The Structure of Scientific Revolutions


The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

"The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" (1962), by Thomas Kuhn, is an analysis of the history of science. Its publication was a landmark event in the sociology of knowledge, and popularized the terms "paradigm" and "paradigm shift".

History

The work was first published as a monograph in the "International Encyclopedia of Unified Science", then as a book by University of Chicago Press in 1962. (All page numbers below refer to the third edition of the text, published in 1996). In 1969, Kuhn added a postscript to the book in which he replied to critical responses to the first edition of the book.

Kuhn dated the genesis of his book to 1947, when he was a graduate student at Harvard University and had been asked to teach a science class for humanities undergraduates with a focus on historical case studies. Kuhn later commented that until then, "I'd never read an old document in science." Aristotle's "Physics" was astonishingly unlike Isaac Newton's work in its concepts of matter and motion. Kuhn concluded that Aristotle's concepts were not "bad Newton", just different.

ynopsis

Basic approach

Kuhn's approach to the history and philosophy of science has been described as focusing on conceptual issues: what sorts of ideas were thinkable at a particular time? What sorts of intellectual options and strategies were available to people during a given period? What types of lexicons and terminology were known and employed during certain epochs? Stressing the importance of not attributing modern modes of thought to historical actors, Kuhn's book argues that the evolution of scientific theory does not emerge from the straightforward accumulation of facts, but rather from a set of changing intellectual circumstances and possibilities. Such an approach is largely commensurate with the general historical school of non-linear history.

Historical examples

Kuhn explains his ideas using examples taken from the history of science. For instance, at a particular stage in the history of chemistry, some chemists began to explore the idea of atomism. When many substances are heated they have a tendency to decompose into their constituent elements, and often (though not invariably) these elements can be observed to combine only in set proportions. At one time, a mixture of water and alcohol was generally classified as a compound. Nowadays it is considered to be a mixture, but there was no reason then to suspect that it was not a compound. Water and alcohol would not separate spontaneously, but they could be separated when heated (see distillation). Water and alcohol can be combined in any proportions.

A chemist favoring atomic theory would have viewed all compounds whose elements combine in fixed proportions as exhibiting normal behavior, and all known exceptions to this pattern would be regarded as anomalies whose behavior would probably be explained at some time in the future. On the other hand, if a chemist believed that theories of the atomicity of matter were erroneous, then all compounds whose elements combined in fixed proportions would be regarded as anomalies whose behavior would probably be explained at some time in the future, and all those compounds whose elements are capable of combining in any ratio would be seen as exhibiting the normal behavior of compounds. Nowadays the consensus is that the atomists' view was correct. But if one were to restrict oneself to thinking about chemistry using only the knowledge available at the time, either point of view would be defensible.

The Copernican Revolution

What is arguably the most famous example of a revolution in scientific thought is the Copernican Revolution. In Ptolemy's school of thought, cycles and epicycles (with some additional concepts) were used for modeling the movements of the planets in a cosmos that had a stationary Earth at its center. Given the knowledge available at the time, this approach was the most plausible. As the accuracy of celestial observations increased, the complexity of the Ptolemaic cyclical and epicyclical mechanisms had to increase in step with the increased accuracy of the observations, in order to maintain the calculated planetary positions close to the observed positions. Copernicus proposed a cosmology in which the Sun was at the center and the Earth was one of the planets revolving around it. For modeling the planetary motions, Copernicus used the tools he was familiar with, namely the cycles and epicycles of the Ptolemaic toolbox. But Copernicus' model needed more cycles and epicycles than existed in the then-current Ptolemaic model. Copernicus' contemporaries rejected his cosmology, and Kuhn asserts that they were quite right to do so: Copernicus' cosmology lacked credibility.

Thomas Kuhn illustrates how a paradigm shift later became possible when Galileo Galilei introduced his new ideas concerning motion. Intuitively, when an object is set in motion, it soon comes to a halt. A well-made cart may travel a long distance before it stops, but unless something keeps pushing it, it will eventually stop moving. Presumably, Aristotle argued, this is a fundamental property of nature: in order for the motion of an object to be sustained, it must continue to be pushed. Given the knowledge available at the time, this represented sensible, reasonable thinking.

Galilei put forward a bold alternative conjecture: suppose, he said, that we always observe objects coming to a halt simply because some friction is always occurring. Galilei had no equipment with which to objectively confirm his conjecture, but he suggested that without any friction to slow down an object in motion, its inherent tendency is to maintain its speed without the application of any additional force.

The Ptolemaic approach of using cycles and epicycles was becoming strained: there seemed to be no end to the mushrooming growth in complexity required to account for the observable phenomena. Johannes Kepler was the first person to abandon the tools of the Ptolemaic paradigm. He started to explore the possibility that the planet Mars might have an elliptical orbit rather than a circular one. Clearly, the angular velocity could not be constant, but it proved very difficult to find the formula describing the rate of change of the planet's angular velocity. After many years of calculations, Kepler arrived at what we now know as the law of equal areas.

Galilei's conjecture was merely that — a conjecture. So was Kepler's cosmology. But each conjecture increased the credibility of the other, and together, they changed the prevailing perceptions of the scientific community. Later, Newton showed that Kepler's three laws could all be derived from a single theory of motion and planetary motion. Newton solidified and unified the paradigm shift that Galilei and Kepler had initiated.

Coherence

One of the aims of science is to find models that will account for as many observations as possible within a coherent framework. Together, Galilei's rethinking of the nature of motion and Keplerian cosmology represented a coherent framework that was capable of rivalling the Aristotelian/Ptolemaic framework.

Once a paradigm shift has taken place, the textbooks are rewritten. Often the history of science too is rewritten, being presented as an inevitable process leading up to the current, established framework of thought. There is a prevalent belief that all hitherto-unexplained phenomena will in due course be accounted for in terms of this established framework. Kuhn states that scientists spend most (if not all) of their careers in a process of puzzle-solving. Their puzzle-solving is pursued with great tenacity, because the previous successes of the established paradigm tend to generate great confidence that the approach being taken guarantees that a solution to the puzzle exists, even though it may be very hard to find. Kuhn calls this process normal science.

As a paradigm is stretched to its limits, anomalies — failures of the current paradigm to take into account observed phenomena — accumulate. Their significance is judged by the practitioners of the discipline. Some anomalies may be dismissed as errors in observation, others as merely requiring small adjustments to the current paradigm that will be clarified in due course. Some anomalies resolve themselves spontaneously, having increased the available depth of insight along the way. But no matter how great or numerous the anomalies that persist, Kuhn observes, the practicing scientists will not lose faith in the established paradigm for as long as no credible alternative is available; to lose faith in the solubility of the problems would in effect mean ceasing to be a scientist.

In any community of scientists, Kuhn states, there are some individuals who are bolder than most. These scientists, judging that a crisis exists, embark on what Thomas Kuhn calls revolutionary science, exploring alternatives to long-held, obvious-seeming assumptions. Occasionally this generates a rival to the established framework of thought. The new candidate paradigm will appear to be accompanied by numerous anomalies, partly because it is still so new and incomplete. The majority of the scientific community will oppose any conceptual change, and, Kuhn emphasizes, so they should. In order to fulfill its potential, a scientific community needs to contain both individuals who are bold and individuals who are conservative. There are many examples in the history of science in which confidence in the established frame of thought was eventually vindicated. Whether the anomalies of a candidate for a new paradigm will be resolvable is almost impossible to predict. Those scientists who possess an exceptional ability to recognize a theory's potential will be the first whose preference is likely to shift in favour of the challenging paradigm. There typically follows a period in which there are adherents of both paradigms. In time, if the challenging paradigm is solidified and unified, it will replace the old paradigm, and a paradigm shift will have occurred.

Three phases

Chronologically, Kuhn distinguishes between three phases.The first phase, which exists only once, is the pre-paradigm phase, in which there is no consensus on any particular theory, though the research being carried out can be considered scientific in nature. This phase is characterized by several incompatible and incomplete theories. If the actors in the pre-paradigm community eventually gravitate to one of these conceptual frameworks and ultimately to a widespread consensus on the appropriate choice of methods, terminology and what kind of experiment is likely to contribute to increased insights, then the second phase, normal science, begins. As long as there is general consensus within the discipline, normal science continues. The third phase is that of revolutionary science, which usually follows a period of crisis. A period of crisis is a time when an anomaly or anomalies in research reveal weakness or incompatibility of a paradigm. The period of research that yields a new paradigm is called the period of revolutionary science. A science may go through these cycles repeatedly, though Kuhn notes that it is a good thing for science that such shifts do not occur often or easily.

Transition period

The period of transition between established paradigms is neither smooth nor rapid. Kuhn quotes Max Planck's observation (SSR, p. 151) that sometimes:

According to Kuhn, the scientific paradigms preceding and succeeding a paradigm shift are so different that their theories are not comparable (incommensurable). The paradigm shift does not merely involve the revision or transformation of an individual theory, it changes the way terminology is defined, how the scientists in that field view their subject, and, perhaps most significantly, what questions are regarded as valid, and what rules are used to determine the truth of a particular theory. Kuhn observes that they are incommensurable — literally, lacking comparability, untranslatable. The new theories were not, as the scientists had previously thought, just extensions of old theories, but were radically new world views.Such incommensurability exists not just before and after a paradigm shift, but in the periods in between conflicting paradigms. It is simply not possible, according to Kuhn, to construct an impartial language that can be used to perform a neutral comparison between conflicting paradigms, because the very terms used are integral to the respective paradigms, and therefore have different connotations in each paradigm. The advocates of mutually exclusive paradigms are in an invidious position: "Though each may hope to convert the other to his way of seeing science and its problems, neither may hope to prove his case. The competition between paradigms is not the sort of battle that can be resolved by proof." (SSR, p. 148).

Kuhn (SSR, section XII) states that the probabilistic tools used by verificationists are inherently inadequate for the task of deciding between conflicting theories, since they belong to the very paradigms they seek to compare. Similarly, observations that are intended to falsify a statement will fall under one of the paradigms they are supposed to help compare, and will therefore also be inadequate for the task. According to Kuhn, the concept of falsifiability is unhelpful for understanding why and how science has developed as it has. In the practice of science, scientists will only consider the possibility that a theory has been falsified if an alternative theory is available which they judge to be credible. If there isn't, scientists will continue to adhere to the established conceptual framework. If a paradigm shift has occurred, the textbooks will be rewritten to state that the previous theory has been falsified.

Kuhn's opinion on scientific progress

The first edition of SSR ended with a chapter entitled "Progress through Revolutions", in which Kuhn spelled out his views on the nature of scientific progress. Since he considered problem solving to be a central element of science, Kuhn saw that for a new candidate for paradigm to be accepted by a scientific community, "First, the new candidate must seem to resolve some outstanding and generally recognized problem that can be met in no other way. Second, the new paradigm must promise to preserve a relatively large part of the concrete problem solving activity that has accrued to science through its predecessors." [T. S. Kuhn, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", 1st. ed., Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1962, p. 168.]

In the second edition of SSR, Kuhn added a postscript in which he elaborated his ideas on the nature of scientific progress. He described a thought experiment involving an observer who has the opportunity to inspect an assortment of theories, each corresponding to a single stage in a succession of theories. What if the observer is presented with these theories without any explicit indication of their chronological order? Kuhn anticipates that it will be possible to reconstruct their chronology on the basis of the theories' scope and content, because the more recent a theory is, the better it will be as an instrument for solving the kinds of puzzle that scientists aim to solve. Kuhn remarked: "That is not a relativist's position, and it displays the sense in which I am a convinced believer in scientific progress." [T. S. Kuhn, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", 2nd. ed., Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1970, p. 206.]

Influence of SSR

SSR is viewed by postmodern and post-structuralist thinkers as having called into question the enterprise of science by demonstrating that scientific knowledge is dependent on the culture and historical circumstances of groups of scientists rather than on their adherence to a specific, definable method. In this regard, Kuhn is considered a precursor to the more radical thinking of Paul Feyerabend. Kuhn's work has also been regarded as blurring the demarcation between scientific and non-scientific enterprises, because it describes the mechanism of scientific progress without invoking any idealized scientific method that is capable of distinguishing science from non-science. In the years following the publication of "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", debate raged with adherents of Popper's doctrine of falsificationism, such as Imre Lakatos.

On the one hand, logical positivists and many scientists have criticized Kuhn's "humanizing" of the scientific process for going too far, while the postmodernists, together with Feyerabend, have criticized Kuhn for not going far enough. SSR has also been embraced by those wishing to discredit or attack the authority of science, such as creationists and radical environmentalists, and it was also in tune with the national change in attitudes towards science which was occurring at the time of the book's publication (Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" was published in the same year as SSR). Indeed, modern scholars have speculated whether Kuhn would have been more explicit about his intention not to create a tool that could be used for attempting to undermine science and the scientific process if he had been able to foresee these developments.

The book's basic concepts have been adopted and co-opted by a variety of fields and disciplines beyond those encompassing the history and philosophy of science.

The changes that occur in politics, society and business are often expressed in Kuhnian terms, however poor their parallel with the practice of science may seem to scientists and historians of science. The terms "paradigm" and "paradigm shift" have become such notorious clichés and buzzwords that they are viewed in many circles as being effectively devoid of content,Fact|date=August 2008 and their use in these contexts rarely has any firm foundation in Kuhn's original definitions.

In 1987, Kuhn's work was reported to be the twentieth-century book most frequently cited in the period 1976-83 [E. Garfield, "A Different Sort of Great Books List: The 50 Twentieth-Century Works Most Cited in the "Arts & Humanities Citation Index", 1976-1983", "Current Contents" no. 16, 20 April 1987, pp. 3-7 [http://garfield.library.upenn.edu/essays/v10p101y1987.pdf] ] and the "Times Literary Supplement" labeled it one of "The Hundred Most Influential Books Since the Second World War."

Criticisms of Kuhn and SSR

Kuhn's SSR was soon criticized by his colleagues in the history and philosophy of science. In 1965, a special symposium on Kuhn's SSR was held at an International Colloquium on the Philosophy of Science that took place at Bedford College, London, and was chaired by Sir Karl Popper. The symposium led to the publication of the symposium's presentations plus other essays, most of them critical, which eventually appeared in an influential volume of essays that by 1999 had gone through 21 printings. Kuhn expressed the opinion that his critics' readings of his book were so inconsistent with his own understanding of it that he was "...tempted to posit the existence of two Thomas Kuhns," one the author of his book, the other the individual who had been criticized in the symposium by "Professors Popper, Feyerabend, Lakatos, Toulmin and Watkins." [Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, eds. "Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge": Volume 4: Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London, 1965, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. 231.]

Margaret Masterman, a computer scientist working in computational linguistics, produced a critique of Kuhn's definition of "paradigm" in which she noted that Kuhn had used the word in at least 21 subtly different ways. While she said she generally agreed with Kuhn's argument, she claimed that this ambiguity contributed to misunderstandings on the part of philosophically-inclined critics of his book, thereby undermining his argument's effectiveness. Kuhn responded to Masterman's criticisms in his 1967 postscript to the second edition. He attributed most of the subtle diffrences in meaning to stylistic inconsistencies and distinguished between two main usages of the term: a broad sense that he now called "disciplinary matrix" referring to a set of concepts, values, techniques, and methodologies and a narrow sense that he now called "exemplars", referring to a set of solved problems. [Margaret Masterman, "The Nature of a Paradigm," pp. 59-89 in Lakatos and Musgrave, eds. "Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge".]

In a series of texts published in the early 1970s, C.R. Kordig asserted a position somewhere between that of Kuhn and the older philosophy of science. The crucial point of Kordig's analysis centered around the existence of observational invariance. His criticism of the Kuhnian position was that the incommensurability thesis was too radical, and that this made it impossible to explain the confrontation of scientific theories which actually occurs. According to Kordig, it is in fact possible to admit the existence of revolutions and paradigm shifts in science while still recognizing that theories which belong to different paradigms can be compared and confronted on the plane of observation. Those who accept the incommensurability thesis do not do so because they admit the discontinuity of paradigms, but because they attribute a radical change in meanings to such shifts .C. R. Kordig, "Discussion:Observational Invariance", "Philosophy of Science", 40(1973): 558-69]

Kordig maintains, in the first place, that there is a common observational plane. For example, when Kepler and Tycho Brahe are trying to explain the relative variation of the distance of the sun from the horizon at sunrise, both see the same thing (the same configuration is focused on the retina of each individual). This is just one example of the fact that "rival scientific theories share some observations, and therefore some meanings." Kordig suggests that with this approach, he is not reintroducing the distinction between observations and theory in which the former is assigned a privileged and neutral status, but that it is possible to affirm more simply the fact that, even if no sharp distinction exists between theory and observations, this does not imply that there are no comprehensible differences at the two extremes of this polarity.

At a secondary level, for Kordig there is a common plane of inter-paradigmatic standards or shared norms which permit the effective confrontation of rival theories.

In 1973, Hartry Field published an article which also sharply criticized Kuhn's idea of incommensurability. In particular, he took issue with this passage from Kuhn:

:"Newtonian mass is immutably conserved; that of Einstein is convertible into energy. Only at very low relative velocities can the two masses be measured in the same way, and even then they must not be conceived as if they were the same thing." (Kuhn 1970).

Field takes this idea of incommensurability between the same terms in different theories "one step further", transforming the entire nature of the discussion. Instead of attempting to identify a persistence of the reference of terms in different theories, Field's analysis results in the recognition of the indeterminacy of reference even within individual theories. Field takes the example of the term "mass", and asks what exactly "mass" means in modern post-relativistic physics. He finds that there are at least two different definitions:

:1) Relativistic mass: the mass of a particle is equal to the total energy of the particle divided by the speed of light squared. Since the total energy of a particle in relation to one system of reference differs from the total energy in relation to other systems of reference, while the speed of light remains constant in all systems, it follows that the mass of a particle has different values in different systems of reference.

:2) "Real" mass: the mass of a particle is equal to the "non-kinetic" energy of a particle divided by the speed of light squared. Since non-kinetic energy is the same in all systems of reference, and the same is true of light, it follows that the mass of a particle has the same value in all systems of reference.

Projecting this distinction backwards in time onto Newtonian dynamics, we can formulate the following two hypotheses:

:HR: the term "mass" in Newtonian theory denotes relativistic mass.:Hp: the term "mass" in Newtonian theory denotes "real" mass.

According to Field, it is impossible to decide which of these two affirmations is true. Prior to the theory of relativity, the term "mass" was "referentially indeterminate". But this does not mean that the term "mass" did not have a different "meaning" than it now has. The problem is not one of meaning but of "reference". The reference of such terms as mass is only "partially determined": we don't really know how Newton intended his use of this term to be applied. On this basis, we can reformulate the two hypotheses above:

:HR*: the term "mass" in Newtonian theory partially denotes the relativistic mass.:HP*: the term "mass" in Newtonian theory partially denotes the "real" mass.

As a consequence, neither of the two terms fully denotes (refers). It follows that it is improper to maintain that a term has changed its reference during the course of a scientific revolution; it is more appropriate to describe the process of development of such terms as "mass" as "having undergone a denotional refinement" during the course of a scientific revolution. [H. Field, "Theory Change and the Indeterminacy of Reference," "The Journal of Philosophy", 70(1973):462-81]

The close connection between the interpretationalist hypothesis and a holistic conception of beliefs is at the root of the notion of the dependence of perception on theory, a central concept in Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions". Kuhn (1962), Norwood Hanson (1958) and Nelson Goodman (1968) have all maintained that the perception of the world depends on how the percipient "conceives" the world: two individuals (two scientists) who witness the same phenomenon and are steeped in two radically different theories will see two radically different things. According to this view, it is our interpretation of the world which determines what we see. [F. Ferretti, "Jerry A. Fodor". Rome:Editori Laterza (2001). ISBN 88-420-6220-0 ]

Jerry Fodor attempts to establish that this theoretical paradigm is fallacious and misleading by demonstrating the impenetrability of perception to the background knowledge of subjects. The strongest case can be based on evidence from experimental cognitive psychology, namely the persistence of perceptual illusions. Just "knowing" that the two horizontal lines in the Muller-Lyer illusion are equal does not prevent one from continuing to "see" one line as being longer than the other. It is this impenetrability of the information elaborated by the mental modules (informationally encapsulated) which limits the scope of interpretationalism.

In epistemology, for example, the criticism of what Fodor calls the interpretationalist hypothesis accounts for the common-sense intuition (on which naïve physics is based) of the independence of reality from the conceptual categories of the epistemic subject. If the processes of elaboration of the mental modules are in fact independent of the background theories, then it is possible to maintain the realist view that two scientists who embrace two radically diverse theories see the world exactly in the same manner even if they interpret it differently. The point is that it is necessary to distinguish between observations and the perceptual fixation of beliefs. While it is beyond doubt that the second process involves the holistic relationship between beliefs, the first is largely independent of the background beliefs of individuals.

Other critics, such as Israel Sheffler, Hilary Putnam and Saul Kripke, have focused on the Fregean distinction between sense and reference in order to defend a position of scientific realism. Sheffler contends that Kuhn confuses the meanings of terms such as "mass" with their references. While their meanings may very well differ, their references (the objects or entities to which they correspond in the external world) remain fixed. Putnam and Kripke developed a causal theory of reference which does away with the idea of meaning altogether. These ideas of reference anchor theories to the external world, and thus make it possible to measure their progress toward the truth concerning the external world, a view that stands contrary to Kuhn's.

More recently, Jonathan Tsou argued that the later epistemological works of Jean Piaget could serve as a remedy for the flaws in Kuhn. [Tsou, J. (2006). Genetic Epistemology and Piaget's Philosophy of Science: Piaget vs. Kuhn on Scientific Progress. "Theory & Psychology, 16"(2), 203-224.] However, this criticism missed some of the history between them, as well as the existence of a "lost manuscript" by Kuhn (currently held at the University of Chicago) that was to address his critics' concerns. [Burman, J. T. (2007). Piaget No `Remedy' for Kuhn, But the Two Should be Read Together: Comment on Tsou's `Piaget vs. Kuhn on Scientific Progress'. "Theory & Psychology, 17"(5), 721-732.]

Eurocentrism

More recently criticism from a different direction has been developed by Arun Bala in his study "The Dialogue of Civilizations in the Birth of Modern Science" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). He charges that "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" is itself a profoundly Eurocentric work although it is often perceived as opening the door to the multicultural turn in historical studies of science.

Firstly, Bala charges that Kuhn ignores the significant impact of Arabic optics, especially the contributions of the Arabic scientist Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), whose optical paradigm influenced not only medieval thinkers such as Roger Bacon and Grossteste, but also early modern thinkers such as Galileo and Kepler. For example, Kuhn writes:

Secondly, Kuhn ignores Needham’s seminal studies in the 1950s on Chinese science, and its contribution to modern science, when he writes:

Bala argues that it is precisely Kuhn’s postmodern epistemological framework which obstructs recognition of non-Western influences on modern science. It leads Kuhn to treat different cultural scientific traditions as separate intellectual universes isolated from each other. Instead, Bala argues, we would have a different multicultural picture of science by including the contributions from Arabic, Chinese, ancient Egyptian, and Indian traditions of philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, and physics that went into shaping the birth of modern science.

See also

* Exemplar

Notes

Other sources

* [http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/kuhnobit.html "Thomas Kuhn, 73; Devised Science Paradigm"] , obituary by Lawrence Van Gelder, "New York Times", 19 June 1996

External links

* [http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddmkz59v_657rh75 Rhetorical Analysis of chapter 3 by Josh Thomas]
* [http://www.emory.edu/EDUCATION/mfp/kuhnsyn.html Summary of book by Frank Pajares]
* [http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/kuhn.htm Text of chapter 9 and a postscript] at Marxists.org


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