The current era of modernity began in the 18th and 19th centuries with the transfer of power from absolute monarchies that ruled by divine right to the parliaments and legislatures of the bourgeois middle class. The roots of modernity run much deeper into antiquity however, stemming from a connection between the goals of modern civil society (individual welfare) to the sciences, which were turned to for answers regarding how to reach that goal.
The basis of scientific inquiry can be traced to the work of the Greek philosopher Aristotle who first employed inductive reasoning in his examination of 158 constitutions of his time in order to complete his Politics. Inductive investigation of physical and social phenomenon involves observing numerous occurrences of the same class and then describing the substantive results as well as the research procedures followed. The inductive Aristotelian method was later adapted by Francis Bacon, among others, into what became known as the scientific method, which relies heavily on inductive reasoning.
The scientific method of inquiry blossomed throughout the 17th and 18th centuries and bore the natural, as well as social sciences. The development of these sciences coincided with the development of the enlightenment notion of liberalism and the transfer of ultimate governing power to civilian authorities, throughout the same period. The immediate concerns of the newly inaugurated civilian authorities of the enlightenment period centered primarily on the welfare of the citizens, and as societies became more developed, the abilities and willingness of the civilian authorities to deal with the common welfare increased.
Civil society since it’s inception has increasingly turned to the natural and social sciences for answers regarding those puzzles and problems that plague society (literally and figuratively). The sciences have attempted to respond truthfully to civic demands, but only recently have the instances of their correctness become commonplace. The increase in scientific accuracy throughout the last three centuries can be attributed to the discovery of scientifically proven facts, which form belief structures.
These structures are the basis for education and facilitate study and further research in a given field. The accumulation of provable facts within a field of inquiry was deemed progress towards truth by practitioners of science and together formed a structure of beliefs referred to herein as paradigms. These practitioners failed to realize however, that they were conducting a search for truth without a map, beginning that search from an arbitrary starting point, and traveling with a heading derived from near infinite variability
Because the largely unchallenged notion of modern scientific progress is fundamentally misunderstood as being a process of accretion towards truth, the dominance of potentially false paradigms is largely ignored by natural and social scientists alike. This has the effect of relegating potentially revolutionary theorists and scientists who do not adhere to the conventional wisdom, to an unwarranted tenure in academic limbo, while their endeavors remain largely unexplored by the conservative academic community at large, regardless of their novelty or validity, to the detriment of all humans who aspire to a greater truth.
Kuhn Questions Progress In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn outlines his theory regarding the nature and role of paradigms in the natural and social sciences. Throughout his work, Kuhn defines a paradigm in many ways, but Margaret Masterman simplified Kuhn’s diverse interpretation of the meaning of the term by dividing his many notions into three more easily understood categories. The first of these categories she terms metaphysical paradigms.
Metaparadigms as she also describes them, refer to any organizing principle an individual or group holds such as belief systems (religion), or myths. The second group of paradigms she describes as sociological paradigms, which includes all scientific achievement, political institutions, and judicial decisions. The third and final group of paradigms she terms artefact or construct paradigms. These paradigms include texts, classic works, tools, and instrumentation. Because these paradigms form the structure and basis for the majority of human intellectual pursuit, by their very existence they also apply the direction the human intellectual pursuit is taking.
In the realm of normal science, the strength and influence of paradigms is strongest and thus the negative effect of rigid paradigmatic thought is magnified. Kuhn defines normal science as “research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice.
Basing further research solely on the achievements of the past is illogical though, Kuhn suggests, because “those once current views of nature were, as a whole, neither less scientific nor more the product of human idiosyncrasy than those current today, and if these out of date beliefs are to be called myths, then myths can be produced by the same sorts of methods, and held for the same sorts of reasons that now lead to scientific knowledge. 3 Kuhn is suggesting here that science has never and will never be completely void of outright errors and partial truths. One must assume that if purpose and methodology remain the same within the scientific community, which they have, then errors will be produced and already exist in the structure of “factual” knowledge that comprises science itself. This body of factual knowledge is what Kuhn defines as a paradigm.
The scientific paradigm consists of numerous smaller paradigms, which are sociological or artefact paradigms according to Masterman’s description. 4 Normal science is based on the assumptions provided by the paradigms, and thus the continuation of the scientific endeavor itself is directed by paradigms. Logically however, these paradigms have to be considered tentative because of the historical truth that the body of scientific knowledge, at any given time, contains errors.
In the real world where scientists must earn a living, paradigms provide a necessary starting point for the study of the scientific trade. Paradigms are transmitted through education and indoctrination as a way of allowing the scientist a legitimate means of plying that trade. The result, Kuhn suggests however, is that normal scientific research has become a “strenuous attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education,” but he adds the further question, “Could research continue without such boxes? 5 And Kuhn doesn’t see normal science as being ineffective either, because as a puzzle solving mechanism, the discipline works effectively. Kuhn cites the apparent rapid progression of the natural sciences, but suggests that this progression is really only articulation of the dominant paradigm and not genuine advancement. Because scientists focus the majority of their rigorous efforts at solving problems that have a solution guaranteed by the paradigm, normal science seems to progress rapidly.
In his words, “A paradigm can insulate the community from those socially important problems that are not reducible to puzzle form. “6 The activity of scientific puzzle solving is encouraged, suggests Kuhn, because a scientists’ success is tied to their ability in this regard, and because deviation from this type of activity is more likely to damage their reputation than enhance it. 7 Though Kuhn criticizes the lack of novel thought in normal science, he does not believe progression does not occur.
It is more like a game of substitution however, in which the players themselves are home to a host of variables, all of which affect “the essential determinants of scientific development” in a fashion, which inexorably shapes the product and outcome of any individual’s research. Furthermore he states that, there is intense individual variability inherent in scientists themselves though they may claim strenuously that they are impartial. In reality they have personal motives, which are unique and interrogative methodology, which allows for unmitigated latitude in determining, for example, a point from which to start.
As Kuhn puts it, “An apparently arbitrary element, compounded of personal and historical accident, is always a formative ingredient of the beliefs espoused by a given community at a given time. “8 These semi-impartial players work busily at mopping up the gaps between the accepted paradigms in the process of conducting normal research, and in the meantime defend their body of knowledge against any deductive outland usurpers who would seek to challenge the canons of scientific fact with something other than inductive investigations, even if they exhibit originality and potential.
In Kuhn’s words, “it is only when the profession can no longer evade anomalies that subvert the existing tradition of scientific practice will the extraordinary investigations that lead the profession to at last a new set of commitments, a new basis for the practice of scientists, begin. “9 These new sets of commitments he refers to as scientific revolutions, which he suggests necessitates a given communities rejection of one theory for another incompatible with it. The new problems available to the community provoke new questions and the establishment of new standards, and it is here, Kuhn argues, that true scientific progress can be found.
These revolutions do not simply add to the body of knowledge of a given scientific field because they require a complete re-evaluation of the dominant hierarchy in light of the revolution. The process, Kuhn states, is not rapid, but rather a battle against the forces of conservatism in the field that could last the life time of the scientist or longer. The introduction of novel fact and theory enriches the field of science as a whole because it requires the examination of all prior theory in relation to the new one.
This provides new insight into old beliefs or problems, but the stratification of paradigmatic thought, which eventually becomes dogma, resists change as a function of it’s flawed self-perception. It is because of this process that Kuhn suggests that historical perspectives of science are both necessary and productive in pursuit of the goal of science, that of truth. 10 The historical lens, through which Kuhn sees the progress of normal science, discounts the traditional self-impression of scientists, that the scientific endeavor itself is a cumulative progression toward the truth about the ‘nature of things’.
In his words, “We are all deeply accustomed to seeing science as the enterprise that draws constantly nearer to some goal set in advance. ” He suggests that this was the case in the pre-paradigm world of science when the distinction between the arts and sciences didn’t exist to any great extent and figures like Leonardo de Vinci would travel freely between the equally creative worlds. Because de Vinci’s mind was not encumbered by the restraints imposed upon him by educationally imposed paradigms, no limits were set on him. Thus he was able to conceive of notions that were far ahead of his time such as flying machines.
With the adoption of paradigms the scientific community establishes fundamentals, which in the interests of expediency, put to rest further debate on issues generally agreed upon. A shift occurred from the pre-paradigm notion of the evolution of science toward what we wish to know (a search for a greater truth), to the post-paradigm notion of evolution of what we do know (paradigm articulation). The creative spirit of the endeavor was shunned like an embarrassing relative in favor of a normative structure provided by the paradigm, which hardens over time.
The indoctrination of professional scientists serves to perpetuate existing dogmatic paradigms by insisting that they are fact. At one time, Kuhn notes, it was fact that the world was flat and the universe was composed of a multiplicity of corpuscles. Head in the Sand Because the dogmatic indoctrination of professional education serves to limit the scope of normal research to mere articulation of existing paradigms, Kuhn suggests the modern scientific endeavor involves no creative thought whatsoever.
It is only when the paradigm encounters anomalies, which can consistently not be solved, that a crisis will occur causing a polarization of the field until a winner of the debate is declared. That winner conceptually forms the new paradigm and serves to limit the scope of research in the same way its forbearer did. The goal of science, he contends, has become the solving of puzzles related to paradigms and scientists have become addicted to solving those puzzles, while completely ignoring possibly socially important areas of study because they lie outside the box.
Progress, Kuhn suggests, really isn’t progress at all, when one is considering the scientific community. The interim achievements and discoveries of scientists offer no real novel insight into the nature of things and it is dangerous, Kuhn implies, to believe that they do11. An example of this danger can be found in the realm of Egyptology and archaeology, which share a paradigm that assumes the structures built in Egypt were all built by the Egyptians. It is obvious why this paradigm was easily adopted and widely accepted and defended. There was simply no other evidence to suggest an alternative theory.
When geologists, however, began to look at the Sphinx they came to some truly novel conclusions about the age of the monument. Unfettered by the existing paradigms in the fields of Egyptology and archaeology, they concluded that erosion patterns on the Sphinx would have required a period of significant precipitation to produce. In unrelated research, climatologists had concluded that the most recent period in history that could account for the type of precipitation suggested by the geologists, dated back to between six and ten thousand years ago12.
Completely by accident scientists, pursuing the articulation of their own paradigm through the dating of some rocks, came upon a truly novel insight. That insight should have shaken the foundations of Egyptology and archaeology to the ground because the oldest known Egyptian civilization only dates back 5000 years. Such a clear-cut case would surely cause a revolution in thinking, but in fact it hasn’t. Unwilling to admit to a fundamental flaw in their paradigm, the affected fields continue to defend the view that the structures on the Giza Plateau were built by the same people who now occupy the Nile Delta.
Bolstered by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities, which seeks to preserve the worldview that Egypt is the birthplace of western civilization and Egyptians the builders of that civilization, a false paradigm persists in the face of logic. So it is in this case, that even when science has foundered upon it’s first truly novel discovery in years, it is rejected in favor of false dogma whose purpose is protection of the Egyptian and scientific egos. 13 Conclusion (a metaphor)
Because scientific methodology relies on an overarching paradigm to define the parameters of study and the problems within those boundaries, a solution to the puzzles presented to the scientist is always possible. In the minds of the scientists who attempt to solve those puzzles, failure can only result from their own inability. They accept that the blind paradigmatic direction of ‘progress’ toward an already defined truth. Thus it is analogous to a runner (scientist), who, after beginning the race (toward truth), realizes he is lost in a wilderness, and becomes frustrated and disoriented.
He encounters a man by the road however, who offers him a map (paradigm) toward the finish line. He eagerly accepts the directions and begins his journey. What the runner failed to realize however, was that the man had only guessed at the location of the finish line, and in fact really didn’t know. The runner, in his ignorance, kept running and running, ignoring clues along the way, which suggested he was not going in the right direction. The fact that there is no “truth” per se, but only a journey towards a greater truth than the one that currently exists, never even occurred to him.