The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions Analysis Philosophy Essay
From my experience, the goal of science is to build knowledge and understanding, regardless of how it is eventually applied. As students, we all learned the elementary version of the scientific method while working in chemistry labs. We learned to trust science, science is accurate. Some scientists and philosophers have tried to draw a line between "hard" sciences (e.g., chemistry and physics) and "soft" ones (e.g., psychology and sociology). The thinking was that hard science used more rigorous, quantitative methods than soft science did and so were more trustworthy. In fact, the rigor of a scientific study has much more to do with the investigator's approach than with the discipline.
Through his historical exposition in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn immediately debunks the myth of accuracy for something much more imperative. And though he presents a number of awe-striking ideas, I believe his most prevalent and pervasive imperative is simply about “progress” through the lens of hard scientists by doing what they do best, research, triggered by an anomaly or crisis. By showing examples from this book and the social sciences, my goal is to demonstrate the applicability of the scientific process in both the hard and soft scientific communities. I will also highlight that Kuhn may not have been as progressive as he may have considered himself. This essay will discuss the following three points: the trigger of an anomaly, when an anomaly becomes a crisis, and lastly provide an alternative approach Kuhn could have perhaps used to demonstrate true progress in this thinking.
The trigger of an anomaly. Before I talk about the trigger of an anomaly on the scientific discovery process, I first must bind it to its fundamental overarching umbrella – the paradigm, a term that relates closely to “normal science” (Kuhn, 1996, p. 10). “A paradigm is a set of agreed upon practices that establishes the boundaries of a particular scientific community at a particular point in time” (Wiki, June 16, 2010, para. 4). Paradigms are not static; they change based on acceptable evidence. Kuhn demonstrated that the scientific community progresses and advances most earnestly when an anomaly is recognized. According to Kuhn, “discovery commences with the awareness of anomaly ,… continues with more or less extended exploration of the area of the anomaly and closes only when the paradigm theory has been adjusted” (p. 53).
The first example of an anomaly is when Kuhn talks about the accidental discovery of the X-ray by Roentgen. During a normal investigation of cathode rays, Roentgen interrupted his work when he noticed that something (an anomaly) occurred that was not planned. His barium platinum-cyanide screen, though some distance from his shielded apparatus glowed when the discharge was in progress. Intrigued by this anomaly, Roentgen’s investigation eventually concluded that the effect was not due to cathode rays but to an agent with at least some similarity to light (Kuhn p.57). He had, in essence, discovered the X-ray. In this example, the perception that something had gone wrong (an anomaly) was … the prelude to the discovery” and the result was a new paradigm within Roentgen’s scientific community (p. 57).
The anomaly is phenomenon is relevant to the social sciences, inferred by Katz and Kahn (1978) when they state that all social systems, including organizations, consist of the patterned activities of a number of individuals. I equate this statement, and more specifically the words “patterned activities” to Kuhn’s use of the word paradigm. A great example is that of “Phineas Gage, perhaps the most famous person ever to survive such a severe injury to the brain. He is also the first patient from which medical and social science learned something about the relation between personality and the function of the frontal lobe of the human brain. In addition, Gage was able to study the human brain and discovered many important functions relating to cognition, and neurosciences studies led to the understanding the importance of areas of the brain helping medical science also find answers about the workings of the brain” (Tarver, 2010, “Important Discoveries,” para.1). When anomalies multiply or linger over time, a crisis evolves.
The Crisis. During the scientific discovery process, an anomaly may last for some time or there is a proliferation of versions of a theory. This proliferation is generally a symptom that the scientific community is in crisis (Kuhn, 1996). Kuhn was often enthusiastic as he spoke of the scientific community in a state of crisis. I found his statement “the significance of crisis is the indication they provide that an occasion for retooling has arrived” as an omnipotent driver for change, for progress. It is during these times the scientific community rallies together or breaks apart, explores new theories, new rules and new evidence in order to solve the “puzzle” …and it ends only when the majority learns to see in a new way as a collective body (p. 75).
The second example by Kuhn is the discovery of oxygen by Lavoisier. After discovering oxygen, Lavoisier wanted to explain the phenomena of weight gain that most bodies experienced when they burned or roasted. A number of scientists had made a number of competing conclusions over the years. According to Kuhn, these initially adequate responses to the problem of weight-gain became increasingly difficult to maintain for a number of different reasons. Even Lavoisier had dealt with this problem for years, experimented with many different versions of the phlogiston theory and encountered a number of problems that made it harder to know what the phlogiston theory was. Though still believed and trusted as a working tool, a paradigm of eighteenth-century chemistry was gradually losing its unique status and the research it guided resembled that conducted under the competing schools of the pre-paradigm period, another typical effect of crisis (pp. 71 – 72).
In reading Katz and Kahn (1978) crisis happens in the psychology of organizations. They refer to this new way of seeing things as “a new organizational baseline being established”. Let’s consider Functionalism. Functionalism was a practical orientation which led psychologists toward applying psychology to real problems, thus applied psychology flourished (Koch & Leary, pp. 288-290; & Schultz & Schultz, pp. 142-169). Additionally, William James (1842-1910) was the leading American precursor of functional psychology and the pioneer of the new scientific psychology. He opened an American laboratory at Harvard University and treated psychology as a natural and biological science. For James, mental life was a unity rather than a reduction of
Darwinism or the application of human nature and scoeity.application of evolution to human nature and society, became popular in America. experience to elements. He coined the phrase, stream of consciousness, to point out that total experience changes and flows like a stream. He referred to comparative scientific methods in psychology with regard to animals, infants, the mentally disturbed. His views on emotions were also a famous theoretical contribution. He effected thousands of students and shifted psychology away from the structuralist view toward the formal founding of functionalism (Koch & Leary, pp. 289; & Schultz & Schultz, pp. 173-185).
As progressive as he was, the following example illustrates his lack of progress and the possibility that he may have been trapped by the paradigm of a male-dominated scientific community and his sexist undertone and continuous reference to the “men of science”. I know the majority of our great scientists have been men. However, I am extremely disappointed with the obvious omission of any examples or reference to the great contributions of female scientists from that era. For example, Kuhn could have included Emilie Marquise du Chatelet, a French mathematician and physicist whose views on the vis viva (momentum) opposed those of Newton and ultimately proved to be correct or the sister of Sir William Herschel (whom he mentioned several times), Caroline Lucretia Herschel, an accomplished astronomer in her own right who discovered eight comets (“Four Thousand Years,” 2009). It would have been an excellent opportunity for him to add credence to the women’s movement in the early sixties at the time this essay was first released (1962) and still make his point. It is obvious, however, that he was not writing to the emerging female scientists of the time.
Kuhn’s essay was simultaneously challenging and inspiring. He had a number of insights but I believe the essence of all the documentation was a historical reflection on how the natural sciences continue to evolve, progress and eventual accept a new
state of being; a new paradigm. The case of discovery through an anomaly or crisis occurs more frequently than the impersonal standards of scientific reporting allows us to easily realize. I am no expert but I believe that the paradigmatic state he continuously refers to is very applicable to the social sciences as well as organizations and I tried to make that connection in several instances. I do not think any discipline can afford to remain static and not evolve over time. The process of advancement or progress may be different than it is in the natural science community, but the end result I believe is the same - a collective group of members of any discipline who fundamentally see the world the same way adhere to a particular paradigm. Kuhn’s essay encouraged me to critically reflect upon how I can serve as an agent for change, advancement, and progress in my organization and facilitate a “paradigm shift” in the thinking of my contemporaries.