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by William H. Benson

July 17, 2003

     So much of how we, the members of the Western tradition, see and experience our world is derived from, or at least shaped by, the theories presented by a series of original thinkers.

     For example, Karl Marx, a German intellectual, wrote about class conflict between the bourgeoisie, the merchant class, and the proletariat, the labor class, and he predicted a revolution where the proletariat would overthrow the bourgeoisie and that a classless society would result where everyone would share equally.

     Albert Einstein, a Swiss patent clerk, presented his special and general theories of relativity and his vision of the relationship between space and time and energy and the speed of light within the universe.

     Charles Darwin, the English biologist, thought deeply about the variations in the species of animal life and arrived at a theory of evolution based upon “survival of the fittest” in a process he called “natural selection.”

     Sigmund Freud, the Viennese medical doctor, delved into the inner workings of the human mind and came up with his own vocabulary: repression, renouncing desire, the unconscious, the id, the ego, and the superego, the Oedipal-complex, libido, as well as his own science which he called psychoanalysis.

     Each produced a theory within a distinct body of knowledge: political/social, physics, biology, and psychology, and in the years since each of their theories have been accepted by some, rejected by others, tried by many, attacked by a few, or denounced by the multitudes.

     In whichever country it has been applied, Marxist Communism has proven a failure, a bankrupt ideology, where all the people end up poor, for Karl Marx failed to understand how powerful capitalism was as an engine for human advancement.

     On the other hand, astrophysicists have made gigantic strides in understanding the workings of our universe by incorporating Albert Einstein’s ideas into their ever advancing theories.

     Darwin’s theory of evolution is today accepted by the anthropologists and biologists as a cornerstone in knowing how animal life has progressed through the eons, but it is still a live issue that continues outraging the fundamentalists who argue instead for a creationist theory.  Some scientists have even tried to unite the two theories into one–a creationist evolution.

     But psychologists have pushed aside Freud’s theories, as if they were “stuffed birds on the shelf”, as the literary critic Harold Bloom put it.  “Freudian psychoanalysis arrived, had its equivocal triumph, and then departed forever.”  As a science Freud’s provocative ideas are today remembered as relics, one-time novel concepts that had merit only for a moment, and so  psychologists have forged ahead, leaving Sigmund Freud behind in the dust.

     Within each body of knowledge theories appear and then are overshadowed by new theories, and it may seem that the most recent proves the previous wrong.  Actually new theories may include information from a preceding theory, and some old theories once discarded then can and do re-emerge at a later point. 

     One might wonder what new theories are waiting in the wings off the stage of our awareness for some thoughtful person to discover.  It is just speculation but I think that men and women of the twenty-first century will present new and startling and breath-taking theories that will attempt to unite various bodies of knowledge together into a single theory.  


     As typical Americans our lives this summer are hemmed in by concerns about family, job, home, food, ball games, travel, vehicles, the war in Iraq, and the approaching political campaigns.  But beyond those matters, beyond the outer reaches of our thoughts, an ideological war is raging, where theories as to what is truth are battling for pre-eminence and for power.  Some are wrong in that they do not benefit all the people.  Others are ill-conceived.  Others are dangerous.  But  cccasionally, some theories fit the facts, benefit the people, and are over time accepted as good and true.  We can hope that the twenty-first century will be a new Age of Discovery of the best theories.