Thomas Kuhn's Book the Structure of Scientific Revolutions Term Paper

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Thomas Kuhn's Philosophy Of Science

Before one can get into an evaluation of the merits of Kuhn's concept of scientific revolutions, one must first understand the basic assumptions underlying Kuhn's theories. According to Kuhn, there are certain assumptions that one must make about the scientific community and that the scientific community must make. First, the scientific community works with a set of accepted beliefs. Second, the idea of normal science depends upon the assumption that the scientific community understands the world. Therefore, science is aimed at proving this understanding of the world, which can result in the suppression of new ideas and a bias in research aimed at proving believed truths. However, when certain accepted beliefs are shown to be false, there is a shift in the scientific community to the new belief, which Kuhn labeled a scientific revolution.

To fully understand Kuhn's concept of scientific revolution, one must explore what Kuhn means when he refers to the concept of normal science. Normal science is science as the status quo, as it is built upon past scientific achievements, which have been acknowledged by the scientific community as providing a foundation for future research. Thus, these achievements, which Kuhn refers to as paradigms, have two characteristics; they are unprecedented and open-ended. Because success in a particular scientific field relies upon study and understanding of these paradigms, members of each scientific community share the same set of fundamental beliefs, rules, and standards for scientific practice. One of the side effects of this adherence to specific beliefs and paradigms is that scientists in each field search for answers within their own field to explain previously unexplained phenomena.

While it may appear that paradigms limit innovation in science, they do have several useful purposes. For example, paradigms help scientists come up with questions and areas of study. Furthermore, paradigms can help scientists formulate and select methods of study. However, the most important role that paradigms serve is that they help establish which facts are relevant in certain disciplines. Therefore, paradigms, while they can be limiting, are also essential to scientific inquiry.

The first step in development of a paradigm is the collection of facts, which are interpreted and described differently by various researchers. Eventually, the descriptions and interpretations disappear, which leaves the facts that give rise to competing theories, or preparadigmatic schools. Eventually, the best theory emerges as the paradigm and those scientists who refuse to conform their work to the new paradigm are considered irrelevant in their fields. The development of a scientific discipline follows the creation of a paradigm, and with it, the emergence of a specialized niche in academia, including journals, professional societies, and discussion centered on the discipline. Finally, the paradigm guides the research for the entire discipline, which is what makes the discipline a science.

When paradigms first appear, they are somewhat imprecise and limited in scope. Moreover, new paradigms solve only some of the problems presented by an issue, but they hint at the promise of future answers. Therefore paradigms promote science by helping extend both knowledge and inquiry in a particular area. Furthermore, the business of normal science is to fill in the gaps left by the paradigm, which means that scientists disregard anomalies and do not make an effort to invent new theories.

Obviously, this view of normal science presents several problems. First, the paradigm guides the fact-finding process, which can help determine not only what facts are gathered, but also what facts are being ignored. Furthermore, the paradigm determines what problems should be solved, by delineating that the solutions should help articulate the theory. This articulation involves the development of laws and universal constants, and the selection of how the paradigm should be applied to other areas. As the theory is articulated, the paradigm undergoes a series of refinements, which make the paradigm more precise and increase the correlation between the paradigm and what else is known about the area of study.

In addition, normal science is limited in that, by seeking certain results, it overlooks the possibility of unanticipated results. In fact, the pressure on scientists for their findings to conform to anticipated results creates bias in two ways; first, when results do not conform and experiment is considered unsuccessful and the results are not published, second, the publication of conforming results gives the impression that all experiments have yielded conforming results. Therefore, scientific research is not actually aimed at finding the solution to the problem, which scientists often presuppose before doing the research, but at finding a method to achieve that solution. Therefore genuine research questions are not characterized by a search for the unknown, but by the fact that they are searching for a particular solution. In addition, there is a relationship between four facets of science: concept, theory, methodology, and instrumentation, that helps guide research and formulate research questions. Despite the adherence to traditional beliefs, research can and does yield surprising results, which can result in the creation of a new paradigm, which is the essential step in a scientific revolution.

Because rules are derived from paradigms, it follows that one can research the paradigm without resort to the rules. In fact, when a paradigm is sufficiently mature to form the basis of a scientific discipline, it is easy to articulate the paradigm, but there may be disagreement within the discipline about the resulting rules.

One of the primary reasons for such disagreement is that scientists differ in their interpretation of the paradigm. An additional reason is that the rules are of secondary importance to the paradigm because the rules and laws of a discipline are not used without resorting to the original paradigm.

However, differences in interpretation can present interesting results in the sciences. For example, the fact that several sciences share a single paradigm as their foundation, they may use the paradigm in different ways. Therefore, a scientific revolution that completely obliterates one discipline may have little or no effect on a discipline founded in the same paradigm. This is because the paradigms continue to grow and evolve with research, and each subspecialty develops its own research, laws, and rules for the paradigm.

Now that a basic understanding of Kuhn's view of normal science has been attained, one must look at Kuhn's view of the relationship between normal science and anomaly. Although the goal of normal science is not to discover new phenomena, the truth is that research frequently yields unexpected results. When these unexpected results challenge accepted facts and theories, the stage is set for paradigm change. Paradigm change has several steps. The first step is discovery of an anomaly, or new fact. The second step is perceiving the anomaly. The third step is to explore the anomaly. The fourth step is to adjust the paradigm in such a way that the anomaly becomes the expected. When the fourth step is accomplished, a scientific revolution occurs. The superficial simplicity of the steps involved in a scientific revolution is misleading; scientific revolutions face heavy resistance.

In addition, the relationship between normal science and anomalies is somewhat symbiotic. Normal science would not exist if not for anomalies in the past, and anomalies would not exist without normal science. In fact, something is not an anomaly if it is not viewed against the backdrop of existing expectations, which have been provided by normal science. Therefore, it is only when a paradigm has been sufficiently developed to enable researchers to correctly guess the results of most experiments that one is able to discover anomaly and create revolution.

When such an anomaly is persistently found and existing paradigms are unable to explain it, this is referred to as a crisis by the scientific community. The crisis requires invention of a new theory to explain the unanticipated results. Anomalies can take several forms. The most obvious form is for a scientist to observe differences between fact and theory. The second form involves changing the social constructs that, while not scientific themselves guide or limit science. In the middle ages, the church was a social construct that limited science by labeling heretical theories that the earth revolved around the sun and not vice-versa. Today, the church is a social construct that limits science by attaching a similar label to theories of evolution. Whether caused by changes in observation, changes in social construct, or both, these crises present opportunities to refine or abandon old paradigms.

When the scientific community acknowledges that a crisis exists, even precise paradigms become more open. This process paves the way for a transition from normal science to what Kuhn refers to as extraordinary science, which is characterized by the emergence of novel theories and, eventually, paradigm change. To understand this, one must first understand the role of crises in normal science. Crisis is implicit in scientific research, because there is no research without anomaly, and anomalies create crisis. For example, when normal science views something as a problem because it does not have an existing explanation within the framework of the… [end of preview; READ MORE]

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