Monday, September 10, 2007

Thomas Kuhn and the Structure of Scientific Revolutions: Part I

I started reading Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions the other day, mainly for a class I am currently taking in the Ford School of Public Policy. Having read about Kuhn makes reading his actual (long) essay on the structure of science/scientific revolutions pretty easy-going. I wonder how much of this is goblety-gook for the policy students in the course. (Of course, for the majority of students in the course - scientists and engineers - much of this might be obvious. But then again, maybe not. In any case, the discussion of the concepts of physical science to which Kuhn alludes should not be difficult for them to understand.) So far, my main complaint with Kuhn is that he doesn't get straight to the point, but uses several examples to flesh out his point. In this way, this work is similar to what he writes about in a pre-paradigm period:

"But though this sort of fact-collecting has been essential to the origin of many significant sciences, anyone who examines, for example, Pliny's encyclopedic writings or the Baconian natural histories of the seventeenth century will discover that it produces a morass. One somehow hesitates to call the literature that results scientific. The Baconian "histories" of heat, color, wind, mining, and so on, are filled with information, some of it recondite. But they juxtapose facts what will later prove revealing (e.g., heating by mixture) with others (e.g., the warmth of dung heaps) that will for some time remain too complex to be integrated with theory at all. ... Only very occasionally, as in the cases of ancient statics, dynamics, and geometrical optics, do facts collected with so little guidance from pre-established theory speak with sufficient clarity to permit the emergence of a first paradigm."

I'm not saying that Kuhn's writing is encyclopedic, but he uses so many examples to discuss his point without actually stating directly what his point is.

I like the (apparent) jibes he makes of scientists, as well:

"One of the reasons why normal science seems to progress so rapidly is that its practitioners on problems that only their own lack of ingenuity should keep them from solving."

I start chapter V. More on Kuhn later.

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