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The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

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Thomas S. Kuhn's classic book is now available with a new index. "A landmark in intellectual history which has attracted attention far beyond its own immediate field. . . . It is written with a combination of depth and clarity that make it an almost unbroken series of aphorisms. . . . Kuhn does not permit truth to be a criterion of scientific theories, he would presumably Thomas S. Kuhn's classic book is now available with a new index. "A landmark in intellectual history which has attracted attention far beyond its own immediate field. . . . It is written with a combination of depth and clarity that make it an almost unbroken series of aphorisms. . . . Kuhn does not permit truth to be a criterion of scientific theories, he would presumably not claim his own theory to be true. But if causing a revolution is the hallmark of a superior paradigm, [this book] has been a resounding success." —Nicholas Wade, Science "Perhaps the best explanation of [the] process of discovery." —William Erwin Thompson, New York Times Book Review "Occasionally there emerges a book which has an influence far beyond its originally intended audience. . . . Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions . . . has clearly emerged as just such a work." —Ron Johnston, Times Higher Education Supplement "Among the most influential academic books in this century." —Choice One of "The Hundred Most Influential Books Since the Second World War," Times Literary Supplement 


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Thomas S. Kuhn's classic book is now available with a new index. "A landmark in intellectual history which has attracted attention far beyond its own immediate field. . . . It is written with a combination of depth and clarity that make it an almost unbroken series of aphorisms. . . . Kuhn does not permit truth to be a criterion of scientific theories, he would presumably Thomas S. Kuhn's classic book is now available with a new index. "A landmark in intellectual history which has attracted attention far beyond its own immediate field. . . . It is written with a combination of depth and clarity that make it an almost unbroken series of aphorisms. . . . Kuhn does not permit truth to be a criterion of scientific theories, he would presumably not claim his own theory to be true. But if causing a revolution is the hallmark of a superior paradigm, [this book] has been a resounding success." —Nicholas Wade, Science "Perhaps the best explanation of [the] process of discovery." —William Erwin Thompson, New York Times Book Review "Occasionally there emerges a book which has an influence far beyond its originally intended audience. . . . Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions . . . has clearly emerged as just such a work." —Ron Johnston, Times Higher Education Supplement "Among the most influential academic books in this century." —Choice One of "The Hundred Most Influential Books Since the Second World War," Times Literary Supplement 

30 review for The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    Scientists are so passionate about their work, and even if you're a scientist yourself it can sometimes take you by surprise to see just how passionate they are. A few years ago, when I was working at NASA, we made up a game called If Research Were Romance. Here, let me show you how to play. In real life, Thomas Kuhn wrote a book about paradigm changes in science. But if research were romance, he might have written a book about relationships instead. It might have been quite similar in many ways. Scientists are so passionate about their work, and even if you're a scientist yourself it can sometimes take you by surprise to see just how passionate they are. A few years ago, when I was working at NASA, we made up a game called If Research Were Romance. Here, let me show you how to play. In real life, Thomas Kuhn wrote a book about paradigm changes in science. But if research were romance, he might have written a book about relationships instead. It might have been quite similar in many ways. Scientists care so much about their theories that you won't go far wrong if you think about the feelings they have for those theories as being similar to the feelings that normal people have for their significant others. If research were romance, Thomas Kuhn might have said that, when you're in a committed relationship, that relationship colors all your life. A lot of what you do and think only makes sense in terms of the relationship. And everyone over, say, 20, knows that relationships are not always easy. You're continually having problems, some of them little, some of them not so little. But if you're prepared to work on them, you can usually solve those problems, and when you've done so you usually feel that the relationship is stronger, not weaker. The fact that you've surmounted the problem gives you more faith in the relationship. If research were romance, Thomas Kuhn might have gone on to say that sometimes you get another feeling. The problems won't disappear, or they go away in one form and immediately return in another. You start to feel that the relationship is undergoing a real crisis. But you'll probably still continue to work on it, unless you meet another person who offers you a chance of something different. If you've been in your relationship a long time, it will feel difficult to consider seriously the idea of abandoning it and starting a new one. Sometimes, though, people do this. They won't really know why they're taking this drastic step, and they won't be able to justify it clearly in their minds. It will just seem like the right thing to do. If research were romance, Thomas Kuhn might have added that, after the old relationship has ended and the new one has started, it will be hard to see your old life in the same terms. Your view of it will now be colored by your new relationship. Now, you will probably only be able to see the old relationship as containing faults which you never noticed at the time. You will not really be able to remember what it was like. If research were romance, Thomas Kuhn might have said that some people believe that they have a true soulmate out there, and it's just a question of finding that special person they are fated to be with. But he wouldn't have believed that. He'd have said that people sometimes change their partner, and often they may do it for a good reason. But there is no absolute sense in which the new partner is better suited to them than the old one. They are better in some ways and worse in others. If research were romance, Thomas Kuhn would have been a rock star. Security staff would have been needed to stop groupies getting into his hotel room and he'd have been unsure about how many children he'd fathered. He'd have played it down in interviews, but everyone would have known what the deal was. If you also work in science, I encourage you to experiment with this game. You'll be amazed how much insight it gives you into what's really going on.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stephen M

    With the publication of this landmark work, Kuhn gave an entirely new way to think about science and the process of scientific discovery; it completely contradicted what was previously believed about the functioning of scientific discovery and how we came to discoveries about the natural world. The philosophy of science before Kuhn began writing was most influenced by Karl Popper. He put forth the popular notion of falsifiability, whereby all scientific theories are tenable only if they are fals With the publication of this landmark work, Kuhn gave an entirely new way to think about science and the process of scientific discovery; it completely contradicted what was previously believed about the functioning of scientific discovery and how we came to discoveries about the natural world. The philosophy of science before Kuhn began writing was most influenced by Karl Popper. He put forth the popular notion of falsifiability, whereby all scientific theories are tenable only if they are falsifiable, and theories can only be proven wrong with evidence that falsifies it. Kuhn says that that’s not how science works and it’s certainly not how scientists operate. Kuhn put everything in terms of paradigms—the phrase paradigm shift was made popular by this work. And the paradigm is what is supposed to be the method by which scientists make discoveries about the world. Before I delve into this, I have to say that I am conflicted about all the ideas that Kuhn propounds in this seminal work. I have commitments to other opinions I hold (especially having to do with the divide between religion and science). Out of a reaction to many religious apologetic positions, I have placed strong conviction in my views regarding scientific inquiry and formations of beliefs. In my discovery of the limitations of our ideas and ability to obtain knowledge, I feel a part of me tug away from it because of what it might imply regarding all the debates regarding God and apologetics. A common apologetic move is to capitalize upon our limitations on knowledge in order to motivate the view that a God exists. As what happened with the logical positivists, many have overreacted to preponderance of sloppy theism in society and overstepped their bounds and placed too much conviction in our ability to come to knowledge and the capacity for science to make meaningful discoveries. I’m not sure if this is what is pulling me away from Kuhn’s ideas, for Kuhn certainly places science in a much different light than we all have been taught. But, it is crucially important to keep in mind our biases, like the one that I have laid out for myself, while analyzing Kuhn’s ideas. Setting aside any implications about the theist, atheist debacle (which is unfortunately unavoidable while discussing anything about science and scientific discoveries), I will try to give an account of Kuhn’s ideas, as I understand them to be. The traditional view of science—see Karl Popper’s writings on the scientific method—is that scientists gather individual pieces of data from the natural world and when there is a sufficient amount of pieces of data, we can draw inferences about the relation between individual pieces of data. These inferences we draw about the world become hypotheses about the nature of the relation between these pieces of data—(a set of objects fall towards the ground, the scientist notices that all objects act in this way, then she posits the most likely explanation to account for this related set of phenomenon). Each hypothesis is accepted or rejected based on its ability to account for greater or lesser amounts of other pieces of data. Of course, we take falling objects to be under the influence of gravity, but Aristotle had a much different account of what was occurring when objects fell towards the ground. But after people discovered enough conflicting data that contradicted Aristotle’s theories, they were overturned and more robust theories took their place. This depicts science as a continual reformulation of theories to fit an ever-expanding knowledge base. It depicts science as slowly progressing towards the truth as it accumulates new pieces of data which are considered in light of the currently-held theories. In order for the theory to be tenable, it must be the best interpretation (the interpretation that makes the least amount of assumptions) which justifies the evidence. And all it takes is for a single piece of evidence to overthrow that theory and that theory will no longer be considered a tenable one. However, Kuhn doesn't think this is how scientists really operate. While it's true that old theories do get over-turned by new evidence, it is a slow and gradual process, and it comes with great resistance from scientists working in their respective fields. When people used to believe in geocentricism, there were a great number of problems that came about as a result of this hypothesis. One of the many problems was the retrograde motion of the planets: http://www.scienceu.com/observatory/a.... When scientists began calculating the movement of the planets, they noticed that as a planet moved across the night sky, it moved backwards during a part of the year, then forward during another. But if the earth was in the middle of the solar system, why would planets move across the night sky, then seemingly move backwards in their orbits? In order to account for a geocentric universe and the retrograde motion of the planets, the astronomer Ptolemy posited what were called epicycles. Epicycles were the hypothetical orbit patterns of planets that accounted for the retrograde motion of the planets. The planets orbited around points which in turn followed the path of orbit around the earth. These were generally considered to be false, and the scientists who came later made fun of the Ptolemaics who believed in it. According to the classical view of science, Ptolemy was simply wrong with his epicycle hypothesis and as scientists amassed greater amounts of evidence, the hypothesis was rendered obsolete with the discovery of the fact that the earth is not the center of the universe. Kuhn uses an example like this to motivate his critique of the traditional view of scientific practice and inquiry, re Popper and falsification. Kuhn points to examples of how scientists have tried to cram new data into pre-existing theories. Scientists try to account for new data by forcing them to fit with background assumptions and they do not use these new pieces of data to overthrow those background assumptions which may be suspect. For Kuhn, scientists aren’t in the business of trying to falsify their own hypotheses. Instead, scientists work within what Kuhn calls a paradigm. A paradigm is essentially a backdrop set of assumptions and biases which inform everything about discoveries in science and the formation of hypotheses about the world. Instead of science being this thing which accumulates facts, Kuhn says that “normal” science—what we usually think of when talking about science—is merely “filling in the details” after a paradigm has been put in place. Kuhn challenges our conception of progress in science: he calls a shift in paradigms, a revolution in science: when a set of theories and hypotheses come along that radically change the ways we view the world (the Copernican revolution, Einstein’s theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, etc.), it radically changes the way scientists conduct experiments, devise test implications and form hypotheses. The only type of “progress” for Kuhn, is drawing out the full implications of a certain paradigm once it’s been established. Given enough time, the full implication of the paradigm will be realized, and the limits of the paradigm will become known to scientists working in their respective fields. This is the process that Kuhn calls “normal science” and it is the science as we know it. This is the process of gathering facts to build hypotheses that explain phenomena in the world. But it is all done within a framework, within that background set of assumptions that constitute the paradigm. Most scientists will agree that one of the marks of a robust theory is if it fits with knowledge that we’ve already acquired. If, for instance, we are presented with a hypothesis that seems to contradict the theory of gravity, we have good reason to be suspicious of it, and to not believe it. So, instead of challenging the notion of gravity (which is often taken to be absolutely true), we find ways to either reassess the data or reformulate our experiment. This is one of the ways in which we work within the confines of the paradigm. However, if there comes to be enough conflicting evidence with a strongly-held theory, it might be cause to shift the paradigm. Once enough problems pile up for a certain paradigm, it will be rejected in favor of another paradigm. When enough evidence piles up against a certain set of assumptions it will be completely overturned. Each paradigm has its limits as far as how much each paradigm can accurately account for phenomena in the natural world. Eventually after scientists have filled in the details of a given paradigm, they will discover all the problems and limitations of the paradigm and overthrow it in favor a new one. And each one is a merely a way of understanding the universe, not the way of understanding it. In this way, Kuhn does not believe that science can arrive at one absolute truth, one absolute fact of the matter when it comes to understanding the universe; nature, as he says, is far to complex and nuanced to ever be captured by the tools available to human thought and understanding. Kuhn is not necessarily out to disparage science, or make it seem illogical. He, in fact, thinks that it is remarkable that science has the ability to do this: fundamentally change the set of assumptions that inform the theories within it. It is this ability that gives science the edge on dogmatic beliefs, which remain inflexible and unchanging despite contrary evidence. And for Kuhn, the paradigm is an essential aspect to collecting information. Pre-paradigm science is merely “random fact collecting”. And this seems to make some sense. Without a set of tools for interpretation, it’s difficult to make sense of any specific thing. Even in our daily experience of the world, we are in a constant state of directly perceiving things and concurrently stringing that thing through with significance by virtue of a set of assumptions that inform our interpretation of it. In this sense, Kuhn is attacking the direct realist notion that we experience objects in the world directly and exactly as they are. Much of Kuhn’s ideas, while never made explicit in the text, stem out of this notion which goes back as far as Descartes, and his skepticism of knowledge based on the senses. Descartes laid the foundation for thinkers like Kant, who tried to describe the process involved with our understanding and its interaction with experience in the world. What’s most important about the whole discussion is the idea that we do not experience the world as it is, but rather, we process information about the outside world via a filter which informs the beliefs we construct out of sense experience. Kuhn is working in this same vein by illustrating that the paradigm is part of this filter between us and world which informs all the biases and assumptions in the process of collecting data and making sense of it. Although Kant believed that this filter gave rise to a single “paradigm” or way of understanding the world and forming beliefs, Kuhn says that the features of the paradigm has changed throughout history as we’ve found new ways of conceiving of the universe. And through these different ways of viewing the world, we have formulated vastly different theories about the universe. What Kuhn is propounding here, is a type of belief holism, which depict ideas as coming in large chunks, or part of a net of interrelated connections, and all of which is informed by a set of assumptions that underly each idea. Belief atomism, by contrast, might depict our ideas in a direct realist sense, i.e. we have direct access to objects of the universe, in and of themselves, thus we can pull apart and dissect each idea on its own without any worry that it is part of some interconnected whole. A good way of grasping what Kuhn is after with “paradigms” and his brand of belief holism is to analyze examples from the history of scientific discoveries. A set of examples which illustrates this pretty clearly are two conceptions of projectile motion. This is the phenomena of throwing an object across a room, and when the object leaves your hand, it continues to move, despite the fact that the thing moving it (your hand) is no longer in contact with the object. This was quite the conundrum for many thinkers and scientists in the past. And to fully explain what projectile motion meant to someone like Aristotle, as opposed to Newton, will take a good amount of set-up, as both of their conceptions of what is going on, is deeply-seated in their ideas about the metaphysics of the universe. But after explaining how both came to understand this phenomenon, it might make sense of the belief holist position that Kuhn thinks underlies all scientific inquiry. So, for Aristotle, all things were composed of earth, air, water, fire and aether. And each one of these elements had its “place” in the universe. Space is subordinate to place, in that all of matter was subject to the place in which it belonged, and all things were working towards the end goal of getting to the place it belonged. This made Aristotle’s depiction of the universe teleological, goal oriented. He viewed the universe as a thing, biological which worked towards an end goal (like an acorn growing into a tree). All of matter functioned in this way, moving towards its final end goal. Aristotle figured that since most earth was beneath us, the “place” that earth belonged was towards the center of the universe. Thus, when you pull something off the earth, its tendency is to fall back down to the ground. Without a concept like gravity and all the physics associated with it, this gave a fairly plausible explanation of that phenomenon. But this left a real puzzle: projectile motion. How could an object containing earth continue to move forward if its fundamental tendency was towards the ground? What is it that keeps it in the air? Aristotle posited a thing called “antiperistasis” which kept the earth particles in the air for an extended period of time before touching the ground. Notice how “antiperistasis” doesn’t make much sense without first having given a background sketch of Aristotle’s other beliefs about the world. Kuhn would have it that it’s impossible to talk about this concept in and of itself without understanding all the other peripheral ideas that inform the meaning of it. Newton, by contrast, introduced much of what our modern conception of the universe tells us: objects continue to move in straight-line motion until acted upon by outside forces. This is the principle of inertia. Newton postulated that if there were only one object in the universe that it would continue to be moving forward ad infinitum . In fact, there is no fundamental difference between moving and staying still in the Newtonian picture of inertia. This is because it only makes sense to say that something is moving relative to another object. If there are two objects in the universe, object A and object B, and oA moves past oB we can only definitively say that oA moves a certain direction relative to our reference frame of oB. The upshot of this is Newton’s first law of motion. This means that an object’s tendency is to always move in straight-line motion until it's effected by some other force in the universe. Take the ball flying out of my hand. The ball’s natural tendency is to move in a straight-line, but the ball falls back to the ground because of the force of gravity acting upon the inertial motion of the ball. Kuhn says that there’s no real answer to the question “who’s account of projectile motion is better, Aristotle or Newton’s?” because they both are coming from radically different paradigms which make such fundamentally different assumptions about the universe that there are, to use Kuhnian language, incommensurable, i.e. they just can not be compared. Kuhn believes that no paradigm will ever be able to capture the capital ‘t’ truth about the universe, that the universe is far too complex and multifaceted to ever be captured by any given paradigm. Some paradigms can better account for the available evidence, offer more cogent explanations of the universe and some can have far greater explanatory power than others, but no paradigm will ever get to the absolute truth; this is something that Kuhn whole-heartily rejects. We can never attain the absolute truth because there will always be a filter through which we analyze and understand the universe, the filter being the limited capacity of our senses and our capacity for understanding. I think that at least some of what Kuhn says has to be right, and it seems to make a lot of sense out of different world-views and starkly different viewpoints: many positions in science, politics, etc. really seem to be incommensurable with each other. A socialist feminist and a neo-con libertarian will most likely speak directly past one another as neither one will find any kind of common ground with which to communicate their ideas. It might be the same for the Aristotelian and the Newtonian. I’m still not sure however, if my own ability to write about their two positions counts as a counter-example against Kuhn or not. We still seem, despite our huge difference in opinions to communicate on some level, however much we may disagree with each other.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Incommensurability of Science: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas Kuhn Pure mathematics is an abstraction of the real world and is a subjective art-form like music, art and literature; as was correctly defined by Aristotle, “The mathematical sciences particularly exhibit order, symmetry, and limitation; and these are the greatest forms of the beautiful”: Aristotle, Metaphysics, M3, 1078b. But has modern physics, since Alb If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Incommensurability of Science: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas Kuhn Pure mathematics is an abstraction of the real world and is a subjective art-form like music, art and literature; as was correctly defined by Aristotle, “The mathematical sciences particularly exhibit order, symmetry, and limitation; and these are the greatest forms of the beautiful”: Aristotle, Metaphysics, M3, 1078b. But has modern physics, since Albert Einstein, taken over mathematics and inverted the real world into the abstract world of pure mathematics and eliminated its "limitation" – the prize quality that Aristotle was so much fond of?

  4. 4 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    To listen to this review as a podcast, click below: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast... ________________________ Observation and experience can and must drastically restrict the range of admissible scientific belief, else there would be no science. But they cannot alone determine a particular body of such belief. An apparently arbitrary element, compounded of personal and historical accident, is always a formative ingredient of the beliefs espoused by a given scientific community at a given To listen to this review as a podcast, click below: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast... ________________________ Observation and experience can and must drastically restrict the range of admissible scientific belief, else there would be no science. But they cannot alone determine a particular body of such belief. An apparently arbitrary element, compounded of personal and historical accident, is always a formative ingredient of the beliefs espoused by a given scientific community at a given time. This is one of those wonderfully rich classics, touching on many disparate fields and putting forward ideas that have become permanent fixtures of our mental furniture. Kuhn synthesizes insights from history, sociology, psychology, and philosophy into a novel conception of science—one which, despite seemingly nobody agreeing with it, has become remarkably influential. Indeed, this book made such an impact that the contemporary reader may have difficulty seeing why it was so controversial in the first place. Kuhn’s fundamental conception is of the paradigm. A paradigm is a research program that defines a discipline, perhaps briefly, perhaps for centuries. This is a not only a dominant theory, but a set of experimental methodologies, ontological commitments, and shared assumptions about standards of evidence and explanation. These paradigms usually trace their existence to a breakthrough work, such as Newton’s Principia or Lavoisier’s Elements; and they persist until the research program is thrown into crisis through stubborn anomalies (phenomena that cannot be accounted for within the theory). At this point a new paradigm may arise and replace the old one, such as the switch from Newton’s to Einstein’s system. Though Kuhn is often spoken of as responding to Popper, I believe his book is really aimed at undermining the old positivistic conception of science: where science consists of a body of verified statements, and discoveries and innovations cause this body of statements to gradually grow. What this view leaves out is the interconnection and interdependence between these beliefs, and the reciprocal relationship between theory and observation. Our background orients our vision, telling us where to look and what to look for; and we naturally do our best to integrate a new phenomenon into our preexisting web of beliefs. Thus we may extend, refine, and elaborate our vision of the world without undermining any of our fundamental theories. This is what Kuhn describes as “normal science.” During a period of “normal science” it may be true that scientific knowledge gradually accumulates. But when the dominant paradigm reaches a crisis, and the community finds itself unable to accommodate certain persistent observations, a new paradigm may take over. This cannot be described as a mere quantitative increase in knowledge, but is a qualitative shift in vision. New terms are introduced, older ones redefined; previous discoveries are reinterpreted and given a new meaning; and in general the web of connections between facts and theories is expanded and rearranged. This is Kuhn’s famous “paradigm shift.” And since the new paradigm so reorients our vision, it will be impossible to directly compare it with the older one; it will be as if practitioners from the two paradigms speak different languages or inhabit different worlds. This scandalized some, and delighted others, and for the same reason: that Kuhn seemed to be arguing that scientific knowledge is socially solipsistic. That is to say that scientific “truth” was only true because it was given credence by the scientific community. Thus no paradigm can be said to be objectively “better” than another, and science cannot be said to really “advance.” Science was reduced to a series of fashionable ideas. Scientists were understandably peeved by the notion, and social scientists concomitantly delighted, since it meant their discipline was at the crux of scientific knowledge. But Kuhn repeatedly denied being a relativist, and I think the text bears him out. It must be said, however, that Kuhn does not guard against this relativistic interpretation of his work as much as, in retrospect, he should have. I believe this was because Kuhn’s primary aim was to undermine the positivistic, gradualist account of science—which was fairly universally held in the past—and not to replace it with a fully worked-out theory of scientific progress himself. (And this is ironic since Kuhn himself argues that an old paradigm is never abandoned until a new paradigm takes its place.) Though Kuhn does say a good deal about this, I think he could have emphasized more strongly the ways that paradigms contribute positively to reliable scientific knowledge. For we simply cannot look on the world as neutral observers; and even if we could, we would not be any the wiser for it. The very process of learning involves limiting possibilities. This is literally what happens to our brains as we grow up: the confused mass of neural connections is pruned, leaving only the ones which have proven useful in our environment. If our brains did not quickly and efficiently analyze environmental stimuli into familiar categories, we could hardly survive a day. The world would be a swirling, jumbled chaos. Reducing ambiguities is so important to our survival that I think one of the primary functions of human culture is to further eliminate possibilities. For humans, being born with considerable behavioral flexibility, must learn to become inflexible, so to speak, in order to live effectively in a group. All communication presupposes a large degree of agreement within members of a community; and since we are born lacking this, we must be taught fairly rigid sets of assumptions in order to create the necessary accord. In science this process is performed in a much more formalized way, but nevertheless its end is the same: to allow communication and cooperation via a shared language and a shared view of the world. Yet this is no argument for epistemological relativism, any more than the existence of incompatible moral systems is an argument for moral relativism. While people commonly call themselves cultural relativists when it comes to morals, few people are really willing to argue that, say, unprovoked violence is morally praiseworthy in certain situations. What people mean by calling themselves relativists is that they are pluralists: they acknowledge that incompatible social arrangements can nevertheless be equally ethical. Whether a society has private property or holds everything in common, whether it is monogamous or polygamous, whether burping is considered polite or rude—these may vary, and yet create coherent, mutually incompatible, ethical systems. Furthermore, acknowledging the possibility of equally valid ethical systems also does not rule out the possibility of moral progress, as any given ethical system may contain flaws (such as refusing to respect certain categories of people) that can be corrected over time. I believe that Kuhn would argue that scientific cultures may be thought of in the same pluralistic way: paradigms can be improved, and incompatible paradigms can nevertheless both have some validity. Acknowledging this does not force one to abandon the concept of “knowledge,” any more than acknowledging cultural differences in etiquette forces one to abandon the concept of “politeness.” Thus accepting Kuhn’s position does not force one to embrace epistemological relativism—or, at least not the strong variety, which reduces knowledge merely to widespread belief. I would go further, and argue that Kuhn’s account of science—or at least elements of his account—can be made to articulate even with the system of his reputed nemesis, Karl Popper. For both conceptions have the scientist beginning, not with observations and facts, but with certain arbitrary assumptions and expectations. This may sound unpromising; but these assumptions and expectations, by orienting our vision, allow us to realize when we are mistaken, and to revise our theories. The Baconian inductivist or the logical positivist, by beginning with an raw mass of data, has little idea how to make sense of it and thus no basis upon which to judge whether an observation is anomalous or not. This is not where the resemblance ends. According to both Kuhn and Popper (though the former is describing while the second is prescribing), when we are revising our theories we should if possible modify or discard the least fundamental part, while leaving the underlying paradigm unchanged. This is Kuhn's "normal science." So when irregularities were observed in Uranus’ orbit, the scientists could have either discarded Newton’s theories (fundamental to the discipline) or the theory that Uranus was the furthest planet in the solar system (a superficial fact); obviously the latter was preferable, and this led to the discovery of Neptune. Science could not survive if scientists too willingly overturned the discoveries and theories of their discipline. A certain amount of stubbornness is a virtue in learning. Obviously, the two thinkers also disagree about much. One issue is whether two paradigms can be directly compared or definitively tested. Popper envisions conclusive experiments whose outcome can unambiguously decide whether one paradigm or another is to be preferred. There are some difficulties to this view, however, which Kuhn points out. One is that different paradigms may attach very different importance to certain phenomena. Thus for Galileo (to use Kuhn’s example) a pendulum is a prime exemplar of motion, while to an Aristotelian a pendulum is a highly complex secondary phenomenon, unfit to demonstrate the fundamental properties of motion. Another difficulty in comparing theories is that terms may be defined differently. Einstein said that massive objects bend space, but Newtonian space is not a thing at all and so cannot be bent. Granting the difficulties of comparing different paradigms, I nevertheless think that Kuhn is mistaken in his insistence that they are as separate as two languages. I believe his argument rests, in part, on his conceiving of a paradigm as beginning with definitions of fundamental terms (such as “space” or “time”) which are circular (such as “time is that measured by clocks,” etc.); so that comparing two paradigms would be like comparing Euclidian and non-Euclidian geometry to see which is more “true,” though both are equally true to their own axioms (while mutually incompatible). Yet such terms in science do not merely define, but denote phenomena in our experience. Thus (to continue the example) while Euclidian and non-Euclidian geometries may both be equally valid according to their premises, they may not be equally valid according to how they describe our experience. Kuhn’s response to this would be, I believe, that we cannot have neutral experiences, but all our observations are already theory-laden. While this is true, it is also true that theory does not totally determine our vision; and clever experimenters can often, I believe, devise tests that can differentiate between paradigms to most practitioners’ satisfaction. Nevertheless, as both Kuhn and Popper would admit, the decision to abandon one theory for another can never be a wholly rational affair, since there is no way of telling whether the old paradigm could, with sufficient ingenuity, be made to accommodate the anomalous data; and in any case a strange phenomena can always be tabled as a perplexing but unimportant deviation for future researchers to tackle. This is how an Aristotelian would view Galileo’s pendulum, I believe. Yet this fact—that there can be no objective, fool-proof criteria for switching paradigms—is no reason to despair. We are not prophets; every decision we take involves risk that it will not pan out; and in this respect science is no different. What makes science special is not that it is purely rational or wholly objective, but that our guesses are systematically checked against our experience and debated within a community of dedicated inquirers. All knowledge contains an imaginative and thus an arbitrary element; but this does not mean that anything goes. To use a comparison, a painter working on a portrait will have to make innumerable little decisions during her work; and yet—provided the painter is working within a tradition that values literal realism—her work will be judged, not for the taste displayed, but for the perceived accuracy. Just so, science is not different from other cultural realms in lacking arbitrary elements, but in the shared values that determine how the final result is judged. I think that Kuhn would assent to this; and I think it was only the widespread belief that science was as objective, asocial, and unimaginative as a camera taking a photograph that led him to emphasize the social and arbitrary aspects of science so strongly. This is why, contrary to his expectations, so many people read his work as advocating total relativism. It should be said, however, that Kuhn’s position does alter how we normally think of “truth.” In this I also find him strikingly close to his reputed nemesis, Popper. For here is the Austrian philosopher on the quest for truth: Science never pursues the illusory aim of making its answers final, or even probable. Its advance is, rather, towards the infinite yet attainable aim of ever discovering new, deeper, and more general problems, and of subjecting its ever tentative answers to ever renewed and ever more rigorous tests. And here is what his American counterpart has to say: Later scientific theories are better than earlier ones for solving puzzles in the often quite different environments to which they are applied. That is not a relativist’s position, and it displays the sense in which I am a convinced believer in scientific progress. Here is another juxtaposition. Popper says: Science is not a system of certain, or well-established, statements; nor is it a system which steadily advances towards a state of finality. Our science is not knowledge (episteme): it can never claim to have attained truth, or even a substitute for it, such as probability. … We do not know: we can only guess. And our guesses are guided by the unscientific, the metaphysical (though biologically explicable) faith in laws, in regularities which we can uncover—discover. And Kuhn: One often hears that successive theories grow ever closer to, or approximate more and more closely to, the truth… Perhaps there is some other way of salvaging the notion of ‘truth’ for application to whole theories, but this one will not do. There is, I think, no theory-independent way to reconstruct phrases like ‘really there’; the notion of a match between the ontology of a theory and its ‘real’ counterpart in nature now seems to me illusive in principle. Though there are important differences, to me it is striking how similar their accounts of scientific progress are: the ever-increasing expansion of problems, or puzzles, that the scientist may investigate. And both thinkers are careful to point out that this expansion cannot be understood as an approach towards an ultimate “true” explanation of everything, and I think their reasons for saying so are related. For since Popper begins with theories, and Kuhn with paradigms—both of which stem from the imagination of scientists—their accounts of knowledge can never be wholly “objective,” but must contain an aforementioned arbitrary element. This necessarily leaves open the possibility that an incompatible theory may yet do an equal or better job in making sense of an observation, or that a heretofore undiscovered phenomenon may violate the theory. And this being so, we can never say that we have reached an “ultimate” explanation, where our theory can be taken as a perfect mirror of reality. I do not think this notion jeopardizes the scientific enterprise. To the contrary, I think that science is distinguished from older, metaphysical sorts of enquiry in that it is always open-ended, and makes no claim to possessing absolute “truth.” It is this very corrigibility of science that is its strength. This review has already gone on for far too long, and much of it has been spent riding my own hobby-horse without evaluating the book. Yet I think it is a testament to Kuhn’s work that it is still so rich and suggestive, even after many of its insights have been absorbed into the culture. Though I have tried to defend Kuhn from accusations of relativism or undermining science, anyone must admit that this book has many flaws. One is Kuhn’s firm line between “normal” science and paradigm shifts. In his model, the first consists of mere puzzle-solving while the second involves a radical break with the past. But I think experience does not bear out this hard dichotomy; discoveries and innovations may be revolutionary to different degrees, which I think undermines Kuhn’s picture of science evolving as a punctuated equilibrium. Another weakness of Kuhn’s work is that it does not do justice to the way that empirical discoveries may cause unanticipated theoretical revolutions. In his model, major theoretical innovations are the products of brilliant practitioners who see the field in a new way. But this does not accurately describe what happened when, say, DNA was discovered. Watson and Crick worked within the known chemical paradigm, and operated like proper Popperians in brainstorming and eliminating possibilities based on the evidence. And yet the discovery of DNA’s double helix, while not overturning any major theoretical paradigms, nevertheless had such far-reaching implications that it caused a revolution in the field. Kuhn has little to say about events like this, which shows that his model is overly simplistic. I must end here, after thrashing about ineffectually in multiple disciples in which I am not even the rankest amateur. What I hoped to re-capture in this review was the intellectual excitement I felt while reading this little volume. In somewhat dry (though not technical) academic prose, Kuhn caused a revolution still forceful enough to make me dizzy.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Remember your 10th grade Geometry class? It was a 55 minute class just before lunch. Picture yourself, 15 years old, Friday, ensconced in Geometry on a beautiful late September day. If you’re a girl, you’re much more interested in whether the new boy is going to sit with Amber during lunch for a third day in a row, and what he’s going to say to her this time; he’s so confident and handsome. If you’re a guy, you’re much more interested in the 17 year old Varsity cheerleader at the front of your c Remember your 10th grade Geometry class? It was a 55 minute class just before lunch. Picture yourself, 15 years old, Friday, ensconced in Geometry on a beautiful late September day. If you’re a girl, you’re much more interested in whether the new boy is going to sit with Amber during lunch for a third day in a row, and what he’s going to say to her this time; he’s so confident and handsome. If you’re a guy, you’re much more interested in the 17 year old Varsity cheerleader at the front of your class, in uniform, school particolors pleated in the skirt, which is caught in a chair rivet and pulling the material agonizingly close to the lace edge of her panty, which you hope is vivid monochrome pink. Now imagine your eremitic teacher with Asperger’s syndrome intruding on those daydreams with a methodical, laborious, sterile mathematical proof. At the chalkboard, in mind-numbing detail, in plodding repetition, with no class participation, the teacher steps through the proof which begins by repeating the same several transitive properties by which all geometric proofs begin. Despite the fantastic universe of 3-dimensional rotation and neato equations to find volume, geometry is rendered lifeless on the chalkboard by these relentless proofs. This, then, is the tone of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions--from beginning to end--by Thomas Kuhn. This is great material, just like geometry, but the narrative is like reading a proof that takes up 3 pages in your spiral notebook or Trapper Keeper. Kuhn received a B.S., an M.S., and a PhD in physics from Harvard U. As a Harvard Fellow, he experienced an epiphany, and changed his life focus to the philosophy of Science. He subsequently taught philosophy at Berkley and MIT. Kuhn does not lack credibility. His ideas are provocative. However, his writing lacks verve, vim and vigor. Like a geometry proof, and so characteristic of a mathematician, Kuhn belabors his points with structured, routinized precision that keeps the subject firmly grounded, and, as a result, narratively flat. There’s great, thoughtful, and comprehensive support for his thesis, but like a proof, he is so exact that each subsequent sentence restates about half of the previous sentence, and each subsequent paragraph reconsiders half the previous paragraph. Each subsequent chapter starts somewhat like, “as stated in the previous chapter we now know X, Y and Z; we can summarized X, Y and Z as &c, &c, &c; we can therefore move to the idea that &c, &c, &c.” Just like a mathematical proof--in gory detail. This non-fiction creeps along at parking lot speeds of 5 mph. But this is an instructive book nevertheless. It’s an essential 4- to 5-star read for mathematicians, physicists, and engineers--really any practitioners of the ‘hard’ sciences. Written in 1961, the scientific revolutions that Kuhn outlines are no less relevant today than at publication. He leans heavily on major revolutions of the past, conceding that sometimes several generations need to pass before the proper perspective can be achieved in science, or what Kuhn declares as ‘mature science.’ So, he defines, characterizes, and compares revolutions in math (Aristarchus, Newton, Descartes) and physics (Copernicus, Kepler, Planck, Einstein) and astronomy (Ptolemy, Brahe, Galileo) and motion (Aristotle, Archimedes) and electromagnetism (Franklin, Leyden, Coulumb, Joule) and chemistry (Lavoisier, Boyle, Dalton, Kelvin). It’s important for theoretical problem-solvers and lay practitioners alike to read in methodical detail what might seem at first intuitive, but over the course of 210 pages, develops into a compelling analysis of attributes that all scientific revolutions display, and, going forward, what attributes that future scientific revolutions might project. I'm not a scientist. 3 stars.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    Let’s start elsewhere. Watch this and then we can talk paradigms: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ahg6qc... Now, I don’t normally do that – nor do I like to talk about optical illusions. I generally think illusions mean quite other things to what most people like to say they mean. I find that people tend to say the most boringly predictable things about optical illusions. That is a large part of the source of my aversion to them, like Pavlov’s dogs, I have been taught to cringe at the first sight o Let’s start elsewhere. Watch this and then we can talk paradigms: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ahg6qc... Now, I don’t normally do that – nor do I like to talk about optical illusions. I generally think illusions mean quite other things to what most people like to say they mean. I find that people tend to say the most boringly predictable things about optical illusions. That is a large part of the source of my aversion to them, like Pavlov’s dogs, I have been taught to cringe at the first sight of the drawing that is a witch/young woman or a rabbit/duck. And let’s not mention poor old Escher – if he only knew the bollocks that is spoken with one of his drawings Power Pointed onto a screen behind a hundred thousand ‘motivational’ speakers… Can it really be all that hard to understand that there are paradoxes involved when you represent a three-dimensional object in two-dimensional space? This really isn’t something of the deep psychological significance some people seem to think it is and it certainly doesn’t prove that we ‘all see things differently’ – in fact, given these are standard optical illusions ought to be enough to prove we all see the world more or less the same. What is interesting in the ‘watch the white team’ exercise above is that getting us to focus our attention on the white team means we miss entirely anything going on with the black team – even when one of the black team become a moon walking bear. A friend of mine was so convinced she could not miss something so obvious as a moonwalking bear that she thought somehow the computer knew she had already seen it and therefore always showed the version with the bear in it, at least after that very first time she watched it, which clearly had had no such thing. A lot of this book is about how people can look at the same thing and yet not see the same things. Kuhn’s says that there are two kinds of science – normal science, which you can think of by way of the lovely metaphor of accretion (facts get added to science in much the same way that layers of barnacles get added to a boat). And then there is revolutionary science – when all of the world changes, when no further facts may have been added, but all is different anyway: as when Copernicus placed the sun in the middle of the solar system or Einstein curved space to explain gravity. Notice that both normal and revolutionary science imply progress. For Kuhn the difference between the two types of science isn’t ‘progress’ – all science is about that – but about the mental framework from within which we work when we are doing one or the other. Mostly, and most scientists, do ‘normal science’ most of the time. Sometimes people put out books with titles like ‘the 101 words or ideas you need to know to be considered scientifically aware’ – Kuhn’s idea of paradigm shifts would pretty well have make it onto one of those list like books: alongside the Turing test, Mr Schrodinger's cat and the uncertainty principle, I guess. A paradigm is a fundamental way of viewing the world. It is more than a theory, but literally a way of understanding. Better to think of it on the scale of a worldview – Dawkins and Creationists have separate paradigms. A lot of this comes from Kantian philosophy – and if I was to blame anyone for Kuhn, Kant would be the person I would turn to. Kant said that we can not know the world as it is in-itself. We can only understand the world as humans, with our limited human faculties. Is the ‘human’ way of understanding the world how the world should be understood? For Kant that question doesn’t really make sense (how would we ever know otherwise?) This is the subjectivism of Kantian philosophy – we might not know the world as it is in itself (how it is objectively) but we can come to understand the world partially and subjectively through our limited and even potentially distorting senses (was that a witch or a pretty young woman you drew for me?) Now, this is where people go off half-cocked and say that there is no meaning in the universe and that all that exists is our interpretation - the glorious appeal of solipsism to undergraduate philosophy students (with our thoughts we make the world) and other such nonsense. When I first read Kuhn I assumed that this was, fundamentally or finally, what he was saying. I still think subjectivism is large part of what he is saying (despite his spending pages and pages in the postscript trying to convince me otherwise), but I don't think he is saying either that the world outside our senses does not exist or that the universe is fundamentally meaningless. The best way to understand a paradigm shift is to work through an example of one. Perhaps an equally good way is to think about how your view of the world changed once you stopped counting passes made by the white team and noticed the dancing bear. Before Copernicus, people thought the earth was at the centre of the universe. Everything else revolved around us: the stars, the planets, the moon. After Copernicus the earth went from the centre of the universe to a place infinitely less significant, just another lump of rock forever falling towards a third-rate star and forever missing it around and around again. The change in perspective involved in this change of view can only be described as a revolution – not only in how we understood how the heavens work, but also how society worked when Copernicus was alive and how religion worked and so much else as well. The previous paradigm of science, one fitting epicycles into the orbits to account for odd observations like the backward progressions of planets, for example, suddenly seemed no longer necessary to people who accepted the new world view. But then, the problem was that not only were epicycles no long necessary, but perhaps neither were the strict Medieval social structures of kings and bishops and barons and peasants each in their separate and fixed spheres. Kuhn asks if two people (one holding the Ptolemaic view of the heavens and the other the Copernican) were to sit down beside an open fire with a glass of wine to chat about the skies, would they actually be talking about the same things? His answer is that what they would have to say to each other would be incommensurable. That is, what they would say might as well be said in two different and untranslatable languages. For example – to the Ptolemaic astronomer the sun is another, though special, planet – the word planet is from Greek and means wanderer. To the old astronomy the sun wanders across the sky and so is a planet. To the Copernican the sun is fixed and the planets and comets move around it. So, when they talk each to the other about the sun are they really talking about the same thing? Kahn says that in a sense they are - and this is how he tries to escape the charge of subjectivism – but that this is only true in that the light from the sun falls upon both observers equally. However, in looking at the sun from their separate paradigms it is hardly surprising they seem to be talking across each other, at cross purposes and worse, when they try to describe what they see. Our choice of paradigm is not simply a matter of us matching our theories to the world with increasing precision. Firstly, it took a very long time for the Copernican system to show itself superior to the Ptolemaic in predicting where planets and stars might be at any given time. You have to remember that placing the sun at the centre was only part of the solution – we also needed to understand that the orbits weren’t perfect circles and so much else struggled and teased from the heavens by Galileo, Kepler, Newton and others. Kuhn argues that the difference between how successfully the Copernican view made predictions over the Ptolemaic wasn’t really the thing that tipped things in its favour. But rather other criteria, like overall ‘simplicity’ of the theory and its ‘beauty’ where at least as important. Paradigm shifts are not important for the old questions they help to answer, but rather for the new questions they allow us to ask. They allow us to go back to normal science, but now in a way that directs our attention away from counting basketball passes and toward the moondancing bear. I think I was probably harder on Kuhn when I first read him than I am now. However, I still think incommensurable is far too strong a word. I think people can understand and still disagree – and that this isn’t really about misunderstanding. Sometimes we disagree because we understand too well. And I do think Kantian subjectivity is a large part of Kuhn’s theory and, in fact, that Kuhn goes even further than Kant did (at least Kant believed all humans had the same faculties, and therefore all saw the world in much the same way – Kuhn certainly does not agree with that). The other problem I have with this theory is that I constantly come back to the ‘so what’ test. I think it would be very hard to argue that we don’t see the world differently post-Einstein than we did under the classical world view of Newton. And that such a shift in perspective could not be anticipated prior to the shift and that those pre and post shift do see the world in quite different ways – but who could really argue otherwise? Newton’s absolute space and Einstein’s curved spacetime are like night and day in many ways. But even Newton knew there was a hole a mile wide in his theory of the universe. Not having any idea of what gravity was and only being able to describe how it worked annoyed him all of his life. Gravity could not be explained by Newtonian physics – so if there was ever to be an explanation then something had to change. Books like 13 Things That Don't Make Sense, I think, put this book into a new perspective. We are much more likely to hope for paradigm changes today, I think. For example, people both hope for evidence in support of and against string theory – one way or another, a new paradigm will be born. And what if we never find the Higgs Boson? The standard model will suddenly become somewhat non-standard. I think the current groping for new paradigms, particularly in physics, is interesting and quite different from what I take to be the meaning of Kuhn’s theory. To Kuhn, all science is normative – perhaps today that is less true of the outer limits of physics where quarks meet strings. The other ‘so what test’ is to ask if scientists on the ground use Kuhn’s theory as a why to help them either do normal science or map a path towards or through scientific revolutions? I would suspect this would be more likely to be the case in the social sciences – perhaps where notions like paradigm shifts really do mean something much more akin to worldviews. All the same, most of what I have read of science and scientists is that they are not terribly interested in philosophy (at least, those who are not outright contemptuous of it). Paradigm shifts, according to Kuhn, are for the young and often only succeed when the dead have died off. That is, paradigm shifts are for those not too deeply indoctrinated in the old paradigm. I think this is less true today – you don’t need to be a child any longer to win a Nobel Prize; in fact, the average age of winners increased throughout the whole of last century. The kinds of people who show optical illusions as part of their endlessly boring Power Point presentations are also the kinds of people who talk about paradigm shifts and quantum leaps. In science these phrases mean pretty well the exact opposite to what they generally mean in general chitchat. A quantum leap isn’t an earth shattering leap forward, but about the smallest change in state possible – a paradigm shift is closer in meaning to what is generally implied by quantum leap, a complete change in your view of the universe. Mostly, the kinds of people who talk of paradigm shifts, mean something as significant as a new wrapper on a chocolate bar. So, it is not only poor Mr Escher we need to consider being unintentionally abused by the ignorance of PowerPoint Presenters, but poor old Kuhn too.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    When this book came out fifty years ago it changed the terms of the debate about what scientific progress meant. Using multiple historical examples, and drawing on his own extensive research into the history of science, Thomas Kuhn developed an intellectual framework for how science develops, progresses, and changes in response to new paradigms. At the time of his writing the word paradigm was obscure and unknown to most readers, but it has since entered our common vocabulary, and this book is w When this book came out fifty years ago it changed the terms of the debate about what scientific progress meant. Using multiple historical examples, and drawing on his own extensive research into the history of science, Thomas Kuhn developed an intellectual framework for how science develops, progresses, and changes in response to new paradigms. At the time of his writing the word paradigm was obscure and unknown to most readers, but it has since entered our common vocabulary, and this book is where the phrase “paradigm shift” comes from. Science starts with chaos, with multiple competing theories, each answering different but related questions, none of them providing a focal point for explaining a broad range of phenomena or predicting the outcome of future experiments. Then comes a breakthrough, such as Copernican cosmology, Newtonian mechanics, or John Dalton’s atomic theory of chemistry. Importantly, the new understanding does not answer all the questions within its purview (no theory ever encompasses one hundred percent of possible situations), but it is sufficiently complete and broadly explanatory enough to serve as a theoretical framework on which to build. Some scientists embrace it right away, some are gradually convinced of its appropriateness, and some never come around to the new way of thinking. The author quotes Max Plank who, “surveying his own career, sadly remarked that ‘a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it’”. (150) Then starts the era of normal science, where students are taught the new approach, experiments are conducted which further solidify its position, expand its use, and answer previously unanswerable questions. Kuhn points out two important aspects of this. First, the questions the new paradigm answers are generally applicable only within the new framework. The previous theories answered different questions, and their answers were not necessarily wrong, just inapplicable in the new system, so some things of value from the older understanding were lost. Second, teachers teach and students learn the new way of thinking, which sets boundaries on the kinds of questions they ask, the experiments they perform, and the way they interpret the results. They are not taught to question the paradigm or perform experiments which might invalidate it, so progress, while valuable, stays within the constraints of what is considered possible and appropriate. Eventually gaps are found in the prevailing paradigm and experiments to try to address them only confirm their existence and turn up new problems. The Ptolemaic system was adequate for predicting the positions of stars and planets, but it was never precise. Copernican astronomy was better but still not perfect; Einsteinian theories, accounting for relativity, are even better, but there are always gaps between the predicted and the observed locations. At some point the issues become a major problem for scientists, and as doubts accumulate chaos starts to return as multiple new theories are put forward. Eventually one of them answers most of the questions and becomes the new generally accepted paradigm, and the process starts over again. The other term that this book brought into the common discourse is incommensurability, the idea that the holders of the current paradigms look at the world differently from those of previous paradigms, and many of the questions asked by one theory are out of scope for the others. This is important because we tend to think of science as a steady progression from ignorance to ever greater knowledge, but it is actually more of a step function. Young scientists are taught the current paradigm but the previous ones are thought to be of no importance, superseded by the “right way to do things.” As a result, for all the progress made, we lose something when we become unable to see the world through those different, older lenses of thought. Answers to some questions which seem unsolvable today might be found by looking at the data and asking different questions about it. This book is not casual reading. Kuhn writes in dense academic prose. For example, chapter five begins To discover the relation between rules, paradigms, and normal science, consider first how the historian isolates the particular loci of commitment that have just been described as accepted rules. Close historical investigation of a given specialty at a given time discloses a set of recurrent and quasi-standard illustrations of various theories in their conceptual, observational, and instrumental applications. (43) Nevertheless, this book repays a close reading. Since it first came out it has enjoyed a reputation as an essential reference for scientists and historians of science. It provides a way of thinking about the current state of science, and intriguing ideas about how to enhance and extend the art of the possible, to see the world in ways which are both new and old at the same time, and to answer questions that previously could not even be formulated.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Maica

    I can understand why the author thanked his family for their consideration of the author's efforts towards this book, as it must have demanded a lot of painstaking effort not to mention time. I would have given it 3 stars for its complicated way of delivering its points; the language is highly complex that it tends at many certain points throughout, that the arguments contradict each other. Five stars, however for its complexity and taken as a whole it is actually coherent. Like the choice be I can understand why the author thanked his family for their consideration of the author's efforts towards this book, as it must have demanded a lot of painstaking effort not to mention time. I would have given it 3 stars for its complicated way of delivering its points; the language is highly complex that it tends at many certain points throughout, that the arguments contradict each other. Five stars, however for its complexity and taken as a whole it is actually coherent. Like the choice between competing political institutions, that between competing paradigms proves to be a choice between incompatible modes of community life. -Thomas Kuhn According to Thomas Kuhn, in science or fields of science, there is a particular paradigm that practitioners adhere to. However, this paradigm at specific points in history, encounter change brought about by new discoveries, anomalies or crises that can disprove it or demand that it be rejected or replaced. In this process, as what this book points out, there are resistances by scientists whether they will discard this paradigm or replace it - and thus, the phenomenon of Paradigm Shift will occur or whether practitioners will stubbornly cling to the original paradigm. No wonder, then, that in the early stages of the development of any science different men confronting the same range of phenomena, but not usually all the same range of phenomena, describe and interpret them in different ways. What is surprising, and perhaps also unique in its degree to the fields we call science, is that such initial divergences should ever largely disappear. For they do disappear to a very considerable extent and then apparently once and for all. Furthermore, their disappearance is usually caused by the triumph of one of the pre-paradigm schools, which, because of its own characteristic beliefs and preconceptions, emphasized only some special part of the two sizable and inchoate pool of information. This historical process is nuanced and subtle because scientists even though they are eager to discover new phenomena on their field or contribute something original - are prone to protecting that particular paradigm that they follow. But crises and anomalies do certainly have to occur and be encountered, thus earlier theories have the potential to be discarded or new theories modified in such a way as to reduce contradictions with earlier theories. For reasons that are both obvious and highly functional, science textbooks (and too many of the older histories of science) refer only to that part of the work of past scientists that can easily be viewed as contributions to the statement and solution of the texts' paradigm problems. Partly by selection and partly by distortion, the scientists of early ages are implicitly represented as having worked upon the same set of fixed problems and in accordance with the same set of fixed canons that the most recent revolution in scientific theory and method has made seem scientific. The gradual process of resistance and/or acceptance is highly nuanced and complex, hence the nature of this book. The presentation of analyses of the author can also be the reason why the book received critical comments particularly by philosophers of science, for instance, there was a comment whether 'he believes in reality?' Towards the end part, there is also the question of the evolution of human knowledge, whether it has a telos or whether, as compared to Dawinian concept, it evolves by itself towards a certain progression of which the goal is unknown. No theory ever solves all the puzzles with which it is confronted at a given time; nor are the solutions already achieved often perfect. On the contrary, it is just the incompleteness and imperfection of the existing data-theory fit that, at any given time, define many of the puzzles that characterize normal science. If any and every failure to fit were ground for theory rejection, all theories ought to be rejected at all times. On the other hand, if only severe failure to fit justifies theory rejection, then the Popperians will require some criterion of "improbability" or of "degree of falsification". In developing one they will almost certainly encounter the same network of difficulties that has haunted the advocates of the various probabilistic verification theories [that the evaluative theory cannot itself be legitimated without appeal to another evaluative theory, leading to regress]. He also contrasted his analyses with Karl Popper's method of falsification and demarcation of knowledge, and stated that this method as espoused by Popper, needs a certain criteria as where to base the falsification of theories, and what qualifies that criteria? Or if that criteria were to be stated, an infinite regress is inevitable. "Truth" is not the criterion of scientific knowledge, because it will have a tendency that once that "Truth" was discovered, that will mean the end of scientific search for knowledge - this is where Kuhn and Popper meet. However, whereas Kuhn would propose the concept of "Paradigm Shift" (he actually used the perceptual psychology concept of "Gestalt" in this sense), Popper proposed the method of falsification of scientific theories. Kuhn's concept can be regarded in the sense, that it is what actually happens in the enterprise of science (it is the actual event), but Popper's falsification even if it is used by practitioners remains an ideal method and the question arises, as to what specific criteria will that 'falsification' be based upon? That will have to be addressed, and I hope will be clarified on my reading of Karl Popper's "The Logic of Scientific Discovery" or "Logik der Forschung". Although both concepts by Kuhn and Popper appear to be antagonistic as written by critics, I'm looking forward that in a way, what they actually proposed as regards their method of inquiry and analysis are reconcilable.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tyler

    Within this book, a 15-page essay somehow gets crammed into 174 tedious pages and crowned by a lengthy 35-page postscript. In its chapters Kuhn, father of the expression “paradigm shift,” shows us how science advances in spasmodic fractures that shatter previous models of nature. But at 210 pages, mission creep sinks in. The book does more than propose a new model of scientific progress. It also tells us why other models are mistaken. Kuhn refutes the correspondence theory of truth, logical posit Within this book, a 15-page essay somehow gets crammed into 174 tedious pages and crowned by a lengthy 35-page postscript. In its chapters Kuhn, father of the expression “paradigm shift,” shows us how science advances in spasmodic fractures that shatter previous models of nature. But at 210 pages, mission creep sinks in. The book does more than propose a new model of scientific progress. It also tells us why other models are mistaken. Kuhn refutes the correspondence theory of truth, logical positivism, and falsification as arbiters of scientific progress. What’s left is a relativistic notion of science as one endeavor among many, a craft whose rules are decided by its practitioners with no particular reference to the outside world. A new paradigm, Kuhn tells us, gets scientists no closer to any external reality than its predecessor. I found the discussion of paradigm shifts less convincing than I had expected. But what really turned me off about this essay was its style. The author continually stresses that a “paradigm” may not be treated as pop culture. Expounding this aversion to popular science, Kuhn notes that scientists engaging in science writing for public consumption are no doubt on the downslopes of their careers. He then tortures the text as if to avoid his own judgment. The author uses a public venue, a book for general publication, to address the scientific community in a professional capacity. But this book isn’t science. It’s history and philosophy as they apply to this field. The author nevertheless unpacks the theme as if were a kind of hard science, or at least an abstruse academic paper. Ignoring the scope that history and philosophy allow writers, the author's writing instead becomes dense, annoying, elitist and even rude. Kuhn's thesis doesn’t warrant such an attitude. His ideas are interesting, but his ponderous execution confuses bad table manners with succinct scholarship.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    I first read Kuhn's book during my first year as a Ph.D. student, and found it rather interesting. It challenges notions of scientific progress as liner by suggesting instead a process of "paradigm shift." Essentially, Kuhn argues that researchers in a branch of science accept as normal a set of "received beliefs" that guide and bound their investigations into new phenomena. Because of this set of accepted beliefs and assumptions, new ways of looking at the world are often suppressed or ignored. I first read Kuhn's book during my first year as a Ph.D. student, and found it rather interesting. It challenges notions of scientific progress as liner by suggesting instead a process of "paradigm shift." Essentially, Kuhn argues that researchers in a branch of science accept as normal a set of "received beliefs" that guide and bound their investigations into new phenomena. Because of this set of accepted beliefs and assumptions, new ways of looking at the world are often suppressed or ignored. Thus, even when presented with anomalous results, researchers often knowingly or unknowingly attempt to force-fit them to the preconceived structure they have embraced. This continues until a paradigm-busting shift occurs -- a scientific revolution -- that (generally abruptly) takes the field in a new direction. Understandably, not all scientific revolutions are successful in bringing about a paradigm shift. The ideas expressed in this book are provactive, even compelling, and have come back to me often in the 25 years since I read it in the form of questions and thoughts about potential paradigm shifts that may be overdue. It5 one that is worth reading for most people, and the scientific branches affected by it are not limited to the "hard sciences." Politics, psychology, sociology, cultural change, religious thought, and many other scientific domains can be profitably viewed through the lens of Kuhn's work.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    a response to some of the reviews here: From those giving the book a negative rating, we inevitably get the standard accusation of relativism, which is bullshit and Kuhn and his followers have responded appropriately. A positive three-star review says Kuhn's major thesis is that scientific progress is largely illusory, when Kuhn says nothing of the sort and has also defended himself against such objections in the past by explaining, very simply, what a careful reader would have already gleaned fr a response to some of the reviews here: From those giving the book a negative rating, we inevitably get the standard accusation of relativism, which is bullshit and Kuhn and his followers have responded appropriately. A positive three-star review says Kuhn's major thesis is that scientific progress is largely illusory, when Kuhn says nothing of the sort and has also defended himself against such objections in the past by explaining, very simply, what a careful reader would have already gleaned from reading this book [his actual point is related to the correspondence theory of truth; he argues that while we frequently hear that "successive theories grow ever closer to, or approximate more and more closely to, the truth," that is often not the case; he says "I do not doubt, for example, that Newton's mechanics improves on Aristotle's and that Einstein's improves on Newton's as instruments for puzzle-solving. But I can see in their succession no coherent direction of ontological development." Kuhn has repeatedly both explicitly and implicitly identified himself as a firm believer in scientific progress]. Others here bemoan the length of the book, even though it is short. As a historian of science, Kuhn has the responsibility to be thorough and clear. Considering the subject matter, Kuhn is actually concise. Perhaps some of these readers are better off reading continental philosophy on science, wherein philosophers feel free to assert their theses without rigorous, well-constructed arguments. Kuhn's education was in Physics, but he is most assuredly a sophisticated philosopher, whose style is rooted in the analytic tradition. Kuhn's arguments are well-constructed, and he takes great care to address a substantial number of possible flaws in his own thinking, to back up his ideas with scientific history, to detail the nature of his thesis. Unfortunately, those who feel this was a 15 page essay with a lot of padding probably so badly mischaracterize Kuhn's position because of their presumptions. Kuhn does not waste a single sentence here, and there is nothing of insignificance. Perhaps more attentive readers would not strawman him and misrepresent his position. All this is not to say that Kuhn does not have his sophisticated critics, but it's frustrating to see so many comments here that are quite clearly nonsense. I don't say this because I'm a pompous jackass (although I am), I say this because of the sheer amount of misrepresentation and misinformation here. It's refreshing, however, to see that a number of fellow goodreads members, and not just I, think the applicability of this book's arguments is wide.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Leonard

    Thomas Kuhn, through the concept of paradigm shift, has demythologized science as an accumulation of knowledge through smooth progress. That, for Kuhn, is just normal science, the incremental progress within the limits, biases and assumptions of a paradigm. For him, a paradigm is a set of accepted practices within the scientific community, the scientific traditions the scientists have grown up with. For him, “The success of a paradigm… is at the start largely a promise of success discoverable in Thomas Kuhn, through the concept of paradigm shift, has demythologized science as an accumulation of knowledge through smooth progress. That, for Kuhn, is just normal science, the incremental progress within the limits, biases and assumptions of a paradigm. For him, a paradigm is a set of accepted practices within the scientific community, the scientific traditions the scientists have grown up with. For him, “The success of a paradigm… is at the start largely a promise of success discoverable in selected and still incomplete examples. And “Normal science consists in the actualization of that promise.” ...... Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton Though Thomas Kuhn focused on the Copernican Revolution, for me the Quantum Revolution is a more poignant example of paradigm shift. And the latter, like the former, starts with unexplainable phenomena. When the traditional electromagnetic theory of Maxwell’s Equations couldn’t explain black body radiation, Boltzmann and then Plank developed a set of equations with quantized energy levels to explain the phenomena. Later, Niels Bohr formulated the quantized levels of atoms to explain their discrete emissions. Max Planck .... Niels Bohr .... Albert Einstein As Kuhn says, “When, in the development of a natural science, an individual or group first produces a synthesis able to attract most of the next generation’s practitioners, the older schools gradually disappear.” In this case, Bohr persuaded his colleagues about the new view and pushed quantum mechanics into the forefront, securing it as the dominant theory in modern physics. But there were oppositions. Even Einstein, who proposed the quantization of light, could not accept the probabilistic nature of matter-energy as described by the Uncertainty Principle. For him, “God does not play dice.” ....... .. Erwin Shcrodinger Werner Heisenberg Richard Feynman The shift from Newtonian mechanics to quantum mechanics is a shift from a deterministic view of the universe to a probabilistic one, a change of beliefs and values. For Einstein and others, accepting quantum mechanics seemed like returning to the pre-scientific age, where a person, even a scientist, couldn’t quantify and analyze and predict natural events. When the way of doing science changes, so do the tools. Whereas calculus was the mathematical tool of Newtonian mechanics, statistics and transforms, Fourier or others, and the related group theories are those of quantum mechanics. And we know, even outside of science, that using different tools creates different results. Thomas Kuhn For Kuhn, “Paradigms may be prior to, more binding, and more complete than any set of rules for research that could be unequivocally abstracted from them.” So the preferences toward a deterministic worldview and the corresponding tools predisposed scientists to solve those problems with a well-defined solution. Motion under gravitational and electromagnetic forces in the macroscopic world. On the other hand, the preference toward a probabilistic worldview and the corresponding tools predispose scientists to focus on the uncertain boundaries between matter and energy, space and time, position and momentum, and energy and time. And so, “one of the things a scientific community acquires with a paradigm is a criterion for choosing problems that, while the paradigm is taken for granted, can be assumed to have solutions.” Following the Quantum Revolution, scientists developed quantum electrodynamics (QED) and quantum chromodynamics (QCD) through normal science. But when string and other theories begin to emerge, scientists must again reevaluate their models and even more importantly their practices and worldviews. Through The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, we begin to see scientific progress’s jagged path and appreciate the subjective parts of doing science. And instead of worshiping science, we take on the scientific mindset of observing phenomena and analyzing data and revealing biases and modifying models.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Vagabond of Letters, DLitt

    10/10. Sixth ever perfect nonfiction rating: 'Structure' is not overrated at all. This is the scientific counterpart to the invaluable work of Alisdair MacIntyre in philosophy. Those works ('After Virtue', 'Whose Justice?', 'Three Rival Versions') are some of the most important for understanding the practice of philosophy and the seemingly-insurmountable aporiae in philosophy and ethics. Kuhn's work does the same for science, is extensible to many other disciplines, and is the only work I'm aware 10/10. Sixth ever perfect nonfiction rating: 'Structure' is not overrated at all. This is the scientific counterpart to the invaluable work of Alisdair MacIntyre in philosophy. Those works ('After Virtue', 'Whose Justice?', 'Three Rival Versions') are some of the most important for understanding the practice of philosophy and the seemingly-insurmountable aporiae in philosophy and ethics. Kuhn's work does the same for science, is extensible to many other disciplines, and is the only work I'm aware of that gives a partial, though plausible, set of criteria for distinguishing between science (which progresses *in regards to its ability to solve puzzles about nature* after consolidation in to one framework of practice per subspecialty, with other agreed-upon frameworks overarching) and everything else (e.g. philosophy, which doesn't seem to progress in a linear fashion, *because it has not found a paradigm* - those aforementioned aporiae - and is besotted with paradigmatically scientific definitions of progress). On the whole, Kuhn's sketched definition of science does more to solve the demarcation problem than any positivist or ((Popperian)) falsificationist account MacIntyre throws light on Kuhn, Kuhn throws light on MacIntyre. A work by an atheist that may pave the way for my turn to a modified creationism (one which can account for the reality of human biodiversity and group differences unlike typical Hammian young-earth 'creation science': Cavalli-Sforza [in 'The History and Geography of the Human Genome'] estimates that major adaptations can occur in 2,000 years and full speciation in 40,000) from the teleological evolutionism I now believe, and which in any case makes that teleological evolutionism more secure than the adirectional - ironically, for Kuhn argues for a picture of scientific development that is as adirectional as the most consistent materialist picture of evolution as opposed to the received picture of an essentially teleological development.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    Kuhn, a physicist and philosopher and historian of science, wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, producing other editions until his death in 1996. The book was very influential (see description), serving as a starting point for reappraisals within several disciplines. One, psychology, was specifically covered by John Bannon's Philosophy of Psychology class held during the second semester of 1982/83 at Loyola University Chicago. I found the book profoundly stimulating, challengin Kuhn, a physicist and philosopher and historian of science, wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, producing other editions until his death in 1996. The book was very influential (see description), serving as a starting point for reappraisals within several disciplines. One, psychology, was specifically covered by John Bannon's Philosophy of Psychology class held during the second semester of 1982/83 at Loyola University Chicago. I found the book profoundly stimulating, challenging as it did my rather naive understanding of the physical sciences, and went on to read another book which overtly applied Kuhn's analytic template to psychology.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Coral

    Bit of a preface: I hated this book. It contains some really good ideas, which are totally worth discussing, but the whole thing is so much wordier and denser than it needs to be (this, coming from me!); seriously, the ideas put forth in this 200-page monstrosity would have been better shared in a 5-10 page article. Still, we were assigned to read it for LIS 2000, Understanding Information, and asked to write a 400-word review, describing "how the content of this book relates to the information Bit of a preface: I hated this book. It contains some really good ideas, which are totally worth discussing, but the whole thing is so much wordier and denser than it needs to be (this, coming from me!); seriously, the ideas put forth in this 200-page monstrosity would have been better shared in a 5-10 page article. Still, we were assigned to read it for LIS 2000, Understanding Information, and asked to write a 400-word review, describing "how the content of this book relates to the information professions. Why do you think this is assigned reading?" followed by a 250-word addendum, restating our opinion and describing how it had changed in reading the other students' essays, so I tried my best to get through it. Although I'm a little embarrassed to post this--and nervous that people who already took the class will say "No! You are so wrong! You'll see!"--I still think it might be useful to do so. I can't change my answer now (or, well, not after 11pm--but I promise not to, now that I've made this public), so I'm curious what people who've been through this hazing ritualbook have to say. When we were assigned Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and asked to define its relevance to the information professions, I falsely assumed my professors were implying that our field is undergoing a "paradigm shift." Certainly, that argument can be made: With the Internet making information simultaneously more plentiful and harder to find, the effectiveness of distributed tagging and its effects on discussion of cataloguing, and the popularity of digital libraries and plans for automation thereof, nobody would seriously assert that our field is in any way stagnant or unchanging. On the other hand, paradigms point to fundamental thought patterns, and to suggest that our "paradigm" is in flux seems questionable: We still believe that information should be freely available to all, and we still strive to provide it in the best way available to us; that, I claim, is our true paradigm. That we have one at all shows the applicability of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; certainly, we make assumptions about the world and about information, and we consider questions relevant or irrelevant based on those assumptions. Just as scientists are not the impartial observers that we are told they should be, we are not the impartial information providers that we would like to be. Although Kuhn has many interesting and widely applicable ideas, I do not agree that his is the best way to think about science and progress. Certainly, the book has its fans (London 2008), but I was pleased to see that I was not its only doubter: Weinberg (1998), for instance, disagrees with nearly all of Kuhn's central assertions. I do not go quite so far. As a scientist*, I believe that science, taken as a whole, does progress with time--to argue that our understanding of the universe today is not fuller than it was 200 years ago seems ludicrous--but we should be cautious in treating any one scientific finding or theory as "progress," in and of itself: First, a scientist's paradigm and her puzzle-solving nature restrict what questions she considers asking (p. 37), and second, the explanations provided by a new theory or paradigm may not be any closer to truth than those of its predecessor (see discussion of opium, p. 104). I think the latter point also applies to the information professions: We may find that any one of the "advancements" we make is really a step back, hampering access to information. ------ With the help of my colleagues' reviews and Dr. Tomer's lecture, my views about Kuhn have changed over the last week. While I stand by my assertion that the information professions, like every field, have sets of accepted viewpoints ("paradigms") at their foundation, I no longer contend that that is Kuhn's sole applicability. Information Science is, after all, not really a science. Rather, I believe that Kuhn's description of incremental advances--and of new paradigms overwriting, if you will, previous work--is relevant to us in our capacity as guardians and gatekeepers of knowledge. A Kuhnian view of progress requires us to remain both vigilant and flexible in our maintenance of the scientific knowledge base; we must catalog the day-to-day work of "normal" knowledge accumulation in every field, particularly science, but we must also be aware that the rules and accepted facts are subject to change. As such, we must struggle to provide the information that daily practitioners of the field will deem relevant, perhaps in addition to previous "advances," or perhaps instead of them. I would add that I do not think we can expect to determine, entirely on our own, precisely which scientific information is worth keeping; as Kuhn says, people outside of a sub-field stand little chance of understanding the literature, and even people inside a field cannot predict with certainty which research direction will lead to a paradigm change. Rather, we should maintain a dialog with the experts and seek to improve our collections in collaboration with them. Kuhn, T.S. (1996). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. London, S. (2008). Book Review. Retrieved September 9, 2008, from http://www.scottlondon.com/reviews/ku... Weinberg, S. (1998, October 8). The Revolution That Didn't Happen [Review of the book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions], The New York Review of Books, pp. 48-52. *As a post-script, separate from my review, I feel it necessary to point out that Kuhn would disagree with my assertion that I am a scientist. My formal training was in engineering (p. 30), and I am female. Both seem to count strongly against me, in his estimation.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jrobertus

    I understand this is a fairly famous book, but I don't understand why. There is enough material for a short essay, and here it is. As scientific instruments and measurements improve, discrepancies appear between what is observed and what the current theory, or paradigm, predicts. As a result, the theory or paradigm must change, but some people resist it. The change from the geocentric model of Ptolemy to the helio-centric model of Copernicus is an example, as it the change from Aristotle to Newt I understand this is a fairly famous book, but I don't understand why. There is enough material for a short essay, and here it is. As scientific instruments and measurements improve, discrepancies appear between what is observed and what the current theory, or paradigm, predicts. As a result, the theory or paradigm must change, but some people resist it. The change from the geocentric model of Ptolemy to the helio-centric model of Copernicus is an example, as it the change from Aristotle to Newton to Einstein. As if we didn't already know that. This book is unbelievably wordy, self contradictory, pompous, and obscure. I absolutely hated it. I am a practicing "normal" scientist, and I can say that this book has no impact what so ever in science. I guess its deconstructionist English majors that think its important.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    Really fascinating book about how science changes--how old theories (paradigms) fall apart and new ones develop. I think this theory also applies to political theories and other cultural ideas. This book is old, but it's a classic and I learned a lot Really fascinating book about how science changes--how old theories (paradigms) fall apart and new ones develop. I think this theory also applies to political theories and other cultural ideas. This book is old, but it's a classic and I learned a lot

  18. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Original, 2-star review: I think the common criticisms that have been popping up here - Kuhn's conclusions are very relativistic, and he's not always clear or concise in the way he conveys them - are fair. Kuhn puts forth a very interesting theory, and I think at least a few sections are very helpful when approaching the history of science. But it's certainly not a fun read, and much of the argument's density could have been fairly easily avoided. If you're a scientist, or have an interest in the Original, 2-star review: I think the common criticisms that have been popping up here - Kuhn's conclusions are very relativistic, and he's not always clear or concise in the way he conveys them - are fair. Kuhn puts forth a very interesting theory, and I think at least a few sections are very helpful when approaching the history of science. But it's certainly not a fun read, and much of the argument's density could have been fairly easily avoided. If you're a scientist, or have an interest in the philosophy or history of science, I'd recommend giving it a go. Otherwise, probably not. **** I haven't re-read this book, but I do want to change my review - in large part because this is one of the books that I keep coming back to and thinking about over the years. I still think that there are some problems with it - and yikes, it is not a terribly pleasant read - but it's a really fascinating and thought-provoking work. It's really shaped the way I think about things, so I think it's worth a go even if you don't entirely agree with Kuhn's thesis.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    I’ve seen citations to this book for decades, and it’s been on my shelf, unread-by-me, nearly as long. Finally read it. Kuhn contends that the then-accepted description of scientific process as a largely smooth increase in human knowledge isn’t accurate. Instead, it’s Hegelian-esque: an accepted model less and less satisfactory as more and more things are observed that do not fit; new models emerge and are resisted for reasons rational and not; and one fine day, the paradigm shifts. For reasons I’ve seen citations to this book for decades, and it’s been on my shelf, unread-by-me, nearly as long. Finally read it. Kuhn contends that the then-accepted description of scientific process as a largely smooth increase in human knowledge isn’t accurate. Instead, it’s Hegelian-esque: an accepted model less and less satisfactory as more and more things are observed that do not fit; new models emerge and are resisted for reasons rational and not; and one fine day, the paradigm shifts. For reasons rational and not, a new model becomes accepted. Repeat, with variations. Reading it now, it’s a little unsatisfying. Yes, paradigms shift. Seen it happen. Some critical number of those in the relevant field of inquiry accept a paradigm, and there’s a new paradigm. Science, law, economics, whatever. I found myself in the odd position of explaining the gold standard, and what it means to have abandoned it, to a chum last Saturday. A paradigm shifted. In that, by a matter of decree, but still, only after some critical number of those in the relevant field accepted that a currency could be backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, and not just gold. Kuhn suggests that paradigms don’t just shift because the new one is better; society doesn’t operate that way. Social enthusiasm for an idea matters a lot. Apparently that pissed a lot of people off at the time, which again from 2012 seems a little silly. We’re not just rational actors. I know I’m not. I loved Kuhn’s illustration of that with Lord Kelvin denouncing X-rays as a hoax. He had a commitment to a certain understanding of how tests worked, and the fact that there could be X-rays messing up the procedures was unsettling. I’m sure he came around. I suspect I found the book somewhat unsatisfying because it’s central thesis – that we aren’t just rational; that progress is not slow and steady, and that the paradigm matters – is so well accepted that it’s hard to get excited about. Which is pleasingly meta, now that I come to think about it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Celine

    Isn't it ironic that a book about paradigm shifts caused a paradigm shift in itself? And isn't it even more ironic that I'm studying this book from a humanities perspective, a science Kuhn himself might not even call a science? The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is a fascinating book because it works out, detail after tiny detail, how a scientific revolution takes place. One of the most interesting ideas Kuhn posits is that we can't compare two paradigms with each other (say, Newtonian physi Isn't it ironic that a book about paradigm shifts caused a paradigm shift in itself? And isn't it even more ironic that I'm studying this book from a humanities perspective, a science Kuhn himself might not even call a science? The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is a fascinating book because it works out, detail after tiny detail, how a scientific revolution takes place. One of the most interesting ideas Kuhn posits is that we can't compare two paradigms with each other (say, Newtonian physics and the theory of relativity), because they both encompass a different paradigm, and with that paradigm a different language and way of seeing the world. Kuhn's writing is terribly dry, and his book could have definitely been shorter. His examples can be repetitive; he often makes the same point two, three, four times throughout the course of the book. Structure isn't exactly light reading, but it contains some very interesting ideas about the nature of science and the nature of the progress of science.

  21. 4 out of 5

    notgettingenough

    I have made an update to my review in response to comments. http://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpres... I have made an update to my review in response to comments. http://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpres...

  22. 5 out of 5

    Marcus

    The premise of the book is that science doesn't progress by the cumulative addition of knowledge, but instead advances by major shifts in paradigms that replace, rather than increment, large parts of previous paradigms. To begin with, scientific research in a specific subject is carried out within the bounds of a generally accepted framework that defines what scientists already know about the field, as well as the questions that remain unanswered. This is what Kuhn calls a paradigm. A paradigm i The premise of the book is that science doesn't progress by the cumulative addition of knowledge, but instead advances by major shifts in paradigms that replace, rather than increment, large parts of previous paradigms. To begin with, scientific research in a specific subject is carried out within the bounds of a generally accepted framework that defines what scientists already know about the field, as well as the questions that remain unanswered. This is what Kuhn calls a paradigm. A paradigm is useful because it defines puzzles that need to be solved and gives a set rules for them to be solved in. Over time, the paradigm is more fully explored and is broken down into smaller and more specific problems. To solve them, scientists develop specialized equipment and detailed experiments are carried out. Scientists experiment not to generate an unknown result, but with a hypothesis that has an expected result. The paradigm they're working under has helped them predict results and expect an answer. Eventually however, problems are discovered that can't be effectively solved within the rules of the paradigm. At first, these types of problems can be worked around by making adjustments in rules of the paradigm. Ultimately, as it is explored more deeply and the rules become more complex, a problem or problems arise that simply cannot be answered elegantly with the paradigm. As these difficult problems gain notice, they become recognized as the problems in most urgent need of a solution. When there is a big problem like this it can either be ignored until better equipment is available, made to fit by adjusting the current paradigm or, most interestingly, it can lead to the development of a new theory, or group of theories that attempt to solve the problem. As alternate competing theories are proposed to address the crises, eventually one gains enough traction among scientists to become the new paradigm. One of the examples used in the book is how Einstein's relativity became the paradigm that replaced Newtonian physics. What happened was not that Newtonian physics was found to be outdated and immediately replaced with the theory of relativity, in fact that theory is still useful within a large number of applications today. Instead, it was recognized that there is a very limited set of parameters in which Newtonian physics is accurate--specifically for calculating interactions between objects moving at relatively low velocities, but that outside those parameters, Newtonian physics will lead to incorrect assumptions. The theory of relativity solves the same problems that Newtonian physics does, but it also works with objects moving at high velocities. Rather than just building upon Newtonian physics incrementally, relativity supplanted large parts of it, even as scientists recognized that parts of Newtonian physics remain useful in certain contexts. To me, a non-scientist, rather than being controversial, this is a really useful way to think about science, and beyond science to how change and progress occur in almost any field. To a scientist, I can see how Kuhn's ideas are controversial. They mean that what scientists see and look for in observational and experimental data is not analyzed and recorded completely objectively but that scientists are heavily biased by what they believe and expect they're going to find. It 'accuses' scientists of viewing data and the experiments they choose to perform relatively, rather than objectively or positively (there is a long and hairy philosophical argument on relative knowledge that I will avoid getting into). Kuhn, rather than criticizing scientists for their subjective view on data, believes that viewing science this way is unavoidable, and in fact beneficial because it trains scientists to recognize patterns in data and to become adept with the data that they deal with. When a scientist is proficient at viewing data within the bounds of a paradigm, they are, in turn, well-prepared to view anomalies in the way their paradigm interprets data. This leads to the tough problems that are escalated to criseses in the paradigm and eventually, to the development of new paradigms.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Vapula

    A great and classic work that gives a thorough and eruditious account of the evolution of science throughout history. Very much a humbling work for the sciences that allows a more guided approach.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Semi-Academic Eric

    Referred to by the authors of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Future Edge: Discovering the New Paradigms of Success, this may help one see truths to bring forth new technologies, business models and other re-organizational necessities. Referred to by the authors of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Future Edge: Discovering the New Paradigms of Success, this may help one see truths to bring forth new technologies, business models and other re-organizational necessities.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Owlseyes

    Of course, Khun didn't foresee the coronavirus. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/... Of course, Khun didn't foresee the coronavirus. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/...

  26. 4 out of 5

    Xander

    What a terrible book! This is not my usual way to begin a review with, and certainly each author deserves a nuanced review of his or her works. But I simply can't believe that the author of The Copernican Revolutions (one of the best science books ever written!) is the same author that wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Maybe the comparison is unfair, since the Copernican Revolution is a book - in which Kuhn gives an exposition of astronomical developments, from ancient Greek astrono What a terrible book! This is not my usual way to begin a review with, and certainly each author deserves a nuanced review of his or her works. But I simply can't believe that the author of The Copernican Revolutions (one of the best science books ever written!) is the same author that wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Maybe the comparison is unfair, since the Copernican Revolution is a book - in which Kuhn gives an exposition of astronomical developments, from ancient Greek astronomy to Newton's Principia - and The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is an essay. But then again, an essay of 170 pages with an additional postscript of 30 pages, is long enough to be criticized harshly, albeit fairly. Kuhn's main thoughts are easy to summarize: science begins - in broad outlines, exceptions are possible - with a pre-paradigm stage. During this stage, loose facts are gathered (like the Baconian conception of science) and no central structure of theory is present to interpret the facts. In short, it's data-gathering. Then, some bright mind enters the stage and thinks up a coherent and consistent piece of theory that places a clearly circumscribed set of facts in a certain perspective, a paradigm. This paradigm is some sort of selection criterion, which helps the scientist focus on interesting and relevant problems and leave the irrelevant ones alone. This paradigm, then, gradually develops into mainstream scientific consensus, until a new fact or body of facts - unexplainable within the current paradigm - is stumbled on. Then, scientists will try to adjust the main paradigm with all sorts of ad hoc explanations and the paradigm will crumble into dozens of unique versions. This is the moment of scientific revolution: a scientist (usually a young one) will offer a whole new paradigm that explains the old body of facts as well as the anomaly (which was the cause of the failure of the old paradigm). This new paradigm will not be adopted by the main body of scientists, who like to cling to their own pet theories, and the old paradigm (or the endless variations of the main paradigm) will die off with their respective promulgators. Young scientists will be schooled in the new paradigm, so the new paradigm gradually proceeds to become the new scientific consensus. Then, over time, new problems or anomalies pop up for the then-current paradigm and the process begins anew. This, in a nutshell is scientific development, according to Kuhn. Science proceeds from paradigm to paradigm. Though Kuhn's thesis sounds plausible at first, it seems to me that this is a problematic explanation of science. And for two reasons. 1. Since science proceeds from paradigm to paradigm, and each paradigm is valid in its own respective way (i.e. related to its own circumscribes facts and problems), it follows that there is no such thing as scientific progress. This is a problem that Kuhn doesn't solve satisfactorily (or at all, but see point 2 beneath). In this sense, Newtonian mechanics is as true as the Einsteinian version. But this is not so. While Newton's mechanics is still being used for everyday problem-solving (such as sending rockets into space or calculating the trajectories of bullets), utility or usefulness isn't a criterion of truth, and in a very deep sense Newton's mechanics is incompatible with its Einsteinian competitor. Netwon's conception of mass (later extended with the law of conservation of mass) is that it is an absolute quantity: it's there and it cannot be annihilated. In other words: the total amount of mass in the universe alwys remains the same, even though it continuously changes its form. But Einstein showed us that mass is equivalent to energy (his famous e=mc2 formula); so mass can be annihilated - namely converted into pure energy - and vice versa. This is just one example that seems, to me at least, to counter Kuhn's claim that science doesn't progress but just hops from paradigm to paradigm. Newton's mechanics is derivable from Einstein's relativity theory, but it is, conceptually speaking, not Newtonian mechanics, since it is only part of a whole new framework. In that sense, there IS progress in science and there are reasons to believe that we are approaching the limits of our knowledge. The standard model/the hot big bang theory are almost universally accepted and physicists are currently trying to find a theory that comprises both quantum mechanics and general relativity (i.e. a 'theory of everything') that would apply to the very start of our universe. This would mean that science (at least from a cosmological point of view) is finished and we can begin with (what Kuhn so nicely calls) the mopping up: filling in all the blanks. But even from a more basic point of view we see scientific progress. Current scientific knowledge lets us control nature up to a point that is unheard of. So, at least from a utilitarian point of view, science has not only developped but also (and more importantly) progressed. 2. So how does Kuhn answer the above objection? Well, in the last chapter he claims that scientific development can be compared to evolution by natural selection. Paradigms are pitted against each other and the most fit survive. Since nature seems to proceed to ever increasing complexity and design (seems, this is not true, though), science proceeds accordingly. Kuhn seems to stumble into Paley's trap. Paley likened organisms to watches, and since watches have designers and organisms are just as designed as watches (i.e. adaptive complexity), they are designed as well. Therefore, God -as creator - exists. But this is teleology, the thought that there is some purpose to nature, some end-goal to obtain, some guiding principle according to which nature develops. This, of course, is bullshit - there is no evidence (at all) for a higher purpose, let alone a progress in natural history. Christopher Hitchens would label this thought as solipsism, and I can only agree with this wise man on that. I think the same objections apply to Kuhn's vision of science as evolution. The most fit paradigm will survive? Well, in Soviet Russia communist genetics survived - at the cost of scientific genetics (and millions of starved people) - so it isn't clear to me that 'fitness' in that sense has anything to do with truth. I would argue that science shows us that having illusions has (in some cases) benificent effects on human health and well being. It doesn't make these illuions true, though. The only rationale in science is the discovery of truth, and this has to be progressive, since we learn from our mistakes and move on to better theories. the method of trial-and-error lets us get ever closer to the truth - so in that sense there is progress (not just development). (This, by the way, is exactly what call Karl Popper sees as the growth of knowledge). So science can (and only then!) be regarded as evolutionary as long as truth is the criterion of fitness. But Kuhn clearly states, earlier in his essay, that paradigms follow each other - it's the natural process of science - and that each paradigm is true in its own particular sense. These two views are incommensurable (as Kuhn himself calls two conflicting paradigms). I think the history of science shows an ever increasing knowledge of and mastery over nature. This is a sign of progress: truth works. A last point - not really that strong an objection to Kuhn, but important nonetheless - is the fact that Kuhn's sociological view of science pretty soon leads to a view of radical relativism. If science is nothing but hopping from paradigm to paradigm, and if all paradigms are true within their own scope and limits, it follows that all paradigms - although incommensurable - are equally true. Therefore, absolute knowledge is impossible. It is not strange that many religious and/or postmodern people have used Kuhn as an argument against (mainstream) science). So to end this review: I cannot really recommend the book. Its content is flawed, and it is written in very dry and abstract language. Though it is 'only' 170 or so pages, it takes very long to proceed, mainly due to Kuhn's writing. And this is sad, since in The Copernican Revolution, his masterpiece, he shows he's a gifted and clear writer. Also, Kuhn uses a lot of historical examples to illustrate his main points, but one has to be familiar with these examples in order to get the gist. (Readers who are unfamiliar with concepts as 'phlogiston theory', 'lumineforous ether', etc. will have a hard time following Kuhn).

  27. 4 out of 5

    William Liggett

    Who hasn't heard the term "paradigm shift?" Guess who introduced it into the popular lexicon? Thomas Kuhn was a philopher of science who retraced the history of many scientific discoveries, especially in physics. He demonstrated how the subjective worldview of the scientists led to their paradigms, or mental models, and ultimately supported a paradigm shift in a whole field like physics. Often major scientific discoveries are made by young outsiders who are not yet steeped in the worldview of an Who hasn't heard the term "paradigm shift?" Guess who introduced it into the popular lexicon? Thomas Kuhn was a philopher of science who retraced the history of many scientific discoveries, especially in physics. He demonstrated how the subjective worldview of the scientists led to their paradigms, or mental models, and ultimately supported a paradigm shift in a whole field like physics. Often major scientific discoveries are made by young outsiders who are not yet steeped in the worldview of an established scientific community with its textbooks and training. A good modern example are the students who derived "chaos theory" which departed from accepted physics in the late 20th century. Kuhn's theory sparked debate among those who saw science as purely objective vs. the notion that scientists' perceptions are often subjective—influenced by the paradigms they hold. It is informative to read Kuhn's original descriptions of paradigms to better understand why the concept has been adopted by so many fields ranging from the social sciences to business and education.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Liam

    Thomas Kuhn raises some interesting points about how textbook science education is misleading. He also suggests that revolutions occur when non-specialists make revolutionary observations that conflict with established observations (paradigm), leading to a crisis that inspires work that makes the paradigm 'shift' to a new one. Ultimately this book is not getting a 4* because though it raised interesting ideas, they were not as complex, practical, up-to-date or concisely written as I'd have liked Thomas Kuhn raises some interesting points about how textbook science education is misleading. He also suggests that revolutions occur when non-specialists make revolutionary observations that conflict with established observations (paradigm), leading to a crisis that inspires work that makes the paradigm 'shift' to a new one. Ultimately this book is not getting a 4* because though it raised interesting ideas, they were not as complex, practical, up-to-date or concisely written as I'd have liked. Kuhn touches on the 'social aspects' of science which is all that prior epistemologists may not have emphasised, but what he says is so out-dated to modern day science. We learn and write from original papers from year 1 in undergraduate university and barely use text books. There is open-access internet-access and youtube and email and all sorts of forms of communication that did not widely exist at the time he wrote this. I was disappointed that he did not question more important factors than his 'mob mentality' argument for paradigm rigidity: the selection bias of journals for positive results, the arbitrariness of the p value, lab prestige, journal prestige, how funding is distributed and appreciated, the dissemination of English vs. non-English written reports... these are real-world variables that I can confidently claim are clearly affecting how paradigms (and the jobs that made them) are established. If anything, I think scientists these days are trying too hard to make revolutions by 'relativising' and 'reinterpret-to-create' approaches that progress might be slowing down. Ultimately, any decent scientist should already be aware of the main sentiments of this essay. I honestly think Robert Pirsig writes a more readable and interesting case on epistemology in Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Kuhn's essay was pretty hard for me to read as there was so much needless repetition of vague terminology, it was drier than Russell and was full of overgeneralised value judgements which one might suspect of an ex-physicist. Really this could have been written clearly in less than half the words. Post-Review Ramble As a scientist, I'd like to think I'm pretty balanced and open-minded. I take the time to appreciate arguments against science or its methods: art/science, animal or human welfare/science, God/science. I agree and disagree with the points that I initially deem as reasonable and with a practical implication for what I do. Epidemiologists and statisticians, for example, have clearly changed the way I design and interpret my results, and I continue to rely on their critique to bring about what I believe is the most effective version of the truth that I am capable of. But its when science historians and sociologists critique science as a method for empirical investigations of the natural world that I normally lose my cool. Not only do they sell short epistemologists by occasionally criticising or mildly developing and then renaming the work of prior epistemologists (like Popper, Russell, Kant), they rarely ever offer a pragmatic potential solution to the problem they have invented. As an aside, I made an analogous interpretation here as to how surreal art (which intentionally blends truth and fiction) might promote 'psychological revolutions' by inducing a state of (existential) crisis in which the being, as does the scientist, then reassesses for the evidence (reality) required to cause a shift in perspective. But this has nothing to do with what Kuhn wrote, and probably makes no sense to anybody reading this. Clearly I was trying to make the thing more enjoyable and self-justify my art preferences.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Oliver Bateman

    Yet another "important" book, one that advances a theory of "paradigm shift" to explain the transition between scientific worldviews (or transitions from pre-paradigm to paradigm worldviews, in the case of a coalescing field). Although written in an easy-to-understand way, Kuhn's presentation of this material--as evidenced by the somewhat defensive tone he adopts when responding to criticisms about his slipshod use of the term "paradigm" and his tendency to pass between descriptive and normative Yet another "important" book, one that advances a theory of "paradigm shift" to explain the transition between scientific worldviews (or transitions from pre-paradigm to paradigm worldviews, in the case of a coalescing field). Although written in an easy-to-understand way, Kuhn's presentation of this material--as evidenced by the somewhat defensive tone he adopts when responding to criticisms about his slipshod use of the term "paradigm" and his tendency to pass between descriptive and normative explanations of how science works (to which he replies, "'is' and 'ought' are by no means always so separate as they have seemed")--raises as many questions as it answers. His discussion of perception, in which he challenges the understanding that has prevailed since Descartes, is particularly confusing (in the postscript he refers to a "computer program" he is using to categorize "intuitions" of "scientists," although he offers the reader no idea of how such a program would work); and his treatment of incommensurability isn't much better, although he at least admits for the possibility of "translation" (but it seems to me that "translation" isn't the issue during "paradigm conflicts" that occur in a given generation; rather, the problem lies elsewhere). Kuhn also advances the conventional wisdom about "paradigms" being shattered most frequently by "young men" (he states that this is almost self-evident, that "extraordinary science" is a young man's game), yet offers only a handful of examples as support for this claim. However, there are various excellent aspects of this work that bear mentioning: Section I ("A Role for History") sketches a useful way of applying history in order to understand the development of knowledge; Section XI ("The Invisibility of Revolutions") does a nice job of describing the problems with teaching history through science textbooks (and explains why the field is so singularly unaware of its past); and Section XIII ("Progress Through Revolutions") offers a fine critique of others who believe that science is somehow "different" than other fields because it is "getting better" or "working toward the truth." That being written, I would recommend both Feyerabend's Against Method or the introductory essay in Foucault's The Order of Things in lieu of this work (although by all means read this book too, if you've got the time). Foucault's idea of the episteme--which looks at developments in various fields as a result of the "epistemological unconscious" of an era and does not rely for its foundation on a privileged definition of science (which Kuhn, coming from a background in physics, seeks to maintain: "puzzle-solving" is how he refers to "normal science")--is a much more cogent model of explanation. Foucault has also demonstrated the existence of connections among fields of knowledge (medicine, law, criminology, psychiatry, etc.) that Kuhn only hints at in Section XIII, and might, if pressed to mention them at all, even deem to be unrelated.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Wayne

    This book was a revelation...I felt the scales literally fall from my eyes and knew the world would never be the same again. In fact I experienced a "paradigm-shift" experience in the reading of it. If you want to know what that is click on the 'book cover' icon and you'll end up at a site where more eloquent people than me can and will tell you about the content of this book and all about the "paradigm-shift". GREAT STUFF!!! I had to read it as part of my Education Honours course at Sydney Uni in This book was a revelation...I felt the scales literally fall from my eyes and knew the world would never be the same again. In fact I experienced a "paradigm-shift" experience in the reading of it. If you want to know what that is click on the 'book cover' icon and you'll end up at a site where more eloquent people than me can and will tell you about the content of this book and all about the "paradigm-shift". GREAT STUFF!!! I had to read it as part of my Education Honours course at Sydney Uni in 1974 and it was the most significant book of that year, if not of my life. I felt trapped by my world-view, by my inability to ever see the world except through the lens of "a theory". I think I experienced another paradigm-shift in 1999 when I read "Darwin's Worms" by Adam Phillips, because that book prevented me from having a mental breakdown, as despite my atheism I had clung onto the religious illusions of justice and redemption and they were creating havoc because of a warped world-view.I've written a review of that book which goes into it more fully and probably very inadequately.

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