A Detailed Synopsis of the Concept of Scientific Advancement

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The global perception of scientific progress as a linear accumulation of knowledge and a gradual advancement towards a complete “truth” (Kuhn,1962) is a fundamental idea that has been handed down many human generations of philosophers, historians, scientists as well as laymen. Up until the publication of Thomas S. Kuhn’s book: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, scientific progress was often view as “sweeping away the old and establishing the new” (Cohen 1976), however, Thomas Kuhn argues otherwise in his book and portrays scientific advancement as an alternating progression of “normal” and “revolutionary” periods in which the science world is sent into a frenzy over the discovery of anomalies in previously invincible principles through the process of “paradigm shifts”. He explained these as “fundamental changes in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a scientific discipline” (Kuhn,1962). Kuhn’s ingenuine and unique introduction of the “paradigm” concept: “accepted examples of actual scientific practice” (Kuhn,1962) effectively synchronized with a novel explanation of “achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice” termed “normal science” are the bases of his theory where he advances a new school of thought and most importantly introduces “The Kuhnian Cycle of Scientific Advancement.”

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Kuhn’s idea of scientific advancement is a recurring cycle of steady growth based on normal science, crisis and revolution accentuated by the periods of scientific revolution. It starts off with the pre-paradigmatic stage often labelled the pre-scientific stage based on its unique lack of foundational governing principles involves different schools identifying a problem area of interest however, due to the lack of a guiding model of fundamental principles, scientific advancement is hindered. As a result, each school “emphasizes its paradigmatic observations-the particular cluster of optical phenomena that its own theory could do most to explain.” (Kuhn SSR, 1962). After thorough debate and further research in the problem area, a consensus is eventually reached on what paradigm or combination of paradigms to be accepted as the fundamentals of the area. Hence, the foundational principles of the problem area are set, sparking the “normal science” phase. This phase is uniquely characterized by certainty and predictability. As the new paradigm has provided sufficiently unprecedent results that have been accepted as seemingly faultless answers to questions that previously seemed unanswerable (Kuhn,1962), the propositions of the new paradigm serve as the “guidebook” for all forms of activity in their applicable scientific fields. Consequently, research and “discovery” become mere acts of “puzzle solving” (Kuhn, 1962) with everything but the exact details of the result known in advance. This puzzle solving approach even spills into the selection of problems to solve as the paradigm of the normal science serves as a yardstick for all the problems to be undertaken in the scientific community; hence, members of the scientific community deem problems that prove resistant to reduction to a puzzle level, yield conflicting or confusing results as unscientific and as such steer clear of them. Kuhn explains that this creates an illusion of rapid scientific progression as scientists focus on questions they have paradigm implicit answers to and do not demand ingenuity and resourcefulness. Thus, most of the misconceptions that plague the scientific community originate in this phase due to the general view and disregard of conflicting results as products of human error.

However, the practice of normal science fails to prevent the inevitable: the emergence of anomalies, aberrant results and phenomena that are unexplained by the existing paradigm. At first, they are glossed over and disregarded, However, as the number of anomalies rise, the scientific community is sent into a frenzy and an urgent need for an explanation which unavoidably generates a crisis and hence, a sharp decline in faith in the existing paradigm. As in the pre-paradigmatic stage, different schools of thought compete for precedence as they posit theories for a new paradigm that normalize the existence of anomalies. The crisis sets up the phase central to this essay, the revolutionary phase so called because it requires a sudden shift in an apparently invincible mode of thinking. It is usually a long and complicated process because the existing paradigm has been instilled in the minds of those that use that it becomes impossible to comprehend or accept a new model or viewpoint. As one of the models begins to garner acceptance from the scientific world, it emerges from the crisis as the front-running hypothetical paradigm and after further testing and acceptance becomes the new paradigm. Overtime, as the new model becomes the new paradigm through the process of a “paradigm shift.” (Kuhn,1962). Hence, cementing the occurrence of a scientific revolution.

Switching the lens of Kuhn’s, “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” on Galileo Galilei’s “Dialogues”, we can explore the nuances of a scientific revolution in a real-life context, particularly a sensitive period where two paradigms are struggling to gain the upper hand over the other. Galileo craftily deployed a unique array of stylistic devices to present a complicated argument; his novel usage of a dialogue between three men with all sides of the argument being discussed helps dispel a sense of partiality and helps him drive home his point, that the Ptolemaic and Aristotelians views of the universe lack strong enough arguments but the Copernican model of the universe is a logical proposition that must be approached with an open mind. Throughout the book, repeatedly hammers on the need for an open-minded approach. In the words of Salviati, “…you will thus establish for yourself that it is not through ignorance or lack of observation that they are induced to follow this opinion.” (Galileo’s Dialogues, 1972). In this selection, Galileo speaks through the voice of Salviati to illustrate and justify open-mindedness. Galileo strategically based the argument pattern of his book on fundamental physics principles which had been repeatedly proven outside of astronomy, hence, any theoretical model of the universe that attempted to disprove them would be deemed incorrect.

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