraced the concept of oxygen, and Lord Kelvin remained sceptical of the electromagnetic theory. Here is one quote from the book “Origins of Species” by Darwin.
“Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume…, I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine… But I look with confidence to the future - to young and rising naturalists who will be able to view both sides of the questions with impartiality.”
The good news for anyone working on a new technological revolution and aiming to solve complex problems is that the verification process for technological revolutions differs from that of scientific revolutions. While resistance may be encountered, technological revolutions can be more easily verified. At a fundamental level, we all have our own biases and frames of reference. Therefore, if we face difficulties in explaining our ideas, thought processes, or the future world we envision, it's our responsibility to address this challenge…
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Today, I am celebrating my 50th essay on my website. Thanks for being a reader, I shall see you all the next week