An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 1

The following is an attempt to interpret Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ using the framework of a discipline which is eclectic, pragmatic and empirical in approach. The starting point of this interpretation is a review of ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ which the interested reader will find via the link in the Appendix. This first part is a response to the introduction. Kuhn writes in the introduction that the social sciences produce a response different to that of Chemistry, Astronomy, Biology and Mathematics. Interestingly one fundamental difference between the social sciences and the latter group is that they become possible only when there are sufficient numbers of people to form a society and that they have a well-developed language for communication. In evolutionary terms, the understanding of the former group of sciences has an immediate adaptive value that can be used by small groups. More explicitly a knowledge of chemistry can occur preverbally and enables the so-called hunter-gatherer to identify and extract minerals and by combustion to transform them into useful materials. A knowledge of Astronomy is gained preverbally by simply gazing at the sky and over time coming to an understanding of the movements of the stars, as well as the course of the moon and the direction of the rising and setting of the sun. So intuitive is this that a knowledge of the sky is used by migrating birds in relating stars to the North star as a simple example of a species adapting to the predictability that nature has provided. A knowledge of plant biology is obviously essential to herbivores and omnivores as another example of this instinctual primacy. In this regards there is something very different about the social sciences in evolutionary terms. Although they include other species, many notable examples of studies in the social sciences relate to humans. Indeed whole domains of the social sciences are devoted to the characteristics of people and their interactions with each other on both small and large scales. Given the recency of human origins, in evolutionary terms these sciences relate to recent developments in the evolutionary timeline. Indeed over the course of this period there have been further changes which may have influenced the nature of these small and large scale interactions.

Another difference between the subject matter of these sciences is that the social sciences are a product of the complexity of the mind and the human mind in particular. In terms of adaptation to the environment the human mind  has demonstrated sophisticated properties. While the human mind may have evolved to make predictions about the immediate world making the above sciences informally indispensable the social sciences raise the question of how the mind can study itself which taken to extreme lengths can be implied to be a logical paradox depending on the instrument of measurement. Another aspect of the human mind is the ability to adapt and this property superficially at least distinguishes it from the stellar bodies continuing on their well-defined courses. The person gazing at the setting sun can choose to walk away or towards it or engage in many different behaviours thereby distinguishing the course of the sun from their more sophisticated behavioural repertoire. Nevertheless the same arguments about prediction can be applied to the mind in theoretical terms at least. In this regards the social sciences also present an existential challenge in that this same expansive behavioural repertoire is incorporated into aspects of shared identity and a careful study and elucidation of these same behavioural repertoires can be interpreted as a minimisation of these important aspects of shared identity. Taking this further such a study can be interpreted in terms of underlying agendas when the same adaptive properties of the mind may respond with the most well-developed of those same adaptive properties. Thus the social sciences possess many unique properties and face many unique challenges. Kuhn brings in the concept of paradigm changes in science while exploring these phenomenon. His work in some senses incorporates and regards the social sciences in coming to a better understanding of science.

Appendix

A Review of the Structure of Scientific Revolutions

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19 thoughts on “An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 1

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