IAS Fellow's Seminar
Speaker: Pier Paolo Saviotti
Chair: Colin Bain
Title: Are there discontinuities in human knowledge?
The seminar will explore the meaning of discontinuities, their possible presence in human knowledge, the possibility to establish with some degree of objectivity their existence and their possible implications for the management of knowledge creating and using organizations. Reference will be made to the concepts of scientific and technological paradigms. In these two cases new forms of knowledge, at least partly incompatible with pre-existing ones, can emerge in certain periods. Such new forms of knowledge constitute a revolution with respect to the past and correspond to an incompatible world view. While at its emergence a new paradigm is usually highly contested, once it becomes accepted it tends to dominate a scientific discipline or a profession. According to Thomas Kuhn the paradigm passes from the phase of scientific revolution to that of normal science. The nature of the scientific or technological activity changes according to the phase of the paradigm.
The existence of paradigms, be they scientific or technological, is not consensually accepted by the academic community. In this seminar an attempt to develop tools which allow us to detect discontinuities in knowledge will be described. Although the task of detecting and measuring discontinuities is in principle impossible, given that they give rise to qualitative changes, the construction of such tools will be based on defining some properties of knowledge and on mapping their evolution in scientific disciplines or in technological fields. Some fundamental and measurable properties of knowledge will be defined such as coherence, cognitive distance and variety. It will be shown that the measurement of these properties allows us to map the life cycle of scientific disciplines or technological fields and to infer implications about firm strategy or human resources management.