Monday, December 11

Kuhn’s Book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

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Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions approaches the history of science in a much more different and radical way than most other textbooks today. Kuhn’s primary goal with his book is to show that studying the history of science is not merely just comparing scientific achievements of the past to those of the present, but rather to compare the past achievements to others in the same time period. He aims to analyze how the scientific research was conducted and how it relates to the known theories of the time. Throughout his book, Kuhn describes the underlying structure of scientific advancement in which he coins the word “paradigm”.

                The word paradigm was originally a Greek word and wasn’t given its contemporary meaning until 1960 by Kuhn. In the first section of his book, Kuhn goes into detail explaining exactly what paradigm entails. A paradigm defines a set of practices for a certain scientific achievement or discipline. It tells the scientist what is to be observed, what kinds of questions are to be asked, how the questions should be structured, how the results should be interpreted, and how experiments should be conducted. The concept of paradigm could be hard to comprehend at first glance. Kuhn uses the concept throughout the rest of his book so it is important to understand it early on.

Kuhn’s structure of scientific revolution follows three distinct parts. The first part of the structure is the pre-paradigm stage. In this stage, research may be carried out, but there is no consensus on a particle theory. It is possible for several incomplete theories to be developed, but not focused on. When a single theory has sufficient scientific research backing it and scientists begin to take an interest in it, the second phase, normal science, can begin. Kuhn refers to this phase as puzzle solving. Research and experiments are conducted in order to prove the newly formed paradigm. Over the course of time, unknown anomalies begin to form in the data. If these go unresolved, the structure enters its third stage, revolutionary science. Kuhn describes this stage as a point when the scientists need reexamine the underlying theory until a new paradigm is formed.

Kuhn is able to successfully create the comparison between normal science and puzzle solving. One of the goals of doing research is to discover what is already known. Like with solving a jigsaw puzzle, the end result is already anticipated, one just has to figure out how to achieve those results.  If the outcome of an experiment does not fall within the anticipated range, it is often forgotten. The challenge of normal science comes from the way of obtaining the desired results. This is the motivation that drives scientists to do research and experiment within a given paradigm. Another thing that ties puzzles and normal science together is that they both have rules. Rules limit the nature of acceptable solutions. It shows that the solutions should still be consistent with the assumptions of the paradigm. Kuhn shows that the idea of rules within a paradigm can be hard to define. At times, scientists can disagree on the interpretation of the paradigm. Each scientist is guided by knowledge they learned through their own experimentations and observations. It can even be determined for a paradigm to have no rules.

                As questions begin to be answered within a paradigm, some unusual results start to build up. Kuhn describes the build up of these anomalies as a “crisis”. The anomalies are an indication that some aspect of nature is conflicting with the expectations of the paradigm. Kuhn says that the build up of the anomalies are “essential tensionimplicit in scientific research”.[1] He means that these anomalies are required in order to foster scientific revolution. In order for an anomaly to be revolutionary, it must call into question the fundamental generalizations of the paradigm. There are three ways Kuhn describes for a crisis to end. The first way is when normal science is able to handle the crisis provoking anomaly and correct it, returning everything to normal. The second is that the anomaly is said to have resulted from inaccurate equipment. The third option is the development of a new paradigm. This new paradigm is a variation of the old paradigm in order to accept the anomalies. The transition to a new paradigm is a scientific revolution.

                “A scientific revolution is anoncumulative developmental episode in which an older paradigm is replaced in whole or in part by an incompatible new one”.[2]With the development of these scientific revolutions usually comes some conflict with the general public or the government.One such example is that of Galileo.His revolutionary research resulted in a changed paradigm that had difficultly being recognized by the church to the point where he was arrested.The radical changes proposed by the new paradigm are difficult for others to understand and accept.When paradigms are debated, each side uses its own paradigm to argue in its defense thus creating a circle of repetitious arguments.After some persuasive arguments, one paradigm is assimilated by the other.“The assimilation of either a new sort of phenomenon or a new scientific theory must demand the rejection of an older paradigm”.[3]Kuhn argues that science is not cumulative and with this notion it is not.Normal research is cumulative, but scientific revolution is not.

                After a new paradigm is adopted and a scientific revolution occurs, scientists see new and different things when observing things they have looked at before.With this new paradigm in mind, they are able to see things they overlooked before.  In a sense, the entire world will begin to look different to a scientist after a revolution.A modern example is the controversy over Pluto.Anomalies occurred causing scientists to look at Pluto in a different light.Now instead of seeing Pluto as a planet, it is seen as merely a satellite.Scientific revolutions usually go about unnoticed.This is because the paradigm shifts are views not as revolutions, but as the addition of new scientific knowledge.The logs of history are stored within scientific textbooks.Once textbooks are rewritten to adopt a new paradigm, the writers tend to disguise the role and significance of the scientific revolution.

                Kuhn’s thesis divides the structure of scientific revolution into three sections. The first section deals with the creation of incomplete theories and topics of discussion. These theories are built up until they foster an environment in which significant question can be asked. Kuhn calls this point normal science. It is here were research is conducted to arrive at a predetermined conclusion. There will be some conclusions that do not fit into the scope of the paradigm. These anomalies will build up to the point of a crisis. When this occurs, there is a chance of a scientific revolution. The core concepts of the paradigm will have to be changed, forming an entirely new paradigm. This paradigm will be radically different and hard to accept over the previous. Kuhn was able to portray his interpretation of the structure leading up to a scientific revolution and his idea of paradigms in an understandable way.

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[1] 79

[2] 92

[3] 95

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