Category Archives: Book Review

Review of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ – Chapter 11

The 11th Chapter in Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ is titled ‘The Invisibility of Scientific Revolutions’. In this chapter Kuhn revisits the themes developed in earlier chapters. He explains that the celebrated scientific revolutions that he uses as examples are selected solely that the reader is already familiar with them. Kuhn suggests in this chapter that revolutions are invisible because of historical revisionism in science textbooks. His argument runs along the following lines. Firstly assuming that scientists and laypeople use textbooks as the primary source of learning about a scientific field then the presentation of the field within the textbooks is of central importance. Secondly Kuhn suggests that there is a central assumption that science is independent of the historical context (note that he himself does not hold this view). Thirdly Kuhn argues that when a revolution has occurred there is a need to rewrite the science textbooks. This rewriting follows a pattern. Thus the central problems which were solved in order to create the paradigm change are reframed as the only problems that existed prior to the paradigm change. The main scientific players are then described in relation to this problem solving exercise. Fourthly through this revisionism science is presented as a cumulative endeavour whereby incremental improvements in solutions to central problems lead to the paradigm change. In this manner the subtleties around the scientific revolution become invisible. Kuhn gives examples to support his argument about the importance of historical context in scientific revolutions. This chapter addresses an important criticism of Kuhn’s central arguments namely that scientific revolutions are portrayed as cumulative developments of scientific knowledge rather than transformational paradigm shifts. Kuhn’s response is to characterise the simplistic narratives as examples of historical revisionism and he emphasises the importance of context in interpreting scientific revolutions.

References

Thomas Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Narrated by Dennis Holland. (Paperback originally published in 1962). Audible. 2009.

Appendix

For a review of the Introduction see here.

For a review of Chapter 1 see here.

For a review of Chapter 2 see here.

For a review of Chapter 3 see here.

For a review of Chapter 4 see here.

For a review of Chapter 5 see here.

For a review of Chapter 6 see here.

For a review of Chapter 7 see here.

For a review of Chapter 8 see here.

For a review of Chapter 9 see here.

For a review of Chapter 10 see here.

In Support of Method – Critique of Feyerebend’s ‘Against Method’ see here.

An index of the site can be found here. The page contains links to all of the articles in the blog in chronological order. Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

Review of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ – Chapter 9

Chapter 9 is titled ‘The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions’ in which Kuhn he further discusses the nature of scientific revolutions. An important feature of this chapter is that Kuhn draws parallels between scientific and political revolutions. To support this analogy he explains how within political organisations and scientific communities groups arise with significantly different values from the mainstream. The scientific communities and political parties are housed within the institutions and the new movements are not able to successfully challenge within these institutions but must instead separate from these institutions with the support of their proponents. However Kuhn is careful to distinguish between scientifc and political revolutions. With scientific revolutions there are fundamental features of nature at play which determine the course of events. For instance the scientific paradigm is challenged by an anomaly which becomes a central feature of the new paradigm. The anomaly is a feature of nature and the paradigm which successfully explains the analogy replaces the old paradigm rather than resulting from a cumulative change in the old paradigm. Essentially there is a transformation of paradigms rather than a cumulative change. The logical positivists challenge this assertion by arguing for instance that Newtonian mechanics is a special case of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Kuhn takes time to address this and argues that the restriction that is placed on the Theory of Relativity impinges on the utility of this theory under these constraints. Furthermore the paradigm changes also extend to the rules governing the behaviour of scientists in the scientific community. The proponents of the different paradigms are unable to hold joint discussions since they operate within different frameworks with divergent views which cannot be resolved.

The anomaly therefore is the determining factor in the competition between paradigms as ultimately it is this  anomaly which highlights the problems in the old paradigm and is explained in the succeeding paradigm and this in turn is a feature of nature. I think this perhaps is the most significant differentiator between political and scientific movements assuming of course that the properties of group behaviour are not deterministic but instead are contingent on the interplay between the properties of memes and the properties of the group. Even here however darwinists would argue that memes demonstrate selective fitness and are therefore subject to general principles which with some work can be identified.

Kuhn‘s has produced a very deep work. A chapter such as this can be read repeatedly and still offer new insights. The analogies themselves give the reader the opportunity to use their knowledge of parallel systems to further understand the central arguments. Feyerabend’s ‘Against Method’ (see Appendix below for review) in comparison draws on some of Kuhn’s work but reduces the central argument to a simple premise which is significantly easier to challenge. The inter-relatedness of Kuhn’s chapters provides, I think a stark contrast which hints at the ‘Gestalt’ that Kuhn discusses in the previous chapter.

References

Thomas Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Narrated by Dennis Holland. (Paperback originally published in 1962). Audible. 2009.

Appendix

For a review of the Introduction see here.

For a review of Chapter 1 see here.

For a review of Chapter 2 see here.

For a review of Chapter 3 see here.

For a review of Chapter 4 see here.

For a review of Chapter 5 see here.

For a review of Chapter 6 see here.

For a review of Chapter 7 see here.

For a review of Chapter 8 see here.

In Support of Method – Critique of Feyerebend’s ‘Against Method’ see here.

An index of the site can be found here. The page contains links to all of the articles in the blog in chronological order. Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

Review of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ – Chapter 8

In Chapter 8 of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ is titled ‘The Response to Crisis’. Whereas in Chapter 7, Kuhn focuses on how the crisis in science arises in this chapter he elaborates on how the scientific community responds to this crisis. He makes the interesting point that in criticising one theory the scientist must propose an alternative otherwise this is not the pursuit of science.  What is also interesting is that he suggests that when this competitive process ends, the branch of science becomes static and in the example he gives it becomes a ‘research tool’. Kuhn suggests that there are always discrepancies even in the most successful of paradigms. With a move towards crisis there are increasingly divergent explanations and there is a loss of identity within the field. Indeed Kuhn maintains that all crises involve a blurring of paradigms. The crises are closed in one of three ways. In the first case, the crisis is handled. In the second scenario there is a resistance to radical approaches. In the final scenario the crisis leads to the emergence of a new candidate for paradigm.

Kuhn then goes onto discuss commentators on the field who refer to Gestalt theory in which a visual perception is dependent on the whole rather than part of an object. So if the reader looks at the cube below, the lower square face can be interpreted either as sitting at the front of the cube or the back of the cube. In both cases the square takes on a different meaning within the whole object that is perceived. In the same manner Kuhn suggests that new paradigms lead to a different way of seeing a body of empirical facts. He is quick to point out however that this is a crude analogy and that scientists do not quickly switch back and forth between paradigms. Nevertheless it illustrates the essence of his arguments well.

 

Alan De Smet, ‘Multistability‘ (Public Domain)

 

Kuhn then goes on to say that the scientist having identifed the anamoly central to a crisis will go on to explore the anomaly and to better characterise it. In crisis, speculative theories multiply and increase the chance of a successful paradigm being reached. He also suggests that philosophical enquiry into assumptions can challenge some of the tenets of the current paradigm. Finally Kuhn finishes by commenting that many scientists leading to scientific revolutions are deeply immersed in crisis and they are either very young or new to the field in change which he interprets to mean that there thinking has not been shaped by the component rules of a paradigm. However Charles Darwin would be a notable exception having published ‘On the Origin of Species’ at a mature age and with a comprehensive knowledge of the related fields in biology. Nevertheless there are numerous counterexamples and the main result of this chapter is that Kuhn provides the reader with very effective tools for thinking about science in transition.

* One thought I had here was that in the very early stages of a science there must be a lot of theories that are initially developed but which are quickly shaped by the experimental facts. In this way many theories would exist before quickly falling to experimental findings in which case there would be a ‘survival of the fittest’ theories  which are tested against each other. This has a number of implications.

Firstly that a philosophical system might define this pre-science phase in which a large number of theories exist without being tested against the experimental facts. The brain’s analytical and other abilities are used as an alternative to hypothesis testing in the real world in order to generate ‘realistic’ solutions based on experience and intuition. As time proceeds and assuming the system has an efficient or effective ‘memory’ and scientific enquiry produces a growing body of empirical facts the competitive process in which proponents of different models challenge each other’s models and refine their own leads to ‘fitter’ models (using evolutionary terms). However these models are adapted to the empirical facts which in turn are a byproduct of the initial enquiries in this area.In this manner, mathematics might offer the best ‘starting conditions’ for this philosophical enquiry as these starting conditions give philosophical enquiry the least opportunity for diverging from reality using such an approach.

Secondly fitter theories might well diverge significantly from an explanation of reality depending on their starting conditions although there might be other phenomenon which curtail that line of enquiry as this divergence becomes more evident. What this would also mean is that the development of the most effective scientific theories is not only a measure of how effectively a theory fits with the empirical data but is also a marker of how effectively a theory keeps the focus on the empirical data in which the theory initially flourished as well as a measure of how effectively the theory recruits and retains proponents.

References

Thomas Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Narrated by Dennis Holland. (Paperback originally published in 1962). Audible. 2009.

Appendix

For a review of the Introduction see here.

For a review of Chapter 1 see here.

For a review of Chapter 2 see here.

For a review of Chapter 3 see here.

For a review of Chapter 4 see here.

For a review of Chapter 5 see here.

For a review of Chapter 6 see here.

For a review of Chapter 7 see here.

An index of the site can be found here. The page contains links to all of the articles in the blog in chronological order. Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.