Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Progress in science

  1. May 6, 2013 #1
    Does mainstream thinking, following the crowd as it were, produce breakthroughs in science, or is it "out of the box" thinking that gives impetus to progress?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 6, 2013 #2
    If you're asking if any scientific breakthroughs have occurred by a day dreaming layman, it'd say likely very few.

    If you are asking if many scientific breakthroughs have occurred by mainstream educated scientists with creative minds, then I'd say quite a bit more.

    The error is in thinking that being mainstream inhibits creativity. When the truth is that all that is mainstream today was a creative "breakthrough" in the past. Mainstream science is a collection of breakthroughs. Science is creating breakthroughs at record pace if you read the news, so I don't understand how someone could think that following a past collection of breakthroughs somehow restricts the ability to achieve future breakthroughs.
    Last edited: May 6, 2013
  4. May 6, 2013 #3
    That's not always what (big file) Thomas Kuhn page 90 observes:

  5. May 6, 2013 #4
    Both. Each are important and neither can be neglected. Kuhn called these "Normal Science" and "Paradigm Shifts". These terms are popularized in his book, its a good read - The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
  6. May 6, 2013 #5


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    That does not imply that they weren't completely versed in the state of the art, it just means they made their mark soon after finishing their formal educations: 30 year olds, not 50 year olds.
  7. May 6, 2013 #6
    Oh I don't know,

    Just some loose thoughts from the sofa.

    Suppose that A is assumed to be a fact, but it's wrong. However way back, when A was hypothezed, the scientific tools were not sharp enough to realize that A was wrong. Actually, less accurate tools made it reasonable and logical that A could be right. And since A was put forward by a real authority, it became the truth and it entered the textbooks. All hypothetically.

    Now to finish a formal education, you'd have to learn about A. It would be an exam question and since it's in the textbooks, after your education A is one of the axioms, nobody should dare to challenge.

    Now picture somebody who has to chose between careers. She choses another career path but she always keeps interest in that other branch of science with the wrong A. She doesn't read those textbooks but occasionally she reads scientific publications and abstracts in which sometimes A is challenged: "Despite this and that we could not reproduce A, however this and that factor may have been obscuring the outcome and we model that blah blah".

    Now our scientist in the other branch -not biased by erratic textbook wishdom- may get curious. Why is she always reading that A can't be reproduced? An she may -after being retired- just dig in it and find out unbiasedly why A is wrong.

    She may be a little older than 30 years or even 50 years.

    Maybe this is a little the case if we substitute "she" for Alfred Wegener perhaps.

    Oh and she is definitely not a daydreaming laywoman of course. Just a sceptical hard worker.
    Last edited: May 6, 2013
  8. May 6, 2013 #7


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I agree. I have two primary patents I'll be working on very soon. Both are incredibly simple devices.

    This first, required a simple component, which I was familiar with from my navy days, and uses it in a novel new device.

    The second could have only jumped into my head, because of my knowledge of the limitations of Carnot's heat engine equation. It was quite the "Eureka!" moment. Had I not known about Carnot, the usefulness and revolutionary potential, of this simple everyday device, used in a novel way, would have flown right over my head.

    BTW, both are outside my primary field of expertise. And I'm 54. Today, coincidentally.

    Though I should mention the second idea is a component of my primary focus of research, which I've been working on for at least 7 years.

    Posted: Dec 8, 2007
    My PF join date: Dec 7, 2007

    ps. Although I did spend 6 years in the school of Electrical Engineering, I consider myself a PF educated scientist. :smile:
    Last edited: May 6, 2013
  9. May 6, 2013 #8
    You seem to be missing that theories are still being tested by scientists every day. There are still many tests for relativity theory and quantum theory, for example. And they're done by experts in the fields. People who are not experts in the field won't be able to do such experiments.
  10. May 6, 2013 #9


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    (To Andre)
    Doesn't sound to me like an accurate biography, nor a good example of (greg's interpretation of) what the OP is after.

    It may be an example of establishment dogma for an idea, but it isn't an example of a layperson breaking the paradigm.
  11. May 6, 2013 #10
    No that's exactly what I mean:

    Just not all science is physics.

    Maybe check out the cargo cult address of Feynman.

  12. May 6, 2013 #11
    Depends what a lay persons definition is. The scientist educated in another branch (Wegener - meteorology) causing a paradigm shift in another branch (geophysics).

    Looking at the OP, out of the box thinking, sure the axiom is that you have to know where the box is before you can think out of it. But you can focus on an A and build the box next to find out that A does not fit in that box.
  13. May 6, 2013 #12
    Let me give an real world example of what I mean.

    Bjorck et al 2002, Anomalously mild Younger Dryas summer conditions in southern Greenland. Geology doi: 10.1130/0091-7613(2002)​030<0427:AMYDSC>​2.0.CO;2 v. 30 no. 5 p. 427-430

    Oh dear, their results are so totally absolutely at odds with textbooks paradigms that they haste to explain it with modeling. But what is the truth? What would our heroine do with fact A being wrong?

    And again daydreaming won't get you anywhere here.
  14. May 6, 2013 #13
    Somebody not educated at a university at all, at least not in any STEM field.
  15. May 6, 2013 #14


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I think there might be a problem of how people use words like "breakthrough" in texts describing scientific discoveries. Some people interpret that as waking up one day, thought of something and the whole field turns upside down in the blink of an eye.
    At least from what the ones I've seen, every discovery is an iteration of previous work. Adding a bit of something new to make them slightly better at explaining more stuff.
  16. May 6, 2013 #15


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    There is no "depends" about it. ModusPwnd's definition is fine.
    The bio you linked also lists physics and astronomy. He was pretty multi-disciplinary.
    Wegener is not an example of that, as far as I can tell. It doesn't explicitly say in the bio you linked whether he was aware of the prevailing theory of the time, but given is broad knowledge I would have to assume he was.
  17. May 7, 2013 #16


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Didn't Darwin publish his Theory of Evolution in his 50's? I think it is reasonable that he had been developping it for a while. Maybe a more accurate condition is that a person is not likely to start developping new/non-mainstream ideas in their 50's, but one may be able to put together at that age ideas one has been "incubating" or developping earlier-on in one's life.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook