August 31, 2013


Scientific Paradigms and Public Education (Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg, August 2013, Imaginative Conservative)

In 1962, historian of science Thomas S. Kuhn shocked the academic world with his book The Structures of Scientific Revolution. He asserted that scientific communities are closed-minded and promote convergent thinking as a function of dogma in scientific work. The jolt is that science is popularly thought of as promoting divergent thinking and open-minded inquiry. Kuhn concedes that in the beginning when questions are first arising around a subject this is the case, but once a field rounds up its foundational questions, it forms a set of assumptions that become the dogmatic underpinnings of that community. Kuhn explains that "a scientific community cannot practice its trade without some set of espoused beliefs."

Kuhn called these sets of assumptions scientific paradigms and though there has been much confusion about this word, by paradigm he meant two basic things. First, the notion of a model, a piece of work in a scientific discipline that serves as an example for other works in that discipline. Second, a disciplinary matrix or a view of the world and what an explanation of it should look like. He asserted that this is something you acquire as a result of having worked through typical questions in a particular discipline or community.

Kuhn characterized normal science as the work scientists do with a paradigm. The paradigm is a blueprint and the regular work of scientists is to solve puzzles that fill out the paradigm. If a scientist and his experiment do not prove the assumptions they are considered a failure, not the paradigm. These unsolved puzzles are rejected by the community, not based on whether or not they are true, but because they did not support the paradigm.

Over time the unsolved puzzles accumulate and eventually there are variations and a divergent view grows and leads to a paradigm breakdown and thus the ground is laid for revolt. This process leads to extraordinary science which aims at inculcating a replacement paradigm. Kuhn says that "a shift in professional commitments to shared assumptions takes place when an anomaly subverts the existing tradition of scientific practice."

These shifts are what Kuhn calls scientific revolutions. He noted that changes in science were less changes in reality than changes in fashion. His theory called into question the accepted notion that science is a rational approach to interpreting reality and asserts it is more of a social phenomenon similar to that of mob rule. An interesting fruit of the tree of Kuhn's theory is Scientific America's diatribe series against Ben Stein's movie Expelled.

To be a Christian is to believe in certain eternal truths. To be a Bright is to be just as devoted to the current scientific theory.

Posted by at August 31, 2013 9:55 AM

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