Fire in the Crucible by John Briggs

"[Gerald] Holton has discerned that the work of scientific creativity is shaped by clusters of presuppositions and 'gut' assumptions. He calls these gut assumptions 'themata': themes. For the most part themata are aesthetic qualities like the assumption that the universe is basically symmetrical, or the opposite assumption that it's asymmetrical...

"The cluster of themata differs from scientist to scientist, though most scientists doing what Thomas Kuhn has called 'normal' science share basically the same set of underlying assumptions. Scientists who end up revolutionizing their fields appear to have a collection of themata at variance in some significant ways with the theme clusters held by most of their colleagues.
a bit further along, after a discussion on the divergent world views of Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, and Schr0dinger, John Briggs returns to the themata concept again...
"Holton thinks the particular constellation of themata of a great scientist is like a fingerprint. 'When you have a scientific paper and you take off the names and ask what is this person preoccupied with, you can see the thematic fingerprints on it.' Holton calls these obstinately held constituents of the scientist's vision themata because they recur through history and the total number which have thus far appeared in science is really quite small--around one hundred, he believes. At different moments in history, different themes come to the fore. There is an old theme of a universe composed of four elements--air, earth, fire and water. This has recently reemerged in physics as the search to explain all phenomena in terms of four elemental forces: gravity, electromagnetism, the strong and the weak nuclear forces.


Keegan, whose research was influenced by Holton, examined in detail Charles Darwin's intense, lifelong commitment to certain themes. Keegan calls these themes 'thought-forms.' He says, 'The thought-form can be viewed as the incarnation of a theme within an individual.' For example, in his books, papers, and journals Darwin struggled for twenty years to give expression to the 'thought-form' (or theme) of gradualism--just as Einstein had worked all his life to give expression to his personal collection of themes which included continuum and invariance."

And from On the Role of Themata in Scientific Thought:
There is always the danger of confusing thematic analysis with something else: with Jungian archetypes, with metaphysics, with paradigms and world views. (It might well be that the latter two
contain elements of themata. But the differences are overwhelming. For example, thematic oppositions persist during “normal science,” and themata persist through revolutionary periods. To a much larger degree than either paradigms or world views, thematic decisions seem to come more from the individual than from the social surrounding.)
- Gerald Holton -


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