Scholarly article on topic 'Cracks—Of Kuhn and Doom'

Cracks—Of Kuhn and Doom Academic research paper on "Art (arts, history of arts, performing arts, music)"

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Academic research paper on topic "Cracks—Of Kuhn and Doom"

Perception, 1990, volume 19, pages 139-140


Cracks—of Kuhn and Doom

To those of us with pretensions to being 'academics' no phrase is more annoying than calling our opinions, or our ideas or discoveries 4merely academic'. Perhaps we should reply to the opposition that they are merely practical. But this does not have the same force. Why not? Simply because we all have to admit that some practical issues are important. Indeed, throughout history, science and art have flourished in the wealth (or at least the leisure) bought by commerce. So academics owe a lot to Mammon-provided Mammon does not crack the whip.

Many academics and especially scientists like to think their ideas may have world-shaking consequences, though these are seldom intentionally planned or predicted. Thus Boolean logic was most surprisingly applied to complex switching of telephone systems. The atom bomb arose, a startled phoenix, from abstract and apparently useless very general questions of space and time. Indeed cures for many diseases and virtually the whole of sophisticated technology have resulted from 'merely' academic ideas, which, applied to the 'practical' worlds of medicine and business, have transformed everyday living, and so have turned out to be exceedingly practical.

This very common use of 'merely', surely reflects a common antagonism to science and to creative questioning. With this thought in mind I propose a new psychological dichotomy. This may run deeper than well-known dichotomies such as Extrovert and Introvert. It is based on cracks. It divides people into those who explore cracks and those who cover cracks. On this terminology, perhaps it is no accident that scientists and inventors are called 'crackpots'.

The word 'crack' has a remarkable number of uses and related meanings. Collins Concise Dictionary lists 31, including: a narrow fissure; to break without separation of the parts; to tell a joke; to force open a safe; to solve a code. Most dramatic is the end of the world—the crack of doom. A crack is a generally unwanted discontinuity; a discrepancy in normal reality, which may, however, reveal surprising and sometimes deep truths. Exploring cracks can lead to drastic re-thinking—even to a major new 'Kuhnian' paradigm—when an entire science looks different.

But cracks are not for everyone. They can be unsightly and they can be dangerous. The owner of a valuable damaged pot will turn it to hide the crack. A decorator will fill in or paper over the cracks. This is very different from the scientist perceiving discontinuities between data and theory, or discrepancies within a theory, for he will focus on the cracks. He may so concentrate on the cracks that he will ignore what works fine and is predictable. So he may ignore what for most people are the principal pleasures and rewards of life. For, although smooth surfaces may be beautiful and safe and secure, they hide what lies beneath. Cracks are signs of underlying insecurity, and they can reveal not always welcome truths. Though uncomfortable, cracks are where innovators explore for insights. They are where questions are conceived, sometimes to grow to challenge and sometimes transform the accepted. This is the promise and threat of cracks.

They are faults. When revealed, cracks are hard to ignore and may spell ruin. So it is hardly surprising that most individuals and almost all organizations take the opposite strategy from science: ignoring and when possible hiding cracks. To present the bland face of safe success, with cracks hidden, is the essence of PR.


Many professions have the difficult task of presenting a bland face (without a cracked smile or a cracked voice) while, at the same time, privately dealing with the inevitable cracks. This is very clearly so for architects. Architects must attract funding, requiring promises of safe success; but when cracks appear they must diagnose their cause, and deal with them, and learn from cracks problems of underlying structures and how repairs can be made. Similarly, if less literally, the same is so for doctors and financiers and politicians. This double need to hide and yet examine cracks is essential for all professions dealing with the public—who want assurance rather than doubt, and yet must be protected from disasters—so professions combine public crack-hiding with private crack-looking. This duality is most profoundly reflected in religions, where the deepest unknowns of cracks in knowledge are traded for bland promises of certainty.

Living by seeing cracks and living by hiding cracks are so different that very few individuals can do both. So professions require specialists in each. Thus it is there are professional problem-solvers and professional PRs. But crackers and anticrackers can find communicating extremely difficult, or even impossible, because living for questions and living with answers are so different. Their entire motivational systems are different, as cracks can spell collapse and failure, while acceptance of smooth surfaces implies secure success without disturbing surprises.

To crack-people this looks too bland. Yet why shouldn't we enjoy security and shared success? The distinction here is the old analogy of fruit as rewarding harvest, and the contrasting symbolic apple of doubt and punishment. The first is safe and sweet; the second dangerous and sour. Those who niche-pick to find the light in cracks cannot expect to rule the world, or be altogether popular, but it can be rewarding to be crack-trained.

Richard L Gregory

1990 a Pion publication printed in Great Britain