Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

25 Feb 2007, 12:35 p.m.

Did You Mean

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2007 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

I'm reading Roy Porter's book The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity for my class on emerging technologies. My group is studying the introduction of digital patient records, so I'm reading the Porter to give us a historical context for how medical institutions got more bureaucratic, and how processes and institutions changed once we needed/started using charts in the first place.

It's a terrific book, really comprehensive and littered with great anecdotes and quotes, but among the drier texts I've read recently. The past few times I've sat down to read it at length, I've reliably gone 50-75 pages, then conked out. Either I have tremendous sleep deprivation or I'm bored, which means I'm boring (Frances's dictum, "Only boring people are bored").

Yesterday I saw a pattern and exclaimed about it to Leonard. There's some received wisdom that everyone believes because it's traditional, and then someone new comes along and sees with new eyes and makes a new model for how the body works, and there's a flurry of new experimentation and theorizing, and then that model calcifies and becomes the new received wisdom for a few hundred years until the next experimenters come along.

Leonard reminded me that I had basically just reiterated the thesis of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Oh yeah. I read that book, didn't I? Ten years ago.

It's a good thing that we don't have little demons following us around all the time, humbling us with prior art every time we think we've thought up something original. Well, not good for innovation, but good for my personal ego. As Leonard commented (unrelatedly) yesterday, "I never know what sentence that I say is going to throw you into an existential crisis."