Posts Tagged ‘Paradigm’

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”  —   book review
This book review is for the historical / philosophical science book: “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (1962©), written by Thomas S. Kuhn.  Kuhn was a PhD in physics, but, I gather, considered himself more of a science historian than a “working” physicist.  Kuhn is most famous for this book and it is considered one of the most significant science books of the 20th century.
As I understand it, Kuhn believes there are two types of “science”: the “normal” science and the “revolutionary” science.  Normal science is what 99% of all scientist do: gathering data, analyzing data, creating and refining instruments and tests to gather data.  Revolutionary science is what a small group of scientists do.  Unsatisfied with the anomalous data which doesn’t fit the current understanding (“paradigm”) of a science topic, this group thinks about and generates new ways of looking at the data which just doesn’t fit the “old science” standard.  The ideas which come out of this small group become the “paradigm-shifts” of science.
The historical view of the development of science is analogous to a river: you start somewhere in the past and over time, you pick up more and more water (data, theories, tests, rules, formulas) until you have a full blown river (science classification system, like Chemistry, Biology, Physics or whatever).
Upon review of the history of significant scientific break-throughs, Kuhn found that instead a river, the flow of science was more like a rapids which develops into a water fall.  The rapids are the problems which the current state of science cannot explain or explain away the data supporting.  At a certain point, the problems become too obvious and then “someone” comes along and proposes an alternative explanation for nature which explains the problems.  Like a waterfall, this fully disrupts the rivers steady stream and there is turbulence (“revolution”) until the water can re-stabilize.  Kuhn proposes this is when most, if not all, of the old guard from the prior paradigm have died off.  Then the cycle starts again…
Is this a “great” book?  Did it change my world view (paradigm) of science?  Is it a “good” read?  My answers would be:  Yes!  Not really.  And, no!
I have seen multiple sites and reviewers hail this book as a GREAT book and one which everyone should read in their lifetime.  Who am I to disagree with others more learned than I?  I did find it to be a powerful argument for its case / proposition.
Did it change my view of science?  Not really.  Why not?  Because the ideas in this book are now (after 50+ years) considered to be fairly standard in many fields, not just in science.  The proposition is considered almost human nature: most folks just work to work and every once in a while someone comes along who shakes every thing up.
The issue I have with the book is that it is not a very good read.  I found it EXTREMELY academic AND pedantic.  I am not a historian, a trained scientist, nor a philosopher. I found myself forced to stop at least every few pages to look up a word to make sure I understood what was being said.  Worse, on substituting the definitions I found the sentences made more sense (to me).  I normally don’t mind a specific academic word being used if there is a very specific thing being said which doesn’t lend itself to a simpler word (or phrase).  But, when there is an easier word (or phrase), you (the writer) are not impressing me when you cloud your message with academic erudition.  (See, I can do it, too!)
Also, while the book is reasonably short at just over 200 pages, it is about 150 pages longer than it needs to be – because it is so specific and repetitive.  I felt as if I were reading a dissertation and the author was trying to overwhelm me with proof he’d done his research.  I wasn’t overwhelmed, just bored through most of it.
Final recommendation: strong.  It is easy to see why this is considered a “classic” for its day, but that day was fifty-years ago.  The book (and proposal) has won the day and I believe is fairly widely accepted in both science and in many other fields.  While I recommend this as a classic, it is not an easy or quick read if you want to gain any appreciation of the concept of revolutionary paradigm shifts and how they differ from normal progress in any field (not just science).  Therefore, I doubt the average person will bother to work their way through what is already societal background knowledge. In any case, the concepts of the book are more simply explained in Wikipedia and with far fewer words.
I am better for having read this book, but I would have preferred a gentle tooth cleaning to a root canal.
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