Thursday, May 1, 2014

On Thomas Kuhn's "Paradigm Shifts"

On Thomas Kuhn's "Paradigm Shifts": Photographed above is philosopher/physicist Thomas Kuhn, who in 1962, published a controversial book titled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. His main argument, which emphasized the humanistic and irrational components of the scientific method, challenged traditional understandings of how scientific progress occurred. Rather than analyzing a longstanding collection of data over time, Kuhn contended that revolutionary advances in science only happen in fits and starts. Thus, they are discontinuous and wholly "incommensurate" (not comparable) to previous conceptions of knowledge. The primary resulting features of these revolutionary advances are "paradigm shifts." Classic examples of paradigm shifts identified by Kuhn and other historians of science include heliocentrism replacing geocentrism, the germ theory of disease replacing miasma theory, photography replacing lithography, and telephony replacing telegraphy. Indeed, Kuhn's positions have been criticized as unrealistic at times because scientific advances are ultimately the product of numerous revisions. And "paradigm shifts" do not fully reveal the importance of revisions in the scientific method.

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