James's Reviews > The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn
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May 26, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: classic, philosophy
Read in June, 2009

This is a book/author that was referenced many times in my college classes, both in psychology and philosophy, though the book itself is specifically centered around the nature of science and the history of science. I'm really glad that I got around to reading it.

Kuhn's ideas about science are both fascinating and revolutionary, and they have implications for any sort of hard or soft science or philosophy. Basically, Kuhn presents the idea that science may not be as impartial, linear, and straightforward as most people seem to believe.

Most people, either scientists or non-scientists, think of science as a way to get at the truth of what is "out there". There is an absolute truth and if we can only use the right methods, then we could see that truth.

Kuhn suggests the idea of scientific paradigms, meaning that in various stages of history, science moved between different paradigms/worldviews that actually limited and directed what science could and couldn't do. A common example would be moving from the paradigm of Newton's physics to Einstein's.

A new paradigm begins to be established when scientists (usually the younger ones who are not as entrenched in past methods/philosophy) start to notice anomalies in their findings--things that don't fit into the paradigm/understanding that they currently have. These scientists will then CREATE a new paradigm to encapsulate their findings. When enough people support the new worldview, a scientific revolution happens.

But the interesting thing about moving into a new paradigm is that it is not a cumulative storage of every past scientific experiment. Instead, a new paradigm actually limits what the experimenters can do--in effect, scientists come up with a theory of how the universe works, determine what should be possible in that universe, and then use methods/tools designed to prove exactly that.

A metaphorical example of my own making:

We are all inside one room. All of our experiments that we conduct prove the existence of the room, thus verifying what we have already established. The room is all that exists. However, one day someone does an experiment where they look outside the window. The results are baffling. What is this? This doesn't fit with our paradigm.

Subsequent scientists then try to show how the results of looking out the window are actually just a variant of our "one room theory". "It's not a new room," says one scientist, "it's actually light reflecting off our coffee table creating the effects..."

However, if enough people refuse to accept these rationalizations, then we may move far enough to create a revolution. I propose that there is another room and design methods for testing this theory. My method is to open the door and treat the room and hallway as the only reality that exists. Eventually, enough people accept my theory and use my new method and open the door and enter a new paradigm in which the room and the hallway are "the true reality". All of our subsequent experiments prove the existence of the "room-hallway" worldview. We do not test the fact that there may be more outside the hallway because all our methods and tools are aimed at proving the "room-hallway" now.

In addition, we do not take all our theories and data from the "room" era and add them cumulatively to our "hallway" paradigm. Instead, we go back and rewrite all our textbooks so that only the evidence showing the progression of past scientists from the "room" towards the "hallway" viewpoint are shown. We actually deceive ourselves into thinking that all science is connected and linear, where in reality it is fluid and actually fundamentally based on what we choose to see and recognize.

Fascinating and a must read for any scientist, philosopher, or anyone interested in the way we do scientific research
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie Jamie you are such a good writer! You need to write some books yourself and how to you read all of these "heavy" books in such a short amount of time? I am impressed. That baby of yours will probably be reading by the time he/she is two!


message 2: by Christy (new)

Christy I remember that Jamie was working kids' jigsaw puzzles when he was 18 months old.


James Ha ha. Well, we already have a huge collection of children's books. Andrea got tons of them free with scholastic points from teaching. I remember my mom read to me every night and I intend to do the same for my kids.

One of my long term goals is to have a library room in my house, not just a room with mismatched bookshelves...


message 4: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie Jamie, Grandpa Allen was interested in this book. Do you still have it?


James I just returned it to the Orem library today. But I don't think it will be hard to find, its not exactly flying off the shelves. He should be able to pick it up there.


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