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A READER'S JOURNAL
What happens when people give reasons . . . and why
ARJ2 Chapter: Evolution of Consciousness
Published by Princeton University Press/NJ in 2006
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2011
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Why do people give reasons? Wouldn't you like to know? Why? Because. Okay, Because is one popular answer to the question Why? One says Because when one chooses not to answer and wants to not give a reason why. For people who actually wish to share their reasons, Charles Tilly gives us four categories of responses to the question Why? These answers form the theme and content of this interesting and useful small book.
Why bother with this book? Well, I have four kinds of reasons to share. First, as a custom, I read books which fall in the category of the evolution of consciousness. The very title of this book tells me that the author has studied the reasons people give for things they do or things which happen to them. Because of a convention I have adopted, I had to buy this book and read it.
Second, let me tell you a story. I have just received a book written by an innovative medical doctor in Finland who had trouble with others in her profession. She writes of her difficulties with her profession in a book, entitled The Struggle: Never to be Forgotten. I helped her to get the English of her book, translated from the original Finnish by a native Finnish translator, into somewhat clearer, colloquial English. As a result of reading her book several times during this copy-editing process, I became aware of the conflicts between her and the authorities who refused to publish her various technical articles in their journals. Through the various letters in the book, I read the reasons which various journal editors gave for not publishing her work.
Third, as a free-lance writer, there are no limits placed on what I can read and review, and since it is my convention to review everything I read, this book feel under my own codes as being okay to read. Which is great since I wanted to read it.
Fourth, having a story to tell of why I wanted to read the book, having a convention of reading which it fell under, and having it qualify under my own codes as being okay to read, the only technical details I had to attend to was to order the book from Labyrinth Book Catalog and wait for it to come.
Why such a tendentious account of my buying a book and reading it? Because the four reasons I give above fall into the four categories of reasons which Tilly describes in this book that we give to the question Why? Namely, 1) Conventions, 2) Stories, 3) Codes, and 4) Technical Accounts. Obviously not every answer to the question Why? need include all four categories of reasons, but any question will evoke at least one of categories of responses. Even the terse answer Because can be seen to be a convention to the person who uses it.
Here's how Tilly describes the four categories:
1. Conventions: conventionally accepted reasons for dereliction, deviation, distinction, or good fortune: my train was late, your turn finally came, she has breeding, he's just a lucky guy, and so on
2. Stories: explanatory narratives incorporating cause-effect accounts of unfamiliar phenomena or of exceptional events such as the 9/11 catastrophe, but also such as betrayal by a friend, winning a big prize, or meeting a high school classmate at Egypt's Pyramids twenty years after graduation
2. 3. Codes governing actions such as legal judgments, religious penance, or awarding of medals
2. 4. Technical Accounts of the outcomes in the first three: how a structural engineer, a dermatologist, or an orthopedic surgeon might explain what happened to Elaine Duch on the World Trade Center's 88th floor after a hijacked aircraft struck the building on 9/11
2. Each of the four ways of giving reasons has distinctive properties. Each of them varies in content depending on social relations between giver and receiver. Each of them, among other consequences, exerts effects on those social relations, confirming an existing relation, repairing that relation, claiming a new relation, or denying a relational claim. But the four sorts of reason giving differ significantly in form and content. Each can be valid in a way that the others cannot.
The responses we give will vary greatly depending our relationship with the person we are giving it to. If we bump into our spouse, a simple "Oops" might suffice, but to a stranger in an office, a more formal "Pardon me" would be necessary.
[page 16] Conventions vary enormously according to the social circumstances; given an identical dereliction, deviation, or good fortune, for example, a reason that satisfies a seatmate on the bus will usually not placate one's spouse. Conventions claim, confirm, repair, or deny social relations. They therefore differ greatly depending on the social relations currently in play.
A student in one of his cybernetics classes once asked Gregory Bateson how we would know if computers had reached the level of intelligence of a human being. Bateson said, "We would ask the computer a question and it would respond, 'That reminds me of a story.'" The answer is both humorous and insightful. With the benefit of Tilly's four categories, we might add to Bateson's reply, the computer might in addition to a story, offer an explanation of conventions, a delineation of applicable codes, or a technical account of what happened. As expected, the computerized officer Data on the Star Trek: Next Generation TV show was restricted mostly to technical accounts in his answers.
[page 16] Exceptional events and unfamiliar phenomena, however, call up different reasons why; they call up stories. People experiencing an egregious failure, a signal victory, a spectacular faux pas, a shared tragedy, or mysterious sounds in the night do not settle for "It was just the breaks." They, too, try to match reasons to the circumstances and social relations at hand, but now the reasons take on weight. Similarly, major life transitions such as marriage, divorce, or the death of a parent call for weightier accounts than conventions provide. In general, reasons for exceptional events complement explanations with at least hints of justification or condemnation: the company gave me a bigger bonus than you because I worked harder and sold more computers. Implied claims concerning the quality, intensity, durability, and propriety of relations between givers and receivers far exceed the claims tied to conventions.
Often we tell stories in response to a question. George in Marketing might ask me a question and wish me to give him a technical account, but if I judge that such an account would not neither make sense nor be memorable to George, I might tell him a story which explains how we came up with the idea for the product, implemented, and tested it which will lead him to understand the kind of technical details I suspect he needs to sell the product. Or I might tell him a story about how we ignored some code on a previous product and it became unsaleable and had to be discontinued. Or I might tell him a story of how the conventions we followed in the design were stretched so that the product could be both code compliant and innovative. Thus one may use a story to answer any of the other three categories of response to a question.
Answers which specify a code are often the shortest answers one can receive, because a code will often obviate the need for any further pursuit of data or reasons. A company lawyer might tell the engineer who asks if his proposal is okay, "This is against the law." No need for further discussion of the current proposal. A citation of the law code that would be broken is the only technical detail the lawyer need provide. Tilly provides a droll example of his encounter with a bureaucrat in Italy in charge of some century old documents Tilly needed to copy. Codes may create blatantly ridiculous situations, but their guardians will protect them at all costs.
[page 17, 18] When we wanted to copy some crucial and voluminous nineteenth century household records from Milan, Louise Tilly and I had an instructive encounter with codes proposed by Ragionier [Accountant] Ciampan, director of Milan's municipal archives. First the Ragionier dismissed us by insisting that only the city's mayor could authorize outsiders to use the records. When we pulled strings and actually returned with a letter from the mayor, I asked the Ragionier when I could start setting up my camera. The small man strode to a huge book of municipal regulations on their stand by the window, opened to a passage declaring that "no one external to the archives may photograph their contents," placed his hand on the great book, raised his other hand in the air, and declared, "I am bound by the law." We painfully copied the records by hand.
So-called governments, such as that of any modern country today including the one I am most familiar with, the USA, seem to understand the power of codes of law by creating so many of them that any action the bureaucrats who run things can declare any action they deem undesirable as "unlawful." By the time the actual codes are sorted out, if at all, the action will be forgotten, allowing the petty tyrant in the guise of code enforcement to have his will over any lowly citizen. As did the Accountant Ciampan in Milan to the Tillys.
The last of the four categories is Technical Accounts which provide specialized accounts of cause and effect in the course of an answer to a question. "Why did my computer spontaneously reboot itself?" could be answered by a convention, "Oh, that happens a lot." Or maybe Tom tells a story about a thunderstorm which went overhead and he watching the lightning bolts. When he looked back at his computer, it was in the process of rebooting. Or perhaps, Tom explains that Norton Systemworks had just downloaded some vital virus information and the company's codes requires an automatic reboot after a new protective download occurs. The most incredible example of a technical account happened in a large process computer in 1968 where I was working. Our chemical company wrote GE and asked them why their computer was stalling and rebooting itself randomly. GE sent their best technician, who babysat the computer all day and slept in his chair next to the computer mainframe each night for a week until finally one night the computer stalled, and the technician was able to detect a failed flip-flop circuit in the Quotient Register of the Central Processing Unit. A quick printed circuit board was changed out and the answer was available complete in all the technical details(1).
[page 18, 19] Finally, technical accounts vary enormously with regard to internal structure and content, but they have in common the claim to identify reliable connections of cause and effect. As he reflected on his futile attempt to kick open a fireproof door on the World Trade Center's 76th floor, Gerry Gaeta supplemented his initial story about the terrorists' foresight with a cause-effect account based on his expertise as an architect. Structural engineers center their cause-effect connections in mechanical principles, physicians in the dynamics of organisms, and economists in market-driven processes. Although engineers, physicians, and economists sometimes spend great energy in justifying their expertise when under attack, earnestly demonstrating that they reached their conclusions by widely accepted professional procedures, on the whole they center their giving of reasons on putative causes and effects. Whole professions and organized bodies of professional knowledge stand behind them.
Roughly speaking, then, reasons why distribute this way:
Popular Specialized Formulas Conventions Codes Cause-Effect Accounts Stories Technical Accounts
With this diagram one can see conventions are popular everyday formulas followed by the average person, whereas codes are specialized formulas for which special training and reference books may be required. Stories are popular cause-effect accounts and move to Technical Accounts when given by specialists in some field.
Reason giving methods are dependent on the social relationship between those involved.
[page 24, 25] Reason giving resembles what happens when people deal with unequal social relations in general Participants in unequal social relations may detect, confirm, reinforce, or challenge them, but as they do so they deploy modes of communication that signal which of these things they are doing. In fact, the ability to give reasons without challenge usually accompanies a position of power. In extreme cases such as high public offices and organized professions, authoritative reason giving comes with the territory. Whatever else happens in the giving of reasons, givers and receivers are negotiating definitions of their equality or inequality.
In her book, The Struggle: Never to Be Forgotten, Dr. Kaisu Viikari ,M.D. Ph. D. in Ophthalmology, writes of her experience trying to get a synopsis of her lecture to the Finnish Ophthalmological Society accepted in its Journal. Her innovative work, described in stories and detailed technical accounts, was rejected for this reason: "It differed from prevailing ideas." Here was the editor of the scientific journal falling back on conventions and codes instead of simply allowing Viikari's cause-effect relationships laid out in her stories and technical accounts to simply speak for themselves. In other words, through my reading of this book, I came to see how the forces of opposition took sides: each side used two of the four categories of reasons laid out by Charles Tilly in this book.
In addition there was a negotiating of relationships between the two parties in exactly the manner Tilly describes in this next passage.
[page 16] In each case, acceptability of the reasons given depends on their match with the social relations that prevail between giver and receiver. Just as people involved in unequal relations regularly negotiate acceptable signals of deference or distinction, participants in reason giving maneuver in both directions: generally giving reasons that match the presumed relationship, but also signaling proposed definitions of the relationship by means of reasons given.
One of the popular conventions which drives our social lives is etiquette, the kind Emily Post or Amy Vanderbilt filled their columns with in newspapers for many years.
[page 33] A significant share of good etiquette, it turns out, consists of supplying appropriate, effective reasons why — for things you do, and for things you don't do. Good etiquette incorporates conventional reasons. The reasons need not be true, but they must fit the circumstances.
My wife and I are grandparents, and we receive invitations to more events involving our grandchildren that we can attend. Often we skip some event we had earlier indicated our intention to attend, and we have found that it is not necessary to offer a reason why we didn't attend. We call it "Playing the Grandparent Card." How this works will only become understandable when you, dear Reader, become a grandparent yourself. The more grandchildren you have — we have 19 — the more often you must play the Grandparent Card.
The improvised pantomimes that Goffman describes are recognizable to anyone as conventions giving the semblance of a social life which is not present. These are the routines people go through to avoid giving reasons for their behavior: they are doing one behavior but covering it with the body gloss of another behavior, thereby preempting potentially embarrassing questions. "Drawing on his students' observations, he offered these examples of body gloss:"
[page 35] A girl in a university dormitory, desiring to receive mail although no one is in correspondence with her, may see that she is observed going to the dormitory mailbox, gives the appearance of looking for a specific piece of mail that she presumably has been expecting, and on finding that it isn't there yet, shakes her head in puzzled wonderment — none of which she bothers doing when she thinks no one is observing her hopeless quest. A male participant at a get-acquainted dance, who would say (if he could get to talk to everyone) that he had merely dropped in this once, on his way someplace else, to see what it was like, feels it necessary to buy a drink to hold in his hand and to lean against one of the pillars, as if merely stopping by for a quick drink. A girl entering the table area of a ski lodge wanting to see and be seen by boys who might possibly pick her up, but not wanting to be precisely exposed in these aims, gives the appearance of looking for someone in particular, and she does this by grasping and fixing her sunglasses, which, in fact, remain well above her eyes resting on her hair. (Goffman 1971)
In the Chapter on Stories, we learn about how stories are employed to create reasons, to answer the eponymous question, "Why?" Tilly says, "Stories provide simplified cause-effect accounts of puzzling, unexpected, dramatic, problematic, or exemplary events." He quotes Margaret Atwood talking about the "difference between experiences and the stories we tell about experience." (Page 64, 65)
[page 65] When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of a shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story after all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.
The part that Atwood doesn't mention is that telling a story to someone else is also telling it to yourself, especially if it's the first time you tell it, and the most important aspect of telling a story is: that is how you remember the confusing melange of events you experienced! Telling is how we remember things. To tell it, we must become part of the events in the present, to re-attach the events to our body, i.e., we must re-member the events and create a scenario which makes sense to us and others. The first time we undergo this process of re-membering events by telling it to someone else, we also eavesdrop on our own telling and that first telling forms the basis for all future tellings of the same story.
I first encountered this way of understanding the intimate connection between memory and stories in Tell Me a Story by Roger C. Schank. I read this book in 1994, 1996, and again in 2006 when I wrote a detailed review of it. The theme of Roger Schank's book is that telling stories is an essential part of the process of remembering. In a similar vein, Rudolf Steiner , in a book of his lectures, Guardian Angels, tells us that thoughts live inside us and only come out of us when we convert them into language in the process of telling them to someone else.
[page 31 of Guardian Angels] Initially a thought lives within us, and although it is by means of this thought that we relate to the external world, and the secrets of the outer world are disclosed to us through thoughts — the thought initially lives within our inner being. Yet it can be given expression. It comes to expression when we tell it to someone else. Language is an element in human life by means of which we bring our thoughts to external manifestation.
Stories can help achieve things that could not be achieved any other way. Take this story for example. Can you read it without several "Why?" questions being generated in your mind?
A Sufi master and his disciple were sitting at a table one afternoon, and the disciple was hungry and noticed a single, juicy-ripe peach in a bowl on the table near his master. "Master," he asked politely, "would you hand me that peach?" The master reached over, picked up the peach, and proceeded to eat all of the delicious-looking flesh, and when he was done, reached over and handed the peach pit to his disciple.
Why did the man eat the flesh of the peach and then hand the pit to the other man? Why does this tale have anything to do with the nature of stories? Schank explains it well:
[page 11, 12 of Tell Me a Story] Stories illustrate points better than simply stating the points themselves because, if the story is good enough, you usually don't have to state your point at all; the hearer thinks about what you have said and figures out the point independently. The more work the hearer does the more he or she will get out of your story.
If you wish an explanation to the Sufi story, perhaps you are like the disciple, who always wanted an explanation to the stories his master told him. To figure out the point of a story is to eat the flesh of the peach, whereas to have someone explain the story to you is to have them eat the flesh and pass the bare pit to you.
Tilly closes his Chapter on Stories by saying, "When most people take reasons seriously, those reasons arrive in the form of stories." Computers, on the other hand never take anything seriously like humans do. Why? Because computers take everything seriously! Nothing ever reminds a computer of a story because they lack the essential ingredient of being human and always will.
The 14th Century scholar and poet Petrarch gave an interesting reason for his dropping out of law school, "I could not face making a machine of my mind.(2)" Somehow he understood the inhuman aspect of codes, especially law codes. Tilly cites the lawyer, professor, and judge John T. Noonan on page 105: "Rules, not persons, are the ordinary subject matter of legal study" (Noonan 2002: 6)
What exactly are codes and how do they work?
[page 101, 102] Reasons based on conventions draw on widely available formulas to explain or justify actions, but include little or no cause-effect reasoning. Story-based reasons, in contrast, build on simplified cause-effect accounts by means of idioms that many people in the same culture can grasp. Reasons stemming from technical accounts likewise invoke cause and effect, but rely on specialized disciplines and claim to present comprehensive explanations. When it comes to codes, reasons given for actions cite their conformity to specialized sets of categories, procedures for ordering evidence, and rules of interpretation. Together, categories, procedures, and rules make up codes.
New codes shake up the current paradigm or rule regime in an organization and create an un-settling period which is then followed by a settling-down. Since people dislike un-settling periods, they avoid them as much as possible, invoking the entire armamentarium of reasons to avoid them, conventions, stories, codes, and technical descriptions.
One study examined regime changes within Stanford University over its first century of existence.
[page 103] Within each rule regime, the Stanford researchers find a declining rate of innovation in rules as time goes on. Their finding suggests a two-phase process: first a shakedown, as people discover discrepancies, gaps, and bad fits within the new regime; then a long phase of settling in as people within the organization gradually find ways of reconciling their own programs to the rules, and the rules to their own programs. Changes of rules in one area, however, continue to stimulate changes in adjacent areas of the organization. Changes of rules governing undergraduate majors, for example, have a good chance of requiring further changes of rules concerning graduation credits.
Codes are dehumanizing, even though they are one of the hallmarks of human civilization. Codes are the bane of innovators in any industry or organized form of human endeavor, whether in social life or in business life. As an individual, we know best our own technical accounts, our convention, and our stories, so when we bang up against some recalcitrant code enforcer waving a rule book in our face, we are rightly indignant.
[page 124] To the extent that we outsiders organize our reasons as conventions, stories, or technical accounts, we are likely to find codes vexing. We complain, as I just have, about "those bureaucrats" who insist on complicating and distorting perfectly sensible facts and reasons. Even from inside, rebel theologians rail against traditional interpretations, rebel physicians against rules that inhibit effective personalized treatment, rebel lawyers against legal dehumanization.
Tilly offers us Thane Rosenbaum's indictment of the legal system which focuses on learning facts not the truth.
[page 124] But facts and truths are two different concepts entirely. Facts don't have to be true. They just need to be found and applied to the law. Facts are artifacts of the justice system, while truths are trademarks of the moral universe. Fact is a legal system; truth is a moral one. The legal system's notion of justice is served by merely finding legal facts without also incorporating the moral dimensions of emotional and literal truth. (Rosenbaum 2004: 16-17)
But lawyer Rosenbaum is also a philosopher and a novelist, and he understands people as human beings rather than mere legal pawns. He states about the law:
[page 124, 125] "they need to be able to experience what the novelist already knows, and what the injured intuitively sense: that there is no way to heal emotionally from an injury if the story goes unheard and victims are denied their moral right to testify to their own pain" (Rosenbaum 2004: 61).
Of the four of the categories which people use to give reasons, the use of codes is the most dehumanizing one, and the one most likely to be abused for personal gain or to cover up personal failings. On the plus side, codes are valuable tools for regulating and governing a society of diverse people coming to live together in a single country such as the United States of America.
[page 125] Codes emerge from the incremental efforts of organizations to impose order on the ideas, resources, activities, and people that fall under their control (Scott 1998). Once in place, they strongly affect the lives of people who work for those organizations, or who cannot escape their jurisdiction. In those arenas, they shape the reasons people give for their actions as well as for their failures to act. Even when we evade or subvert them, codes matter.
The fourth and last category used by people in giving reasons is the technical account. In a trial, whenever an expert witness is sworn in, we know we will be given a technical account, some cause-effect explanation based on the expertise of the witness in some specialty, e. g., medicine, ballistics, psychology, economics, etc. The various specialties may be governed by codes, and often an experts' technical accounts will be based on revealing the codes involved in their specialties.
[page 131] Obviously, technical accounts resemble stories, conventions, and codes in facilitating communication within some group of specialists. Because they assume shared knowledge of previously accumulated definitions, practices, and findings, they economize on references to those definitions, practices, and findings. For that very reason, outsiders often consider technical accounts impenetrable because they are so hermetic or — if the outsider thinks they are actually dealing with subjects she knows well — filled with jargon. When it comes to reason giving, however, technical accounts parallel stories, conventions, and codes by doing relational work. This time they signal relationships with possessors of esoteric knowledge: saying you're one of us to other sympathetic specialists, marking differences within the field from others with whom the author disagrees, providing introductions to the field for aspiring newcomers or clients, and establishing the author's authority vis-à-vis respectful nonspecialists. They establish, confirm, negotiate, alter, or even terminate relations between givers and receivers.
Tilly sums up his chapter on technical accounts by defining the phrase superior stories as the best technical accounts which tell stories in cause-effect relationships which are defensible in terms of the codes and formulas of the technical specialty involved.
[page 156] Inspired by Pasternak, Cavalli-Sforza, and Diamond(3), let this be our rule for superior stories: simplify the space in which your explanation operates, reduce the number of actions and actors, minimize references to incremental, indirect, reciprocal, simultaneous, environmental, and feedback effects. Restrict your account-especially your account of causal mechanisms-to elements having explicit, defensible equivalents within the specialized discipline on which you are drawing. Finally, remember your audience: you will have to tell your superior story differently depending on the knowledge and motivation your listeners will bring to it. Think of your superior-storytelling as relational work.
The sixth and last chapter is Tilly's summary of how we use the various categories of reason. The entire book is a short and valuable read for any serious thinker, scientist, or innovator. It explains in detail how any innovative work will likely deviate from the norm of codes and conventions in a specialty, and will put a speaker or writer at risk of being minimized or even ignored by her intended audience(4). Tilly gives a robust solution to this conundrum in his suggestion of superior stories. Tilly teaches undergraduates about social processes. Most of his Columbia graduates likely "will become doctors, lawyers, engineers, entrepreneurs, business executives, or public officials".
[page 173] Relationships between my students and me add up to only one small case of a very large phenomenon: the giving and receiving of reasons. But those relationships illustrate this book's two basic arguments. First, appropriate reason giving varies with the relation between giver and receiver; the point holds just as strongly for technical accounts and stories as for conventions and codes. Second, the giving of reasons creates, confirms, negotiates, or repairs relations between the parties. Aristotle's analysis of rhetoric, after all, prepared us for just such an observation. Conventions do much of everyday relational work. We should be glad they do, since constant deployment of codes, technical accounts, and stories would complicate life enormously without improving it. Yet stories are a great human invention, since they provide a medium of explanation that is widely accessible, flexible, and persuasive. When life does get complicated, stories take over the bulk of relational work.
In the case of technical accounts, how can these ever get assimilated by those outside of the field of a specialty who have no access to the arcane terms and jargon which fills the accounts of someone's innovative work? Tilly offers us the example of professional historians, and then points out that one way reaching those new to a field is through the writing of textbooks by various experts.
[page 178] In fact, almost every group of specialists faces its own version of the same problem: how to offer credible, comprehensible reports of findings, recommendations, and explanations it has arrived at by means of specialized codes and technical accounts. For their own work, for example, professional historians depend heavily on esoteric codes: proper use of archives, correct excavation and interpretation of archaeological material, appropriate analysis of art works, and so on (Gaddis 2002, Van de Mieroop 1999). They also construct technical accounts strongly embedded in recognized historical sources, previous research, and knowledge of the settings in which the events they are analyzing occurred. Yet when they turn to writing textbooks or publications for general readers, they have no choice but to suppress or simplify much of their professional expertise. Superior stories serve them well.
What about those other specialties? What are their choices outside of writing textbooks?
[page 178, 179] The same goes for philosophers, theologians, cosmologists, biologists, physicians, lawyers, and generals. They must mix and match among four main alternatives:
1. speak only to fellow specialists
2. educate (some members of) their audiences in their specialized codes and technical accounts
3. recast their reason giving in the form of superior stories
4. count on translators and interpreters who already speak the language to do the recasting
Speaking only to your fellow specialists is the easiest. But it runs the risk that other people will misunderstand, misrepresent, or simply ignore whatever you are doing. Educating audiences in your specialty is a wonderful enterprise if you have the power and skill to do so. Depending on translators and interpreters — science writers, popularizers, and knowledgeable amateurs — saves plenty of grief when the translators and interpreters know their stuff. But for a wide range of specialists, writing your own superior stories has the virtue of making you think about the relevance of your daily work to humanity at large, or at least the humanity with which you make contact outside of your study, laboratory, or conference hall.
In my writing career, I have worked with three innovators, Joseph W. Newman, Doyle P. Henderson, and Kaisu Viikari, M. D. Ph. D. I have acted as an advisor, a translator, an interpreter, a science writer, and as a knowledgeable amateur at various times with each of these specialists in their fields. Each one offers to the world a panacea, a universal cure for some problem. Newman's contribution is a way of converting atoms of copper directly into energy promising unlimited energy. Henderson's cosmological discovery offers us a world free of fear, anger, anxiety, and all the various bodily states which infuse humans before the onset of full cognitive memory at age 5(5). Dr. Viikari's lifetime of ophthalmological research and ministering to her suffering patients offers us freedom from eye-glass-induced myopia and a spate of other diseases from the resulting pressure by the muscles of the eye, such as macular degeneration, retinal detachment, cataracts, and migraines.
In the case of each of these remarkable innovators, the enforcers of conventions and codes have blocked their progress. Newman's patent for his amazing machine was declined, even in the face of overwhelming support by all experts who examined it and excellent technical accounts describing the cause-effects of its operation. Henderson opened a clinic in Los Angeles next to a drug rehabilitation clinic. His clinic took the rejects from the Rehab Clinic and cured them. His process turned alcoholics into social drinkers and lesbians into bi-sexuals. This raised an uproar from those who deemed this to be a violation of conventions and codes, so they threatened prosecution of Henderson for dispensing medicine without a license and shut his clinic down. Alcoholics were free thenceforth to remain alcoholic. Dr. Viikari's innovative approach to prescribing plus lenses for incipient myopia prevented the vicious cycle of stronger and stronger minus lenses which creates the syndrome of pseudo-myopia. She was shouted down in a lecture to her peers for simply using the phrase pseudo-myopia, which was outside of the codes of the optical profession, perhaps even now. In the cases of each of these innovators, in diverse fields, the conventions and codes which their work seemed to violate, caused their work to be suppressed, exactly the way Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis's innovative work in antisepsis was condemned by the director of his hospital in Vienna who subsequently had Semmelweis committed to an insane hospital(6). All the while women died by the thousands in childbirth as doctors continued, for a time, to go from demonstrating deliveries in cadavers to delivering babies inside of live women, without washing their hands as Semmelweis had already proven effective in saving lives! Semmelweis is known as the Father of Antisepsis today, but the seamy underbelly of the medical profession is rarely mentioned in connection with Semmelweis today. Barbara McClintock, in contrast with Semmelweis, had her innovations recognized and her life's work vindicated within her lifetime. The jury is still out for Newman, Henderson, and Viikari, but when one is confronting entrenched paradigms in any field, one must always think in the long term. Gregor Mendel's ground-breaking work with smooth and wrinkled peas was forgotten about for over thirty years, until William Bateson recognized its value and gave the field its name, genetics.
[page 180] We can also read this book's teachings in the opposite direction. The reasons people give you reflect their approaches to relations with you. Most of the time, conventions and stories confirm relations that you already knew existed: you instantly recognize the "wrong" convention or story, which claims a relationship you prefer not to acknowledge. When someone offers you codes or technical accounts in unfamiliar idioms, you rapidly choose between two interpretations: either this person has misunderstood the relationship between you, or she is claiming superiority and demanding deference by virtue of esoteric knowledge. If, of course, you have asked for a summary of the relevant codes and technical knowledge, you have already established the inequality of your relationship, at least for the purposes of this conversation. A clever, sympathetic interlocutor can shift the relational balance by pushing the account you have asked for toward conventions and stories. Giving reasons does a wide range of social work. That work always includes shaping the relationship between giver and receiver of reasons.
That is why, in fact, I have written this book as a superior story. Since you, I, and every other active human will continue giving and receiving reasons every day of our lives, we might as well understand how reasons work.
The enterprise before us is exploration into life. Where are you bound? What codes and conventions bind you without your being aware of them? Are you like the fish that the frog told, "You are always immersed in water." The fish objected strenuously saying, "What water? If I were in water, I would know it." That describes the situation of civilized humanity with its codes and conventions. We live in them constantly and mostly ignore their existence. When someone dares to suggest a condition outside of a code, we look upon them incredulously, we exorcize them from our presence, we try our best to ignore them, and we make them go away. We may even laugh at them, we may ridicule their work, and we give as reasons for doing so the codes and conventions we judge them violating. But innovation has always proved stronger than conventions and codes, and in the long term, innovations will overcome the doubters, protestors, and detractors to establish a new regime in which people will forget that they enjoy the very benefits they once considered impossible.
---------------------------- Footnotes -----------------------------------------
Footnote 1. In those pioneer days of real-time computers, the central process units (CPU) were spread over several foot-square printed circuit boards (PCBs), each of which was expensive. That set of large PCBs are now inside of a single chip the size of a small postage stamp. When failures like this one occur today, the CPU chip will be swapped out.Return to text directly before Footnote 1.
Footnote 2. See The Enchantment of Reason by law professor Pierre Schlag, who deals with reason instead of reasons. Schlag shows us that reason, when backed into a corner, turns into its very opposite, "faith, prejudice, and dogma". Dogma is another name for codes.Return to text directly before Footnote 2.
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Footnote 3. These are three authors who wrote books which Tilly explored in his chapter on Technical Accounts.Return to text directly before Footnote 3.
Footnote 4. Consider Barbara McClintock, an expert geneticist, respected in her field, who was ridiculed for thirty years after she suggested that genetic changes occurred in plants in one single generation. The laughing stopped abruptly when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for her innovative insights and work. What changed the attitude of her colleagues? Some other study showed the presence of these so-called "jumping genes" that they accused McClintock of fabricating in her imagination. She did imagine them, but her technical accounts, which few experts in her own field could comprehend, proved their existence. The evidence was under the nose of the experts, but they chose to support their codes instead of taking the close look required to confirm the evidence. The details of McClintock's work are laid out in this book, A Feeling for the Organism, by Evelyn Fox Keller.Return to text directly before Footnote 4.
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