The Structure of Scientific Revolutions | Study Guide

Thomas Kuhn

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The Structure of Scientific Revolutions | Summary

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Summary

Preface–Chapter 4

Scientists work within a community. This community adheres to a shared set of beliefs and practices that direct their work. These beliefs and practices, in turn, are introduced and inculcated to a budding scientist during his or her academic training. Later, these beliefs and practices are perpetuated in the scientist's work, which Thomas S. Kuhn refers to as "normal science."

During the course of normal science, professionals solve problems successfully in large part because of the exacting framework provided. Rather than encourage the possibility of new discoveries, this framework dictates a "strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education."

Chapter 5–Chapter 8

Anomalies, however, can lead to profound interruptions of normal science. These interruptions undermine the shared assumptions in the current scientific endeavor. The resulting shift of thinking is what Kuhn calls a "scientific revolution." The assumptions and facts of the existing paradigm are reevaluated and reconstructed, although the process is fraught with the tension created by resistance to it. The new paradigm often solves extant puzzles better than the previous one.

Paradigms provide scientists with ways to explain nature. They are models of how the world works, or is expected to work. Another way to think about paradigms is as authoritative examples of how "to do" science. They provide unity to the research conducted, without which there would be discrete, disconnected observations. Moreover, the paradigm provides a standard by which the correctness of observations can be determined. The observations themselves fit or do not fit the existing paradigm. The more observations that do not fit the paradigm, the more likely it is the current paradigm is an inadequate model of reality.

A crisis occurs when a sufficient number of anomalies defy the existing paradigm such that a new paradigm is sought to explain the existing observations. As the new paradigm is secured, practitioners reevaluate and reinterpret previous research. This is called "real" research, as opposed to the "puzzle-solving" that is the "normal science" in which scientists are trained under existing paradigms. In this new state new questions are asked and answered. For example, Newton's explanation of the solar system established a new paradigm. Research conducted using the new paradigm predicted then-unknown planets, such as Neptune and Uranus.

Chapter 9–Chapter 13

One implication of paradigm shifts is incommensurability. Because paradigms are products of their age—culture, language, and so forth—they produce ideas that are not translatable into past language. Therefore, science does not proceed in the way suggested by the textbooks used to instruct science students.

Science progresses to the extent its paradigms offer increasingly more sophisticated explanations of nature. This does not mean scientists are reaching a full understanding of nature—the process is not teleological, but evolutionary. Thus, the "resolution of revolutions is selection by conflict ... of the fittest way to practice future science." The process suggests that, taken together, the "net result of ... revolutionary selections ... is the ... set of instruments we call modern scientific knowledge." There is, then, no fixed scientific truth at which scientific activity aims, such that each paradigm and its results are better than those that came before. In other words science does not move along a linear path of progress but within multiple iterative paths of discovery.

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