Anti-Kuhn paradigm

PSI Blog 20190807 Anti-Kuhn paradigm


Thomas Kuhn generally is a hero among dissidents. Along with his explication of what it all meant, his invention of the word “paradigm” was his greatest achievement. A paradigm forms the body of data, assumptions, and interpretations guiding a discipline during a particular period. A paradigm cannot be overthrown by anyone whose livelihood depends on it—only outsiders need apply for that infrequent function.

Here is an interesting interview “Thomas Kuhn Threw an Ashtray at Me” with Errol Morris, who was kicked out of Princeton by Kuhn to go on to become a famous documentary film maker (The Fog of War) and writer of a new book critical of Kuhn (The Ashtray).

Although he tends to throw the baby out with the bath water, I tend to agree with Morris’s major criticisms. In particular, that Kuhn erroneously assumes:

1.   There is no objective truth. Truth is determined by subjects, not by nature.
2.   Science is not progressive. The same data are interpreted differently at various times.
3.   There may be no such thing as reality.

Morris puts it this way:

 “The truth is central to the human enterprise. What stuck in my craw was Kuhn’s underlying belief that there was no such thing as truth, perhaps no such thing as reality, no such thing as progress. It struck me then, and still strikes me now, as a postmodern and pernicious idea.”

Remember Kuhn’s great work was first published in 1962, although not much changed in the 50 years subsequent.[1] Like most “philosophers of science” he was actually a “historian of science.” That occupation is to report on what scientists think and have thought, not what they should think as we do in “scientific philosophy.” He had studied the Copernican Revolution[2] in which the math worked pretty much as well as in the geocentric Ptolemaic system. Like our current struggle to get rid of the Big Bang Theory, it was all a matter of perspective and interpretation that would ruffle the fewest feathers among the ruling class. As Bruno and Galileo found out, the ruling class in 1600 was the church.

As scientists, we must adamantly oppose Kuhn’s idea that there is no objective truth, while agreeing that interpretations vary. Kuhn was confused because the Einsteinian regression in physics had confused most everyone. Kuhn’s second point that there was no progress in science did not seem otherwise at the time. Eventually, physicists might give up their obeisance to math and come to their interpretive senses as they did with Copernicus. The cyclic theory of history surely would prevail. Truth would once again be whatever people thought it should be, just as the postmodernists were beginning to claim in the late 50s.

Is there progress in science? Is there human progress at all? Of course a regressive period tends to produce pessimism aplenty. In this postmodern-prerevolutionary age any demonstration of progress[3] reaches a public made sceptical by incessant news of humanity’s failure to provide the promised nirvana. Still, progress is spiralic—three steps forward, two steps backward. This particular regression will not be without end.

Kuhn’s ambivalence about the existence of reality fits with the immaterialism you can find in most any reading of quantum mechanics or relativity. Whether its action-at-a-distance, immaterial fields, or immaterial attraction, all fit with the religious milieu most of us grew up with. The soul of regressive physics at least requires matterless motion for its sustenance. Maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on Kuhn for, like the rest of us, he was a product of the times. His ground-breaking observations concerning paradigms are useful nevertheless.

[1] Kuhn, T.S., 1962, The structure of scientific revolutions: Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 210 p.; Kuhn, Thomas S. , and Hacking, Ian, 2012, The structure of scientific revolutions: Chicago; London, The University of Chicago Press, 264 p.

[2] Kuhn, T.S., 1957, The Copernican revolution: Planetary astronomy in the development of Western thought: New York, Random House, 297 p.

[3] Pinker, Steven, 2011, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined: New York, Viking [http://stevenpinker.com/publications/better-angels-our-nature]; Pinker, Steven, 2018, Enlightenment now: The case for reason, science, humanism, and progress: New York, New York, Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 556 p.


Bligh said...

A deeper study of philosophy might change some of your views.

demigod said...

Why does the soul of regressive physics require matterless motion for its sustenance?

Glenn Borchardt said...


Glenn Borchardt said...

demigod: This is the reference: http://thescientificworldview.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-soul-of-regressive-physics.html

The short answer is that matterless motion and the "soul" idea both are imaginary and impossible.

Glenn Borchardt said...

Andy writes:

"Never having read any of these guys, I tend to agree with your assessments, from the limited information provided. Specifically the 3 bullet points.

There seems to be a lot of pessimism in those bullet points, understandably. It seems more like he's confusing our level of understanding with truth, and then claiming there is no truth because it relies on human beings to form consensus. Even today truth is subjectively doled out to the public. But the truth is always the truth, regardless of what we accurately understand to be correct.

The universe is a result. It is the truth, regardless of what we agree or disagree on, or whether we are right or wrong on any particular aspect of it. It's still the universe, doing exactly what it's always done, and will continue to do. There is a truth to it, and science is about investigating that truth. Science is always moving forward at various speeds. We seem to be stuck in a pretty deep rut at the moment.

We're the variable surrounding the truth, not the truth surrounding the complexity of the universe. Reality itself is as unreal as we choose to believe it, and that's the truth of reality. Reality is reality, and our presence does not define it one way or another. We actually have no bearing whatsoever on reality. We do however, have control of what we believe to be reality. Hope that makes sense."

Rudolf Vrnoga said...

I will try to post link to my article, hopefully will work.

Glenn Borchardt said...

Thanks Rudy for the link to your critique of Kuhn. I agree that Kuhn failed to emphasize physics and cosmology was in a regressive period at the time of his writing. As David de Hilster suggests, relativity does not constitute a Kuhn "paradigm." Instead, it represents an interregnum filled with crisis after crisis for over a century. The violations of common sense and the fundamental laws of physics are indications of the anarchic period that usually occurs before a revolution: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEJGkqP4TwI&feature=em-comments .
That is why reformists have so many different models in their attempts to resolve the mess.