Paraconsistency in the provinces

I am learning a lot thanks to the Poznan School, its latest topic being provincialism in the ‘sciences’ (interpreted broadly), stemming from concern about the provincial status of Poland. Here is a passage on the historical origins of paraconsistent logic:

A truly prototypical example of the inextricable connections between political factors and factors intrinsic to science is displayed by the fate of the great Polish logician Stanislaw Jaśkowski. Jaśkowski started his career under supervision of the world-class logician Jan Łukasiewicz in Warsaw. Warsaw was certainly not a dark scientific province at that time. The aerie of the Lvov-Warsaw School was one of the centers of logicism, frequented by recognized scientists from all over the world. Admittedly, logical positivism was not the dominating current in European philosophy in those days. With respect to language, work in Poland did not provide a locational advantage. Consequently, Jaśkowski lost precedence for his calculus of natural deduction to a German scientist, Gerhard Gentzen. That had a lot to do with faster access to important, i.e. internationally visible, journals. One of Jaśkowski’s ideas concerned so-called paraconsistent logic. Today, some of the most cited logicians, Graham Priest for example, believe it to be a new paradigm in logic. Jaśkowski developed and investigated one of the first calculi of this kind but the recognition of his work was hindered by political and language reasons. By serendipity, in the seventies of the last century, a Brazilian scientist—contrary to zeitgeist—travelled to Eastern Europe, the province behind the Iron Curtain, to search for new ideas in logic. Newton da Costa personally visited all the places that may have been relevant for his own area of research, paraconsistent logic. Only that way did some of Jaśkowski’s brilliant ideas enter into the worldwide scientific community. In that way, it was mainly da Costa, a logician from a Brazilian province, who secured Jaśkowski’s international visibility. Naturally, he was not selfless enough to overpromote the project that competed with his own.

Chances that the reception of unknown results from the provinces will improve in the future are rather poor. First, the type of travelling scientist searching for ideas has become decidedly rare. And second, reading habits of scientists have changed. Papers that lie behind the temporal horizon designated by electronic publication just vanish. They do not appear in the normal search routines used by contemporary researchers. Regardless of their scientific value, they pass away to the Nirvana of the sciences. Well understood, the World Wide Web is Janus-faced: it provides easy access to modern results and fast publication, on the one hand, but, on the other, looking up older publications becomes more and more unusual and awkward. Certainly, forgotten treasures must still be waiting to be found on the outskirts of science. Yet barely anybody, except for a few historians of science, cares. Scientific production accelerates in tempo and size. Nowadays there seems to be hardly any demand in mining old ideas. The plethora of scientists all over the world brings out more new ideas than can be actually consumed. Paraconsistent logic, by the way, is recognized as part of a larger project leading from ancient dialectics to complexity theory. Even if one is, contrary to Priest, not ready to understand it as a new paradigm of logic, it is part of a developing paradigm of philosophy of science. Be that as it may, whenever scientific ideas become incorporated into common knowledge, they must not be ignored, regardless of their origin. The authors of an article “Sorting through the wealth of nations,” working at the dignified Hoover Institution, reveal complete ignorance of inconsistency tolerant formal reasoning half a century after Jaśkowski, da Costa and others. This cannot be subsumed under the usual disinterest of the provinces. As an upshot, Hoover Tower is beamed into back province (without affecting the rest of Stanford’s institutions).

SOURCE: Max Urchs & Uwe Scheffler, “Paradigms, Markets, and Politics. From Province to Metropolis and Retour”, in Thinking about Provincialism in Thinking, edited by Krzysztof Brzechczyn & Katarzyna Paprzycka (Amsterdam; New York: Rodopi, 2012), pp. 237-258. (Poznań Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities; vol. 100) This quotation: pp. 244-245.

Originally posted on R. Dumain’s blog Studies in a Dying Culture on February 28th, 2014.
Categories: intellectual life,
language, logic, paraconsistency, Polish philosophy, provincialism.

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