Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The stories that didn't happen because people were being squashed by other people also matter.

It is impossible to be accurate about what didn't happen, but it is good to try to find those missing happenings.

Faith Ringgold made paintings with words on them that tell the story of an American woman who went to Paris in the 1920's and lived there and had fun, sometimes profound fun, like some Americans did in Paris in the twenties. This woman was African-American, so she is an example of someone who didn't do that, of the kind of person who didn't get to do that because of a steel taspestry of constraints. But Faith Ringgold makes it happen for the time anyone is looking at the painting, or remembering it.

I'm reading Herbert Butterfield's exceedingly wonderful book about the history of science, which is about how scientists mananged to change their minds around to be ready for the next breakthrough. Sometimes, the breakthrough which seemed, from out point of view, to be right there, didn't happen for a long time because minds had to somehow change what they were capable of thinking.

Copernicus worked out a system where the Earth revolved around the sun. Right. He had the Earth revolve around the sun in a perfect circle. Wrong. It was more than an century before Kepler, after a lot of work and thought work by others, got to ellipses, which are how planets revolve around the sun.

All scientists were incredibly constrained by the idea that that which was most real was most perfect. The most real things had to be perfect; the basic movement might be the Earth moving rather than the Sun, but it still had to be perfect, a perfect circle, not a funky but understandable ellipse. It took a lot of observations, and Copernicus' theory being around a long time til the perfect circle idea kind of wore away, as Butterfield shows in detail, then Kepler first, then others could perceive how it really works.

Butterfield is not the department of who didn't get to think about things like that; he is not the department of who never had a chance.

What scientists slowly realized in the early science times Butterfield is writing about is what we are still living in in many ways, our minds constrained as theirs were, in ways we can't feel yet, or get beyond.

What is missing because so many kinds of people were missing from the finding out process? What is still missing?

I don't know. Who could know? In a way, scientists of groups left out in the past might know, but they are really busy. It isn't their kind of question. Whose kind of question is it? Yours?