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Good, but be prepared to read between the lines.
on 7 August 2000
As anyone who invests the time to study the customer responses below will see, Kuhn has a lot of fans. I myself read the Structure of Scientific Revolutions back in my early student days, and at the time I was inclined to look on it quite favourably. Recently however, I decided to reread it, and now am no longer sure that I holds any philosophical water. Personally I would still say read this book - but do not accept everything it says uncritically - much of the underlying philosophical basis of the argument (the incommensurability of paradigms, the relationship between observation and theory, etc) is open to question.
Kuhn is also subject to multiple interpretations as a quote from below demonstrates:
(Gdyas) "Kuhn is NOT arguing that anything that silly socio-psychobabble that all science is colored by personal perspective, and therefore faulty. What Kuhn doing is making the essential connection between the immutable fact and the people discovering and interpreting it. Scientists collect facts and build from them an idea of how things work as a whole. This is what he calls a paradigm. It thoroughly describes our reality as we have thus far been able to describe it. BUT: when a fact is discovered that does not fit this paradigm, the reality itself is discarded, and after a bit of chaos, a new paradigm is installed. Thus, science uses fact to produce a way of interpreting the world that more and more closely approximates reality"
From my reading of Kuhn, I would regard the last sentence in particular as highly questionable as a summary of his views. Kuhn himself wrote:
"One often hears that successive theories grow ever closer to, or approximate more and more closely to, the truth. Apparently generalizations like that refer not to the puzzle-solutions and the concrete predictions derived from a theory but rather to it's ontology, to the match, that is, betwen the entities with which the theory populates nature and what is 'really there' ... There is I think no theory-independent way to reconstruct phrases like 'really there'. The notion of match between the ontology of a theory and its 'real' counterpart in nature now seems to me illusive in principle."
Many philosophers have commented after studying his work that there seem to be two Kuhn's - a moderate Kuhn who merely wishes to point out the extent to which our preconceptions can influence scientific theory choice and a more radical Kuhn who wishes to argue that our preconceptions are all there are. The problem of determining which Kuhn is the real Kuhn strikes me as a somewhat thankless task - I certainly would not like to attempt it. I do however, know that there are a number of points where I would disagree with the latter Kuhn - an instance of which being the degree to which the paradigm you are in shapes your perception of theory. Tom Maudlin expresses it better than I could,
"If presented with a moon rock, Aristotle would experience it as a rock, and as an object with a tendency to fall. He could not fail to conclude that the material of which the moon is made is not fundamentally different from terrestial material with respect to its natural motion. Similarly, ever better telescopes revealed more clearly the phases of venus, irrespective of one's preferred cosmology, and even Ptolemy would have remarked on the apparent rotation of a Foucault pendulum. The sense in which one's paradigm may influence one's experience of the world cannot be so strong as to guarentee that one's experience will always accord with one's theories, else the need to revise theories would never arise."
However for those who disagree with Tom here, I will close with the following enquiry from another good book 'Intellectual Impostures' by Sokal and Bricmont (from which the Maudlin quote was also taken):
"Research in history, and in particular in the history of science, employs methods that are not radically different from those used in the natural sciences: studying documents, drawing the most rational inferences, making inductions based on the available data, and so forth. If arguments of this type in physics and biology did not allow us to arrive at reasonably reliable conclusions, what reason would there be to trust them in history? Why speak in a realist mode about historical categories, such as paradigms, if it is an illusion to speak about scientific concepts (which are in fact much more precisely defined) such as electrons or DNA?"
I liked "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" - I think it is a book everyone should read at some point in their lives. Read, enjoy, and think. But especially the last of these three, and whatever you do don't (as some people who should know better are inclined to do) just name-drop it as some sort of infallible authority.