An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 5

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 reader will find via the link in the Appendix. This fifth part is a response to Chapter 4 of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’. My understanding of this Chapter in Kuhn’s work is that there is a central paradigm which consists of a central model or set of statements. The model or statements exist within a larger more informal set of rules or assumptions. Thus any successful revolution is not simply a matter of improving upon the central model but also needs to address the surrounding infrastructure which is not just theoretical but also permeates the scientific community. The paradigm also determines which puzzles are considered solvable by the scientific community. This means that scientists may consider questions in light of the paradigm which they are working in and will discount potentially important questions on the basis that they are not thought to be solvable within the paradigm.

There are a number of factors which will lead to scientists considering puzzles solvable. These include the human and financial resources needed, the technical limitations of scientific equipment that is readily available as well as the prevailing values within the scientific community. For all of these factors there are variations within the scientists or departments which enable variation in the puzzles that are selected. We might expect that for each of the factors, the main qualities can be graphed and would form a normalised distribution. For instance, the funding in a department for solving a particular puzzle might show such a distribution. If these factors are normally distributed then the puzzles that can be solved might be those that require resources that fall within the peak of the distribution. Framing this in concrete terms, it may be that the community is more likely to select a puzzle that requires an average of two scientists working over a 2 year period with specific readily available equipment and a budget within a defined range. This would increase the likelihood of reproducibility. When any of these factors lie outside of the 95% confidence interval for these factors it would reduce the likelihood of reliability and perhaps even acceptance of the results within the community.


Review of Chapter 4

Chapter 4 in Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ is a fairly brief chapter or essay as he also refers to it. In this chapter, Kuhn suggests that a scientific community solves puzzles. These puzzles are problems that need to be solved within a framework of rules. Kuhn suggest that the scientific community chooses puzzles that they think are solvable. Thus there are the explicit clearly articulated central problems lying within the informal framework of rules. As a result seemingly straightforward amendments of solutions to problems do not work in the scientific community if they do not also address the surrounding framework of rules. Kuhn gives the example of a suggested amendment to Newton’s inverse square law of gravitation which would have enabled researchers to derive the orbit of the moon from Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation. The amendment was ignored by the research community and other findings eventually enabled the derivation to occur without this move away from the central paradigm. Kuhns ideas here form a profound basis for consideration of scientific activities. Such questions can be turned to specific branches of science. We can begin to ask about the rules that govern research in certain areas of psychiatry for instance or reflect on the meaning of the open science movement. We can also ask use these concepts to differentiate science from other social activities.

Related Resources on the TAWOP Site

A Review of the Structure of Scientific Revolutions

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 1

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 2

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 3

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 4

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here 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 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.


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