The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Hardcover – 26 Nov 1996
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About the Author
Thomas S. Kuhn was the Laurence Rockefeller Professor Emeritus of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His books include The Essential Tension; Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894-1912; and The Copernican Revolution.
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Before Kuhn, the orthodox view was that science progressed in an evolutionary, cumulative way, gradually getting nearer to the 'truth'. In a nutshell, Kuhn's thesis states that there are alternating periods of 'normal' and 'revolutionary' science. After a revolutionary paradigm shift normal science is resumed with a new theoretical framework. Examples of this shift are the transition from Ptolemy's earth-centred solar system to the Copernican sun-centred paradigm and Newtonian mechanics being superseded by quantum mechanics.
'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions', which has now sold 1.4 million copies, is one of the most influential books of the 20th century and this 50th Anniversary Edition has an excellent new preface by philosopher Ian Hacking.
The insights that Khun has arrived at are still relevant almost half a century after this book has been published. The idea of "paradigm shifts" has even entered the mainstream consciousness, to the point that it can be caricatured in various cartoons and silly t-shirts. However, after reading this book it is not quite clear to me whether Khun wanted this to be a description of the way that science works, or more of a normative prescription for how to arrive at truly fundamental changes in some scientific discipline. This is particularly relevant for disciplines or directions of research that seem to have gotten stuck in some dead end, as has been the case with particle physics for several decades.
Whether you are a practicing scientist, someone interested in science, or someone who would like to know more about how scientific breakthroughs happen you'll greatly benefit from reading this book. You may not agree with Khun's every conclusion, but the longevity of the ideas presented here makes them relevant for every serious discussion about scientific endeavor.
This is how we do science and as a research scientist for now nearly 20 years it is certainly how I see science from the inside. This is not crank philosophy or something from the creationist movement, this is an intelligent discourse. It does not have any hidden relgious agenda. It just states that science is relativistic and science is relativistic, only very bad scientists would ever argue that they know the absolute truth.
More than this it is well written and accessible and it should be read much more widely. It certainly is a clearer view than Popper's and while they are different in some aspects they do not present a completely different view of science. Both agree that certainty does not exist.
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