In Chapter 12 of ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ Thomas Kuhn looks at the process of scientific revolutions as well as the characteristics of the players. The revolutionary scientists can be outside of the research community looking in and are in a position to challenge the paradigm. In a sense they are better suited at playing the role of critics of the paradigm which Kuhn asserts is necessary for a scientific revolution.
He also suggests to us three ways in which a scientific paradigm is established as the successor
1. The paradigm survives criticism (Popper’s falsifiability)
2. The paradigm is supported by most of the evidence (Probabilistic)
3. The paradigm is supported by all of the evidence (Categorical) which is less realistic
Does Neuroscience, a complex branch of science with an emerging identity fit in the above model. In other words if we take the above ingredients will we arrive at a new paradigm? I would argue that the answer is no. The reason is that Neuroscience has a central philosophical problem which is one of integration.
At present there are many theorems within the domain of Neuroscience contained within various scientific communities allied to Neuroscience. However although revolutions can occur within these communities (consistent with Kuhn’s model) the question of what this means to Neuroscience is still not solved. Suppose for example that a new mechanism for the storage of memory in the brain at the cellular level is identified. Suppose also that this challenges the central paradigm of long term potentiation (LTP). What does this mean for our understanding of the social brain? What does it mean for our understanding of the mind? Will it impact on these things at all?
At present Neuroscience is so complex that not only are there pressing philosophical problems but there are also problems associated with the social infrastructure. Solving these challenges will be both interesting and fruitful as it has the potential to benefit many areas of human endeavour and to impact on health and the treatment of illness.
Appendix 1 – Review of Chapter 12 of ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ on this Site
Chapter 12 in Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ is titled ‘The Resolution of Revolutions’. Kuhn suggests that those involved in scientific revolutions have characteristics which are different from those of scientists involved in ‘normal science’. Thus he suggests that such scientists are usually new to the field and for various reasons are not under an obligation to operate within the boundaries of the paradigm but instead are able to challenge the paradigm itself. He then goes onto talk about the validations of theories and this gets quite interesting. Kuhn categorises the validation approaches as follows
So the first question to ask about the validation process is whether or not a theory completely accounts for the experimental data. In a categorical model of theories, the theory would be expected to account for all of the data. However this would be unrealistic and Kuhn suggests instead that most scientists consider a probabilistic model of theory validation in which the theory accounts for most of the experimental findings. Another approach to validation of theories is also considered by Kuhn contrasting
1. Identification of evidence for the theory
A theory can thus be validated by the identification of supporting evidence or by surviving attempts to falsify the theory with experimental observations which do not fit with the theory’s predictions. The suggestion of a principle of falsification in science was developed by Karl Popper. Kuhn then refers back to anomalies in the experimental data which are sufficient to generate a challenge to the dominant paradigm. This allows the beginning of an appraisal of the paradigm itself but it is only when the conflicting paradigm is developed that the necessary debate can begin. Kuhn then gives some of the characteristics of the subsequent debate which results in the resolution of revolutions. This is an elegant chapter with Kuhn drawing together the threads from previous chapters into a narrative with powerful explanatory properties.
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