The Structure of Scientific Revolutions | Study Guide

Thomas Kuhn

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The Structure of Scientific Revolutions | Chapter 10 : Revolutions as Changes of World View | Summary



Post-revolution, scientists observe a world different from the one they knew previously. Familiar objects are suddenly seen anew, and unfamiliar objects are revealed. It is akin to a perceptual perspective shift, where the world hasn't changed, but one's perception of it has. How does this shift occur? It isn't scientists now interpret observations differently from each other, since the observations are always conducted within the shared framework of the existing paradigm. Consequently, the interpretations only articulate the paradigm; they do not correct it by way of new interpretations. It is possible physiological factors contribute to the change, but there is presently no evidence of such, given the technological limitations of attempting to observe it. Kuhn thinks the shift occurs because the existing paradigm no longer fits—or rather, nature no longer fits the paradigm.

The occasion of the change could be attributed to genius, or a flash of intuition, allowing someone to recognize an anomaly as significantly different from other observations. In any case Kuhn thinks the change itself is something like a gestalt shift illustrated by the duck-rabbit. Depending on how one focuses, one sees a duck or one sees a rabbit. At first the scientist sees only the duck or the rabbit, not both. Indeed, prior to the revolution, it was not possible to see both. Now, post-revolution, both can be seen simultaneously.


This chapter is perhaps the most overtly reflective of Kuhn's efforts to put the focus of scientific development on the scientific community itself. In other words the mythology of science as a cumulative series of rationally directed advancements toward a complete articulation of nature is upended by the way science is actually done. Assuming Kuhn is correct, when a scientist's worldview changes—that is, when a new paradigm provides an equally new framework to conduct scientific investigations—the world itself appears to change.

Of course, this does not imply the scientist makes the world. Kuhn seems to think the paradigm change is initiated by the way the world is, and the scientific community simply comes to terms with how this changes their thinking about the world. Nevertheless, the popular narrative has always been the framework within which a scientist thinks about the world never changes, but rather previously unknown objects and events are now known. Kuhn upends this framework with the consequence people think differently about the scientific process.

What Kuhn does imply is the scientist's understanding of the world is limited by the paradigm in which he or she works. That thought is disturbing to many, because it narrows the scientific world, a supposedly limitless universe, to a historically defined moment in time and space.

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