Revolutionary Thinking

While riding the trains in the Netherlands, I read Thomas Kuhn‘s 1962 book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, which was well worthwhile. Maybe it’s just a sign of how influential the book has been, but I found his arguments well founded and still very interesting. His notion of scientific paradigms tries to examine what science is about as a collective enterprise, and how it is that new ideas become accepted by a community (not a fully objective, rational process by any means, though rational judgments are made by the participants). Getting inside this subjectivity earned Kuhn some enmity, but I find it a very rewarding approach.

A provocative quote: “In the sciences there need not be progress of another sort. We may, to be more precise, have to relinquish the notion, explicit or implicit, that changes of paradigm carry scientists and those who learn from them closer and closer to the truth.”

Kuhn stresses that no paradigm is a complete model – there are always facts and observations that don’t fit. It seems to me that the paradigm, or context, in which we perceive the world is both a magnifying glass and a set of blinders. As Kuhn puts it, “Though science surely grows in depth, it may not grow in breadth as well.”

In the airport at Amsterdam, I searched the stores for more reading on the way home, and while most shops had virtually the same selection of English titles, in one I found a new paperback re-issue of Ken Wilber’s “A Brief History of Everything” (which synchronicitiously makes direct reference to Kuhn), which attempts to integrate many philosophical approaches. I’ll have more to say about that when I finish it.

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