Book Reviews

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn – Book Review

This day and age, it seems science has a monopoly on knowledge. Whatever science says is true and most of the time that is correct. Though it is a bit more difficult than it seems at first sight. We all have that one scientific friend who knows all the facts. He or she is sure about everything coming from science, or as they will say: ‘highly probabilistic’. Well with this book you can rebuke that person with all of their scientific knowledge. Let’s make one thing clear from the start though. Science is still are most trustworthy source of knowledge nowadays. It just isn’t as all-knowing as we might believe. Scientists make mistakes, a lot of them. But that’s the beauty of science. The fact that they make mistakes give rise to better theories and more accurate views.

            Thomas Kuhn analyzed science in a new way. Instead of looking at the findings of science he looked at how science changed throughout the centuries. How could it be that Aristotelian physics was used in physics for years after Copernicus proved the earth was spinning around the sun, even though when Copernicus came, he was more ‘right’? And how come after Newton came with his theory on gravity, did they suddenly accept Copernicus. Well, the way we look at things in science is set by paradigms according to Thomas Kuhn.

            Paradigms are universal acknowledged scientific achievements that for a time are able to the model problems for scientists. The Aristotelian paradigm worked best for science even after Copernicus came with his heliocentric worldview, but after Newtonian mechanics the Aristotelian paradigm was no longer able to hold and was thus cast away for a better paradigm. But how do we know when a paradigm is no longer useful?

            So, paradigms are problem-solving frameworks to use in science. New theories aren’t really searched for. As long as the paradigm is useful for solving the model problems then the paradigm is kept. Well, sometimes there’s an anomaly. An anomaly is something the paradigm can’t solve. Not really a mistake but just something the paradigm fails to explain or refute. Over time these anomalies build up until the paradigm isn’t useful anymore and is tossed out for a better one, if there is one. If there isn’t then scientists randomly experiment in search of a new one.

            Wow, so science isn’t that sure thing everyone believes it to be. Do paradigms insinuate that science is then subjective and views are merely arbitrary and the views of the powerful like Jean-Francois Lyotard claims? Well, not exactly. Science can still produce facts about things. If the earth revolves around the sun and we can prove this then that is a fact. The only thing is that we need a certain view at the world and science in order to come up with that conclusion. This means that if we look at the world in a different way, like using Aristotelian physics for example, then we will just not see that fact. The way we view the world impacts our vision. To see is to limit what you’re seeing. Now new paradigms might make it so that we can see more of the world than before and that’s how progress in science is made. We create paradigms where which we see a lot more of the world than before. We see a lot more data. So, science isn’t necessarily subjective, we just need a special type of glasses to do science.

            This book was (ironically) a real paradigm shift in how we viewed science. We became more aware of how we conducted science and it’s still one of the most important books in the philosophy of science to this day. It gave me a better understanding of the term paradigm, which gets thrown around a lot nowadays. The book gives a lot of examples to prove its point, which can sometimes be a bit dragging, since it’s mostly about complex scientific material. I’m not very good at science and because of this I sometimes had a hard time understanding the example. Not the theory of Kuhn itself was complicated, his examples were.

            Nonetheless, this is still one of those books I believe every scientist should read, just to become aware of how much influence a specific view in science has in the way you view particular data and scientific phenomenon. We can read to finally make that scientific friend of ours shut up, not knowing what to say.

By elenchusphilosophy

Philosophy student from Ghent, Belgium. I write about what I find interesting which is about nearly anything. Though my guiding question in life is how to be a good person.

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