Sunday, October 03, 2004

Alright, Sunday night and I'm ready to get cracking on some of my writing. Hopefully, these reviews serve some purpose to you, makigirl, as it will save you from having to read all this stuff I ramble on about. I think I can be a bit more clear in this format. Also, then I'll have all this stuff cataloged and searchable (thanks google! :)) for future use, I'm imagining that my memory won't be photographic forever. So. . .

"The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas S. Kuhn

Chapter 1:
In this chapter, TK makes the case for an historical perspective of science. By historical he means something more than just the collection of facts and figures. From his first sentence, "History, if veiwed as a repository for more than anecdote of chronology, could produce a decive transformation in the image of science that we are now possessed." He draws the disticntion between the way that a true history would look at science and the way that a textbook presents the history of science. Again, from page 1, "Inevitably, however, the aim of such books is persuasive and pedagogic; a concept of science drawn from them is no more likely to fit the enterprise taht produced them than an image of a national culture drawn from a tourist brouchure or a language text." The use of textbooks by scientists to smooth over the transitions in science's past will be examined in a very interesting way later in the book.

When viewed through the lens of a textbook, where scientific progress is presented as a slow, but direct accumulation of facts, the study of the history of science becomes, "the discipline that chronacles both these successive increments and the obstacles that have inhibited their accumulation." Furthermore, the historian must "describe and explain the congeries of error, myth, and superstition that have inhibed the more rapid accumulation of the constituents of the modern science text."

Why didn't we know more earilier? Why didn't the Greeks discover Oxygen? Why didn't the Romans build rocket ships? As historians examine the world views of these ancient cultures (or even non-ancient scientists), it becomes harder to dismiss them as purely myth and miguided intuition. Aristotelian dynamics was scientific, and did describe much of the world in the same manner as General Relativity does now. According to TK, "Out of date theories are not in principle unscientific because they have been discarded. That choice, however, makes it difficult to see scientific development as a process of accretion."

What does scientific development look like then? Kuhn suggests that modern (remember this was written in 1962) views "the historical integrity of that science in its own time." When viewed from this perspective, the progress of science becomes a series of leaps and bounds made between competing groups.

TK separates the process of these leaps and bounds into a number of categories, which he then will describe in order through the book. To first have what TK decribes as a "normal science", the investigators of a certain set of phenomena have to agree on their basic conception of the world. Questions such as "What are the fundemental entities of which the univers is composed? How do these interact with each other and with the senses? What questions may be legitimately be asked about such entites and what techniques employed in seeking solutions? must be answered in order for science to proceed.

At this point TK proposes that "normal science" proceeds. In this era, questions that are proposed by the world view (which will later be known as a paradigm) are answered. The world view provides the manner in which the questions will be asked, and gives the investigator an idea of what the answer to their research question will be. I find this idea very intrigueing. Although we are told we are to do original research for our Ph.D. degree, rarely do we ever do truly original research. Our research is proscribed by the paradigm, and typically, if we are smart, we know the result before we start. If we receive an answer that is not what we expect, we tend to blame ourselves or our equipment, not the paradigm.

However, eventually, if a number of research questions are unanswered satisfactorily by the paradigm, then TK proposes that the science will go into a period of "crisis". This period is when people start activily questioning the paradigm instead of thier results. A second competing paradigm can arise and challenge for the minds of the scientific community. TK will spend the end of the book addressing these paradigmatic challenges and how the winning and losing paradigms are incorporated by the community.

Stay tuned for Chapter 2. . .


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