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Reflecting on Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions”


I am enjoying Dr Steven Goldman’s 24 lecture series from the Teaching Company on “Science Wars: What scientists know and how they know it” Lectures 16 thru 22 are directly related to Kuhn, does a great job of summarizing the context and subsequent interpretation of Kuhn’s work.

Synopsis: Kuhn was a pro-science scientist, whose work was appropriated (and misappropriated) by the social constructionists, advocate/participants (2 of Creswell’s 4 world views; Kuhn (and Goldman) believe these 2 groups took his thesis far beyond the region of fit, by using it as evidence to undercut the previously priviledged place in epistemology that scientific knowledge enjoyed. Goldman believes they have mischaracterized his arguments to try to create a belief that science and reasoning are simply one way to go about creating knowledge.

Kuhn’s work broke no new ground, as elements of his thesis reach back to the debate between Plato and his Ideals and the “earth giants” like Protagorus who declared man as the measure of all things” (by which they really meant the “measurer of all things.

The post-positivists’ reaction to Kuhn can almost be used as evidence of the social behavior Kuhn tries to describe pragmatically, but they would argue that they are defending their position in scientific fashion. Outsiders are likely to support whichever side they are biased towards.

Goldman believes that Kuhn makes fundamental errors in describing the incommensurability of competing paradigms, and does not give enough attention to the reality that, for example: Einstein and Newton had different paradigms of the nature and workings of space, time, mass and energy, and yet would still have been able to agree about much since 1 paradigm actually is a special case of the other.

Goldman does credit Kuhn with getting the main parts of the description right, concerning the social context of scientific collectives, by likening science to language: in other words, language REQUIRES social interaction as well as enabling it. Science, too, can be seen as a collective thought effort conducted in networked processing nodes (scientists’ brains); as such, the reasoning goes, social context is inevitable, and is actually healthy.

a final distinction for this note, is the idea of the difference in how to constitute authority: some modern theorists i have been reading describe the move away from the traditional “validation through usage by the community” to one of “validation by publication in peer reviewed journals”. You can see why this matters by looking at the ClimateGate scandal, where the pro-AGW (anthropromorphic global warming)crowd was able to dismiss the skeptics as outside the mainstream by virtue of the fact that they controlled the peer-reviewed journals and could suppress dissent by refusing to publish.

In the traditional “validation by usage”, what became accepted as the paradigm were those findings that were actually put into use and built upon by subsequent research; So, what didnt work simply died out, but what actually worked was refined and furthered.

The work of Israel Scheffler “Science and Subjectivity”, a peer and co-worker of Kuhn, from 1965, is a good summary of the contemporary response to Kuhn by the post-positivists who rejected his assertions, while Popper’s body of work represents a deeper and more formal contrarian position to Kuhn, while also serving to dismantle the logical positivists.

am writing this from memory, in the airport, but i believe I have spelled the names correctly đŸ˜›

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  1. Terry Lesniak
    December 4, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    From Galileos’s heresies to Climategate…some transformation.

    The problem with “community based” validation is that the moral authority of the community is seldom validated.

    Altruism is unlikely to be a quality of the politically motivated.

    Terry

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