Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2)

Kuhn is intent on showing that normal science takes place only within paradigms. Paradigms provide the procedures, applications (standard tests and instruments), laws and theories that allow normal science to carry out investigation. (60) In short, they provide scientists with a picture of the way the world is and what kind of phenomenon can be expected. Yet, this picture shows itself to be problematic at times when phenomenon arise that the paradigm has not prepared investigators for. (57) Kuhn labels these instances anomalies. (52) Anomalies disrupt paradigms and can lead to their eventual abandonment, yet they are dependent on these paradigms as well. Kuhn shows that paradigms are the background against which anomalies appear anomalous and that the more far reaching, penetrating, or all encompassing a paradigm is the more likely anomalies are to arise. (65) This leads to the paradox that the more developed a paradigm becomes the closer it gets to its dissolution.

This process of dissolution can be defined as a growing state of crisis. (67) When the puzzles that characterize normal science continually fail to be solved as they should a crisis often arises. (67-68) Another characterization of a paradigm in crisis is the constant proliferation of theories. These are usually attempts to contain an anomaly. However, when an anomaly is contained a new one takes its place, leading to a patchwork attempt to save the paradigm and its theories. (68, 71) This often leads to an inability to discern what actual theories are and thus scientific research looks like it did during the pre-paradigm period. (72) Although it may seem otherwise, anomalies do not necessarily lead to a crisis within a paradigm. Because of their nature—the fact that no paradigm maps onto reality perfectly—paradigms always contain discrepancies. In order to induce a crisis an anomaly must satisfy one or all of certain requirements: 1.) it calls into question explicit or fundamental generalizations of a paradigm, 2.) the applications it inhibits have a particular practical importance (usually in the wider social milieu), 3.) through the development of normal science its status changes from mildly vexing to particularly crucial. When at least one of these requirements is met the anomaly can attract the attention of most, or even all, the scientists committed to its background, i.e. paradigm. (82-83)

Just as it would wrong to assume that crises inevitably follow anomalies, so would it be fallacious to think that crisis necessarily lead to a rejection of the paradigm. (84) In order for normal science to exist it needs a paradigm in which it can operate and thus a paradigm in crisis, rifted with anomalies, cannot be rejected until a new paradigm arises to take its place. (79) This decision to abandon one paradigm and embrace another is made by comparing both paradigms to each other and to nature. (77) The paradigm that succeeds the one in crisis has often been anticipated for some time. That is, a practitioner, such as Lavoisier or Young, had previously pointed out a specific anomaly that seemed particularly problematic, yet this was ignored as simply another puzzle to be solved. (86) What a crisis does is open up a space for scientists to take the anomaly more seriously. This is extraordinary science.

In extraordinary science the scientists looks most like the prevalent cultural image believes she does. She will first isolate an anomaly more precisely and give it structure. She will then proceed to push the rules of normal science harder then ever in order to see where and how they can address the anomaly. She will seek new ways to magnify the breakdown. Lastly, she will proceed in a twofold manner of trying new experiments and inventing new theories, seemingly at random. (87)

In the space opened up by crisis philosophical analysis, not usually a part of normal science, is often utilized to help “unlock the riddles” of a field. (88) Often, though the paradigm may have been anticipated, a new paradigm emerges seemingly instantaneously. (90) Kuhn uses the analogy of a gestalt switch. In a gestalt switch the subject sees something different than she did before. In Kuhn’s use, the subject does not see something different, she simply sees. It follows that a simple switching back and forth between new and old paradigm is not possible in Kuhn’s use, whereas it is for a normal gestalt switch. One cannot choose to not see what is now apparent. (85)


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