Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The rise and fall of a new paradigm

We start by talking about a genre - a style of music, literature or art in general.

Phase 1
People - predominantly young people - are bored. The scene is stale, the content derivative - it doesn't express how we feel!

New work within the paradigm is being pioneered but it's incomprehensible and tedious in the extreme. ...

And then some smart (young) person has an idea.

The new fashion/craze speaks to people. It spreads like wildfire. The wider world notices, articles get written.

Everything is fresh, rough and buzzing.
Phase 2
The new trend becomes established and widely-popular. Time to see what can be done with it. Talent flocks in and a thousand flowers bloom. This is the golden age of experimentation: bliss it is to be alive.
Phase 3
After a while (which could be years or decades) the sum of possibilities has been thoroughly explored,  indeed codified. Further innovation is necessarily more 'advanced', more esoteric. The new material in the genre is undeniably clever .. yet more abstract, smothering those core emotional principles which once drove popular appeal. Only the deepest aficionados claim to actually like it.

People are becoming bored, vaguely searching. Time to reboot the endless cycle.

I claim some examples.

1. Popular Music
The stifling crooning, big-band sound of the fifties was terminally disrupted when rock 'n' roll exploded onto the scene, with all its raw vitality and sexuality.

The new genre grew to maturity in the sixties, fully-realised in rock and pop. Rock music in particular then evolved into so-called "progressive rock" - festooned with pomp, pretentious musicianship and endless dirges.

The audiences fell away .. and then came punk.
2. Classical Music
I humbly suggest there have been many such cycles. Surely a composer like John Cage could only inhabit phase 3.
3. Science Fiction
In this literary genre with which I am quite familiar, phase 1 was the heroic era of fifties pulp, driven by the science and engineering revolutions of the cold war and the space race.

In phase 2 literary development brought in a variety of influences, of which Iain M. Banks was not untypical. But even then such work was already bordering upon the embellished and baroque.

In the third phase, SF was colonised by the earnest concerns of the left-liberal establishment and mutated into just another vehicle for the advancement of 'social justice' (example).

There is now a widespread feeling that SF has lost its way - has become stale and boring.


This three phase theory, which rings true to me, is not original here. I read about it a while ago, yet have completely failed to find any reference. If anyone knows, please mention in the comments.



Does this apply to politics? Of course it does. New political ideas arise out of the political space-time foam all the time. Some, raw and unfinished, capture the popular imagination and gain traction.

In phase 2 political thinkers are attracted and begin to delve into the underlying logic of the new movement. Manifestos and analyses are drafted. The new politics becomes more established and systematised.

Finally it all gets way too fossilised and complex. The over-elaborated superstructure recedes into irrelevance as the masses grapple with new grievances and new ideas for righting them.

That has got to seem familiar.



Stanisław Lem's "Solaris" describes 'Solaristics', a 'degenerating research program'.
"In Lem's first major work, 'Solaris' (1960), [we meet] Solaristics, the branch of earthly science that evolved through humankind's encounter with the gigantic sentient colloidal ocean of the planet Solaris. The planet is known to be capable of incredible self-regulation, governing its macroprocesses by controlling its orbit around two suns, and also its microprocesses by the manipulation of neutrino-fields to create phantasmic simulacra of human beings.

"After the discovery of Solaris, the desire to understand the ocean became for a time the greatest quest in science. But when the novel's protagonist, psychosolarist Kris Kelvin, arrives at the Solaris Research Station, Solaristics is a badly degenerating research program.

"After a hundred years of study, the Solaris Project has produced only stalemate and paradox. The planet has resisted scientific categorization so much that each scientist, and each discipline, are caught in escalating complexities, ultimately forcing them to step out of scientific rationality altogether.

"First came the competition of very general hypotheses. The biologists defined the ocean-planet as a gigantic "prebiological" quasi-cell; the astrophysicists as an extraordinarily evolved organic structure; the planetologists proposed that it was a "parabiological" plasmic mechanism; some even argued that it was merely a very unusual geological formation. The evolutionary view entered with the hypothesis that it was a "homeostatic ocean" which had evolved into total adaptive control of its cosmic environment in a single bound, bypassing the phases of cellular differentiation (Solaris 23-25). ...

"In the "golden age" of Solaristics, bold theorists and heroic explorers willing to risk their lives established that the ocean is alive, in some sense. But because the planet did not respond to the Solarists' probing, the work increasingly declined into taxonomy -- an excruciatingly ironic taxonomy since everything about the planet was unprecedented in human science, and all relevant categories had to be invented from scratch, without comparisons. ...

"Frustration at their inability to understand the planet gradually leads the Solarists to make increasingly psychological hypotheses. The planet's silence is viewed by some as a sign of autism, by others as a sign of an "ocean yogi." Ultimately, the Solarists are compelled toward models of intentional behavior taken from terrestrial religions.

"Observers plausibly depict the scientists' obsession with communicating with the ocean as narcissistic projection or religious mania, the desire for union with the Godhead. For other scientists, the uncategorizable translates into indifference, or even active hostility. The scientific gain from the study of Solaris is nil. ... At the moment of complete stalemate (the actual beginning of the novel's action), the planet appears to have defeated human science altogether by establishing impassable limits."
Any science making progress will render its previous paradigms obsolete, rendering further study there a degenerating research program. Examples abound but classical (pre-genomic) genetics and neoclassical economics come to mind.


  1. One is of course reminded of the Kuhn approach in scientific methodology - I assume that these sociological /artistic models are related. A link is:

    [On a different matter I see that Hamid's PhD work is receiving posthumous recognition and has been Published! Read this Amazon book summary:


    1. We might get someone to comment that this is all nothing but applied meme dynamics: one can but hope!

      Good to see Hamid's legacy continuing. Systems of arithmetic with weakened axiom systems are far from central to my own interests but I recall Hamid Lesan as a logician through and through. There are not many who learned programming by way of lambda calculus!

      I wrote a short memoir back in 2008 after you notified me of his death.


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