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Ken G
#51
May3-08, 10:05 PM
PF Gold
P: 3,080
I'd rather simply look at the history of physics. I presume that's what Kuhn claims to have done, but I submit he was mostly seeing the inside of his glasses.

Of course I won't make that accusation without an effort to back it up. I'll just look at the introduction to Kuhn's views found at the website http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/kuhnsyn.html,
annotated by my personal impressions of the value of the content:
A scientific community cannot practice its trade without some set of received beliefs.
Painfully obvious, but I'll grant the latitude to start with a meaningless "motherhood remark" to set the stage.
These beliefs form the foundation of the "educational initiation that prepares and licenses the student for professional practice".
Immediately we find a significant error in Kuhn's impression of what science education is about. Kuhn appears to think that science education is solely about propagating a body of scientific knowledge. That is indeed a big part of it, but by no means all. An extremely important aspect of any good science education, which Kuhn seems to miss, is the teaching of the scientific method and how to do science, i.e., how to add to or change that "educational initiation". Rather major oversight there.
The nature of the "rigorous and rigid" preparation helps ensure that the received beliefs are firmly fixed in the student's mind.
Same comment-- Kuhn just doesn't get it. Indeed, one of the most important advantages that science has over, say, religion, which I convey to my students and I know I'm not alone, is that science is allowed to be wrong-- because it is self-correcting and it evolves. In short, it is not "rigid" at all. How could Kuhn miss one of the most important of all elements of science, and still count himself an authority on it? Even in my own short career in astronomy I have witnessed countless examples of the flexibility of science. Sorry Kuhn, that's a miss.
Scientists take great pains to defend the assumption that scientists know what the world is like...To this end, "normal science" will often suppress novelties which undermine its foundations.
Now we find some significant errors in logic. Yes, scientists do attempt to convey a sense what they have learned is of value, but partly that stems from demonstrated results (men on the Moon, etc.) and partly that is common to all propagated human pursuits. It's a lousy pedagogical stance to start out with "don't take anything I say seriously, it's all basically baloney. Now, here's the syllabus....". The error in the logic is the implication that scientists effort to convince students there is value in a body of scientific knowledge somehow provides the reason that "novelties" are suppressed. That is flat false. Any real scientist is quite well aware of why novelties are suppressed-- they are vastly likely to be of no value at all, and most educators have enough trouble getting across what has been proven to be valuable. Why on Earth would any intelligent person look for any reason other than that? Too obvious?
Research is therefore not about discovering the unknown, but rather "a strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education".
Now the logic takes another step into fantasy land. I thought that people like Kuhn were supposed to understand logic, even if they don't know much physics. This is obviously the fallacy of the neglected middle, where Kuhn says essentially that since scientists don't give equal time to crackpot theories that would completely derail the progress of science, the only other possibility is that they set out entirely to maintain the status quo in scientific thought. To me that sounds like he knows little of either science or logic. How did he get to be so famous? Tell me this summary is way off base, because I'm not impressed.

In my experience, all scientists revere to the point of deification the people who have broken out of the boxes. We recognize that not only are our models limited by our intelligence, but also our intelligence is limited by our models, so we need geniuses to break through those limitations and we strongly encourage such geniuses to step forward and do just that. Unfortunately, there tends to be a concept that anyone who says something that disagrees with the mainstream must be such a genius, even if what they are saying makes no sense at all and doesn't even agree with existing observations. So what value does Kuhn's point really have?
A shift in professional commitments to shared assumptions takes place when an anomaly undermines the basic tenets of the current scientific practice. These shifts are what Kuhn describes as scientific revolutions - "the tradition-shattering complements to the tradition-bound activity of normal science".
This is probably the idea that made Kuhn famous, and here he is actually on to something. Yes, scientific advancement is not always the gradual and steady progress that it is sometimes portrayed by people who know little about it (again, not by any science educators I know). So that point is worth making, and if Kuhn made it first, good for him. Nowadays it is perfectly standard in any scientific education process, even for nonscientists (just look up "Galileo" or "Darwin" in any general education syllabus).

New assumptions –"paradigms" - require the reconstruction of prior assumptions and the re-evaluation of prior facts. This is difficult and time consuming. It is also strongly resisted by the established community.
Again we have an improper insinuation here. This is like saying "tearing down your house and building a new one would be costly and time-consuming, so is strongly resisted by homeowners". The appropriate response to that observation is "duh".

But I guess I'm getting off topic-- perhaps we need a new thread on Kuhn (if there isn't one).