Formation of the Scientific Mind


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Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Jan 16, Mike rated it liked it. An interesting book, and a surprisingly readable one which testifies to the excellent translation by Mary MacAllester Jones , but one which seems in some places a bit superficial. Bachelard spends a lot of time illustrating the "pre-scientific" approach to what we would now think of as science, and is generally dismissive of it. He notes, for example, the way that "simples" components for remedies are often anything but, since they are associated with large numbers of claimed curative properti An interesting book, and a surprisingly readable one which testifies to the excellent translation by Mary MacAllester Jones , but one which seems in some places a bit superficial.

Gaston Bachelard

He notes, for example, the way that "simples" components for remedies are often anything but, since they are associated with large numbers of claimed curative properties. He complains that these properties have accreted onto the substances in question through psychoanalytic mechanisms. Ergo, by his own argument, his own reasoning is just as faulty as the reasoning he disputes. Similarly, he quotes statements in old books as evidence for claims he is making, as though it is somehow obvious that the old authors mean what he claims they do.

While it may seem odd these days to read about the "phlegm that oozes out of magnets", for example, we cannot simply assume that the author means the same by the word "phlegm" as we do today. Bachelard claims without evidence that the original author is obviously thinking of magnetism as some sort of glue that oozes from the magnet in the same way that sticky phlegm does.

But why is this any less scientific than descriptions of "fields that emanate from magnets", such as appear in today's text books? As contemporaries, we know that the word "field" has been given a technical meaning in the modern texts; what Bachelard fails to show is that similarly technical meanings were absent in earlier centuries. Indeed, the wide ranging references to substances like "phlegm" and "sponge" in situations we would consider peculiar suggests that these terms did indeed have a more general meaning than is currently the case. Having said this, the book is full of interesting examples of pre-scientific thought, and many of Bachelard's ideas are certainly worth considering in more detail.

This is the first English translation of this book, and my own first exposure to Bachelard's ideas.

The Key Features of a Science

It will be interesting to examine other texts by the same author. A major book for every scientific mind, every researcher, about the way we should think, make science and teach it. Dec 06, Fernanda Desimon added it. Sep 22, Sofia rated it really liked it. Justin L rated it really liked it Oct 06, Sara Freitas rated it really liked it Sep 03, Tanguy rated it really liked it Mar 16, Steve rated it really liked it Apr 17, These basic concepts, established over decades of neuroscience and behavioral research, help illustrate why child development—particularly from birth to five years—is a foundation for a prosperous and sustainable society.

The basic architecture of the brain is constructed through an ongoing process that begins before birth and continues into adulthood. Early experiences affect the quality of that architecture by establishing either a sturdy or a fragile foundation for all of the learning, health and behavior that follow. After this period of rapid proliferation, connections are reduced through a process called pruning, so that brain circuits become more efficient. Sensory pathways like those for basic vision and hearing are the first to develop, followed by early language skills and higher cognitive functions.

Connections proliferate and prune in a prescribed order, with later, more complex brain circuits built upon earlier, simpler circuits. Young children naturally reach out for interaction through babbling, facial expressions, and gestures, and adults respond with the same kind of vocalizing and gesturing back at them. For example, by the first year, the parts of the brain that differentiate sound are becoming specialized to the language the baby has been exposed to; at the same time, the brain is already starting to lose the ability to recognize different sounds found in other languages.

The brain is a highly interrelated organ, and its multiple functions operate in a richly coordinated fashion. Emotional well-being and social competence provide a strong foundation for emerging cognitive abilities, and together they are the bricks and mortar that comprise the foundation of human development.


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The emotional and physical health, social skills, and cognitive-linguistic capacities that emerge in the early years are all important prerequisites for success in school and later in the workplace and community. This suggests that for Bachelard, the therapeutic aspect of psychoanalysis is paramount: psychoanalysing objective knowl- edge means ridding it of everything that impedes its progress, whether affec- tive interests or everyday, utilitarian knowledge, so restoring it to health.

He had referred to psychoanalysis for the first time in The New Scientific Spirit, briefly mentioning the concepts of the unconscious, of repression and sublimation; his first reference to Freud by name was made in a review published the same year. This is hardly surprising given the lack of work on Freud then available in French: Freud had not been translated into French until the 1 s, suggesting resist- ance to the ideas of psychoanalysis in France, which is borne out by the fact that at the sixth International Psychoanalytical Congress in September 1 , among the sixty-two members Ernest Jones lists as present none came from France.

The Formation of the Scientific Mind: Gaston Bachelard: weenssefireli.tk: Books

While the foun- dation of the French Societe de psychanalyse in and of the Revue Franqaise de Psychanalyse the following year shows growing acceptance of psychoanalytical theory there, this is largely restricted to a medical circle. The normative aspect of psychoanalysis clearly struck a chord with Bachelard as an epistemologist. In particular, it seems to have suggested to him a way of dealing with the aberrations of what he calls pre-scientific thought.

Bachelard had for some years been reading and making notes on pre-scientific texts - the municipal library in Dijon has a good collection of these - but without really using that knowledge. And he could have left it at that. Yet as he frequently points out, these ideas were tenacious, widely accepted, and moreover often produced by intelligent people, by good observers and experimenters. What strikes him is the difficulty of forming the scientific mind. Technical progress such as the invention of the microscope did not guarantee increased objective knowl- edge: instead, as Bachelard shows, for some minds the microscope reinforced preconceptions This last phrase, used following a particularly odd quotation from a writer convinced of the curative properties of the blood, flesh, liver, fat, skin, and excrement of cats 97 , suggests how psychoanaly- sis has given Bachelard a fresh perspective on the mass of pre-scientific ma- terial he has gathered.

It casts new light on the errors found there: manifestly neither mathematical nor empirical, these are now seen as due to some kind of mental disturbance. Psychoanalysis makes him take them seriously, as evidence of unreason which, with its constellations of values, instincts, and affective interests, results in blockages impeding the formation of the scientific mind.

Brains are built over time, from the bottom up.

Surely it is too late though to restore sick pre-scientific minds to health? Yes of course it is, but that is not the point. For Bachelard, forming the scientific mind requires bringing these stages to consciousness, actively displacing their different af- fective interests and surmounting the obstacles they present to scientific thought. As modems, we have no cause for complacency: pre-scien- tific patterns of thought persist, and the epistemological obstacles seen there remain hazards to the scientific mind. Chapter by chapter, Bachelard examines the epistemological obstacles to objective thought, showing the pitfalls of empiricism and the difficulty of achieving objectivity.

It is very old, in fact, as old as its prejudices This is not just a matter of ordinary, everyday knowledge - immediate knowledge - blocking scientific thought but rather of the inter- ference of values ascribed to that knowledge by human beings. So-called immediate knowledge is mediated by hu- man values, which paradoxically we do not know. Thus for Bachelard, the human being constitutes the chief obstacle to scientific thought; human val- ues, he argues, are fundamental to empirical thought, not something added to it later on.

Human sensibility is regarded as involving much more than the senses - sight, touch, smell, hearing, taste -that give empirical knowledge. The primary experience he describes as the first epistemological obstacle is not just of everyday life but of feelings about it, feelings such as the fear and wonder- ment so clear in pre-scientific texts.

Moral feelings are also part of primary experience, as Bachelard shows in his discussion of alchemy. The feeling of having, as Bachelard calls it, is a key ele- ment in human sensibility, making realism and substantialism powerful epis- temological obstacles. Three chapters - Six, Seven, and Nine - explore this valorisation of reality and substance, showing how love of real- ity obstructs knowledge of reality.

Linked to this feeling of having is that of becoming. While these values are discussed in Chapters Eight and Ten in particular, they also come into other chapters, for the feelings of having and becoming are not easily separated. He discusses the mental processes and ex- perimental methods of pre-scientists, showing how these are shaped by such valorisation. Generalisation, over-determination, and antithetical valorisa- tion, together with fondness for both variety and repetition, for metaphors and images, grandiloquence and verbosity are all seen to typify pre-scientific thinking.

More important though, they are demarcated from scientific thought.

Formation of the Scientific Mind

Bachelard remarks several times on the discontinuity of eighteenth and nineteenth-century thought, no eight- eenth-century observation for example having given rise to a nineteenth- century technique There is nothing automatic however about this epis- temological break: the scientific mind does not spring fully formed from the heads of those bom after the eighteenth century has ended. Philosophers are always criticised by Bachelard for ignoring the lessons of modem science, this criticism being made even more pointed here by his argument that in the emphasis they place on generalisation in science they are in fact thinking pre-scientifically.

He regards generalisation as having its source in values, in that of usefulness especially 31 , his reference here to pragmatism suggest- ing that he has one particular philosopher in mind, Henri Bergson. Thus, Bergson sees the scientist as homo faber, governed by pragmatic considerations, and science as part of everyday life. Here, this polemic is implicit, conducted through a critique not just of pragmatism but of intuition and the valorisation of the inner life, of life regarded as superior to the mind, conducted too through references to homo faber and also to duration and time.

This is a surprising and important observation, surprising because the book referred to in the future tense is The Dialectic of Duration, published in fact two years previously in , and important in that it shows him not just at work on The Formation of the Scientific Mind well before but thinking out these two books concur- rently. Bachelard regarded himself not as a philosopher but as a philosopher of science, learning from modem science about the possibilities of the scien- tific mind and with it, of the human mind.

In The New Scientific Spirit, he had suggested - against Bergson - the idea of the human being as homo aleator, homo mathematicus, that is to say as exploring possibility through mathematics. Now though his concern is with objective, empirical knowl- edge, with forming the scientific mind against everyday knowledge and ex- perience, in many ways more difficult because of the values, interests, and feelings it involves. Given that the human being is presented as an obstacle to scientific knowledge, this may seem odd; if however we see that what constitutes this particular obstacle is a view of the human as natural, there is no contradiction.

This would seem to contradict the idea he also expresses here of the polemic of reason and reality, rationalism and em- piricism, discursive thought consisting therefore of this polemic. In shifting the emphasis to reason, he is in fact stressing that for the scientific mind, it is reason that constructs reality.

He provides many examples from his own classroom experience of the persistence of pre-scientific ways of thinking not just in modem children but in teachers and in those who deter- mine educational policy. But what is this fundamen- tal principle? Teaching about the discoveries that have been made throughout the history of science is an excellent way of combating the intellectual sloth that will slowly stifle our sense of mental newness.

This kind of teaching is no longer appropriate, he argues, in an age when discoveries are made al- most entirely by mathematics. His final paragraph sums up what he has learned about human beings from psychoanalysis - about their psychic dynamism in particular - and at the same time suggests what will eventually lead him to reject it, his emphasis being firmly on the mind. Poetic imagination became his focus over the next decade, with the publication of four books on images of water, air, and earth. In reject- ing this kind of thinking, Bachelard was being intentionally provocative.

He is not though being gratuitously provocative, but raising fundamental questions with regard to society and human beings. If school is made for society, what is society for? If we say it is for the good of humans, what is that good? And if society is made for school, what is school for?

If it is for its own sake, as Bachelard believes, then why? What is it about human beings that makes permanent schooling necessary? Bachelard has shown human beings as obstacles to objective knowledge, as burdened with misplaced affectivity, immobilised and unhealthy. Abstraction is a duty because in breaking with the concrete, it frees and dynamises the mind, ensuring this healthy muta- tion. Yet this would seem to exclude non-scientists, as does the emphasis he places on mathematics in the closing sections of Chapter Twelve.

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