The Colour of the Sun: A Metaphor for Methodology?

The Colour of the Sun: A Metaphor for Methodology?

December 19, 2013

James McMahon

Found this video when browsing Boing Boing. Originally posted by NASA, this video is fascinating. It may also stand as a metaphor for the methodological problems in political economic theory. Consider part of the explanation behind the video:

“As the colors sweep around the sun in the movie, viewers should note how different the same area of the sun appears. This happens because each wavelength of light represents solar material at specific temperatures. Different wavelengths convey information about different components of the sun’s surface and atmosphere, so scientists use them to paint a full picture of our constantly changing and varying star.”

What wavelengths can mainstream political economy see? Which ones are invisible? We are ostensibly looking at the same object–capitalism–but what are we looking for exactly?

Recently, DT, one of the editors of this site, has been using our forum to challenge assumptions that go to the very core of mainstream political economy, both neo-classical and Marxist. Their pictures of the sun may have some problematic distortions.

One thought on “The Colour of the Sun: A Metaphor for Methodology?”

  1. Great points, James. We’ve been so long preoccupied with the ‘true’ perspective that we’ve mistaken our concepts for the thing we’re trying to understand. Which of those filters shows us the ‘true’ sun? I’d say none, but that’s not to say they aren’t useful for different purposes.
    I just read an article by a doctor on the need to abandon the term ‘cancer.’ He says it is misleading to apply the label to both a basal cell carcinoma, which, if caught early enough, can be removed with just local anesthetic, and advanced malignant tumours requiring radiation and chemotherapy. Words are powerful and play a role not only in how we see the world, but how we engage with the world. The dichotomy between ‘words’ and ‘things’ is not as definite as the division between the natural and the human sciences might have us believe. Theoretical concepts are among the most powerful words we have. As such, they demand constant reinvigoration.

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