of books by Ludwik Fleck

LUDWIK FLECK, born 1896 in Poland, got his medical degree for research on typhus at the State Hospital for Infectious Diseases of the University of Lvov and specialized in bacteriology in Vienna. Fleck's scientific publications in bacteriology cover various aspects of general serology, hematology, experimental medicine, and immunology on typhus fever, syphilis, and other microorganisms. He developed an original theory about thought style and thought collectives which he published in 1935 as Entstehung und Entwicklung einer wissenschaftlichen Tatsache: Einfuehrung in die Lehre vom Denkstil und Denkkollektiv about the genesis of a scientific fact. He developed a typhus immunization during the German occupation of Poland and was imprisoned in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. After the war he remained scientifically active. In 1957 Fleck emigrated from Poland to Israel where he died in 1961.

Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact
by Ludwik Fleck
The University of Chicago Press, 1979
originally published in German, Benno Schwabe Co., Basel, 1935

The collective mind is an important concept in science as the theoretical equivalent of a body of evidence. In the 'Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact' Ludwik Fleck outlines the idea of thought styles in medicine and science as a way of interpreting and understanding observations. Ludwik Fleck used his knowledge on infections to outline the historical development in the identification of the causative agent of syphilis from the 15th to the beginning of the 20th Century, when modern molecular diagnostic tools such as antibodies became available to prove the existence of sub microscopic particle in the blood and tissue samples of infected people. The modern concept of syphilis, namely that a pathogenic microorganism (and not immoral behavior) is the cause of this venereal disease, is nothing but revolutionary when compared with the mystic-ethical dimension often associated with sexually transmitted diseases. Fleck uses the history of syphilis and the changing concept of syphilis to demonstrate the influence of one's thinking on the development of a scientific fact. Fleck outlines in five parts his theory of thought collectives. First, the more deeply we enter into any branch of science, the more we associate with an existing thought style in the field. Second, discovery is an agent that changes thought styles based on observation, experiment, and experience. Fleck outlines how a scientific fact is construed as an event in the history of thought. Third, the scientific fact becomes stronger with the emerging of a thought collective from a mere thought style. Thought collectives allow the communication of thoughts within these collectives, but thoughts are also exchanged among thought collectives. Fourth, some thought collectives are discussed such as journal science and popular science. Fleck in particular talks about the democratic character of the thought collective of modern science. Fifth, thought styles are analyzed. In particular our bias on visual perception '..is always [a] stylized seeing of ideas or meaning by "ideovision" and that every illustration is a stylized ideogram.'  It should be remembered here that scientific publications use a particular narrative combined with figures, diagrams, and pictures making science really an illustrated story. Specialization and fragmentation into thought styles is a common feature of scientific research.

December 26, 1999 / © 1999 Lukas K. Buehler go back to Book Review Home

(see also the development of a scientific fact -  the cell membrane)