Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi novella “Profession” versus professionalism: Reflections on the (missing) scientific revolutions in the 21th century

Philosophy of Science eJournal (Elsevier: SSRN) 17 (42):1-38 (2024)
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Abstract

This is a partly provocative essay edited as a humanitarian study in philosophy of science and social philosophy. The starting point is Isaac Asimov’s famous sci-fi novella “Profession” (1957) to be “back” extrapolated to today’s relation between Thomas Kuhn’s “normal science” and “scientific revolutions” (1962). The latter should be accomplished by Asimov’s main personage George Platen’s ilk (called “feeble minded” in the novella) versus the “burned minded” professionals able only to “normal science”. Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” in post-Hegelian manner is now interpreted to an analogically supposed “end of scientific history” without “scientific revolutions” any more. The relevant dystopia of the prolonged or even “eternal” period of normal science is justified to the contemporary institution of science due to mechanisms such as “peer-review”, “impact-factor rating”, the projects’ competition for funding, etc. Positive feedbacks forcing all scientists needing careers to be more and more orthodox are demonstrated therefore establishing for that dystopia to be the real state of contemporary science. Two counterfactual case studies based correspondingly on Feyerabend’s “Against method” (1975) if Galilei should make his discoveries today and Sokal’s hoax (1996) if he suggested a scientific masterpiece to be really rejected by journals are discussed. Still one case study considering the abundance of Kelvin’s “clouds” on the horizon of today’s physics (dark matter, dark energy, entanglement, quantum gravitation, phenomena refuting the Big Bang, etc.) serves to verify the aforementioned conjecture that science has already entered that dystopia of eternal normal science. The conception of “ontomathematics” implying “creation ex nihilo” being scandalous for the dominating paradigm is sketched as an eventual revolutionary way out. An imaginary and utopic “happy end” reinterpreting the analogical “happy end” of Asimov’s “Profession” finishes the essay “instead of conclusion” relying on the Internet and AI in an increasingly “fluid” and anti-hierarchical society.

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Vasil Penchev
Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

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