A doctor friend, a psychiatrist, writes:
“In listening to your latest JFK Facts podcast, I realized that many people cannot ‘see; the evidence that contradicts the standard interpretation of the Kennedy assassination because of a phenomenon described by Thomas Kuhn in “The Structure of Scientific Revolution.” This may be too theoretical for most people, but it was Kuhn who described the problems encountered with paradigm changes.”
(Here is a link to a quick synopsis of Kuhn’s theories)
The doctor goes on:
“Kuhn describes classic psychology experiments that proved that people cannot see ‘evidence’ that conflicts with their world view or paradigm of reality. For example, when shown a deck of cards in which there are cards like a black four of hearts, observers cannot figure out what they are.
Discoveries are Rare Because Expectations Obscure our Vision
“The fact the normal science does not aim at novelty, as Kuhn has argued, cries out for explanation. Briefly, Kuhn’s response is that scientists are entrenched within a certain way of seeing things, and this clouds their vision (they tend to see what they expect to see). As an instance of what Kuhn thinks is a general psychological phenomenon, he cites a study by J. S. Bruner and Leo Postman, “On the Perception of Incongruity: A Paradigm,” Journal of Personality XVIII (1949) 206-23.
many people cannot ‘see; the evidence that contradicts the standard interpretation of the Kennedy assassination because of a phenomenon described by Thomas Kuhn
“In this psychological experiment, subjects are shown ordinary playing cards mixed up with some anomalous cards, like a black four of hearts. Roughly speaking, the results show that subjects initially see what they expect to see (either the four of spades, or the four of hearts). In sum, Kuhn seeks to explain the difficulty of discovery as an instance of the general psychological fact that our expectations cloud our perception of the world.”
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7 thoughts on “Doctor’s prescription: how to think about the story of JFK assassination”
I was 11 years old when JFK was assassinated. Over the years, I read everything I could get my hands on pertaining to his death and the subsequent “investigations.” Now, I’ve reached the point that if a person so much as indicates a belief in the Lone Nut Theory, I walk away. They are the people who lack critical thinking as well as the will to investigate anything beyond face value, even when it’s something as important as the assassination.
In my view, of far greater significance than any difficulties individuals may have in interpreting evidence is the desire to avoid conclusions. A conclusion of conspiracy is shocking. If one avoids looking at the evidence no such conclusion can be drawn. If one beleives Kennedy was a threat to America, then searching for evidence of guilt of likeminded individuals is counterintuitive.
I would expect some people, who believed that Kennedy’s death was good for America, would dissemble with a crusading zeal.
The key to re-aligning your thinking for me is to not look at the CIA hierarchy of the time as honorary patriotic men but ruthless mobsters who could act completely without accountability or due process, all beneath the cloak of “national security.”
Imagine “the Godfather” with unlimited govt protection. What would he get away with?
This cuts both ways. Convinced conspiracy theorists reject any fact or conjecture that does not conform to their conspiracy theory. I admire the calm and lucid way Jean Davison responds to people who are almost like religious fanatics in their approach.
Bingo. It is a major stretch to try to fit Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (plural) into the JFK debate. The Warren Commission version of events is really not a paradigm of the sort Kuhn was talking about. The psychology of True Believer Lone Nutters and True Believer Conspiracy Theorists is indeed fascinating, and TBLN and TBCT probably cannot be explained in the same terms – but both sets of TB have gone way beyond what the evidence will actually support. The maddening thing about the JFK assassination is that the evidence actually does point in multiple directions, and sane and reasonable people can and do come to very different conclusions. But both TB camps are simply dogmatic, fundamentalist, quasi-religious zealots. TBCT are no more willing to “see” evidence that cuts against their views than are TBLN – and both are willing to “see” lots of evidence that isn’t really there.
The evidence in this case, at its basic level, has always pointed toward conspiracy. Why do I say that? Jack Ruby.
Two days after JFK was assassinated, Jack Ruby, assassinated Lee Oswald, INSIDE A POLICE STATION. This, was after, he obviously stalked Oswald on Friday night.
“TBCT are no more willing to “see” evidence that cuts against their views than are TBLN – and both are willing to “see” lots of evidence that isn’t really there.”
How about evidence that both sides can’t see clearly and the conclusions both sides might come to if they were to be enabled to see it?
I’m referring to the mutual interest both sides share in advocating for the acquisition of clear scans of the Darnell film in order to identify the figure known as Prayer Man. After all, if PM isn’t Oswald, then the set of theories that have grown up around the possibility that it is Oswald would be rendered moot. Further, what might be learned from clear scans that we don’t know that we don’t know?
As new evidence, such clear scans of the Darnell film would go a long way toward understanding the events of that day, regardless of whomever each side ends up actually seeing there standing on the steps. Should we not all seek out and then accept new evidence with wide open arms?