The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

by

Thomas S. Kuhn

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Jigsaw Puzzles Symbol Analysis

Jigsaw Puzzles Symbol Icon

Kuhn uses jigsaw puzzles as a symbol for the process of normal science. Jigsaw puzzles (like normal science) have a set of rules “that limit both the nature of acceptable solutions and the steps by which they are to be obtained.” In other words, the point of a jigsaw puzzle is to mimic the picture on the box, not to create a new picture. Similarly, the point of normal science is to apply a given paradigm in a predictable way, not to make a new discovery. Both jigsaw puzzles and normal science are about arriving at a pre-set solution in inventive ways. Moreover, Kuhn argues that scientists who engage in normal science (which is the vast majority of scientists) are doing so for the same reasons other people might do a crossword or solve a jigsaw puzzle—rather than trying to help humanity or see the world in a new way, these scientists are motivated by the idea that they can “succeed in solving a puzzle that no one before has solved or solved so well.”

Jigsaw Puzzles Quotes in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

The The Structure of Scientific Revolutions quotes below all refer to the symbol of Jigsaw Puzzles. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Linear Progress vs. Circular History Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the University of Chicago Press edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions published in 2012.
Chapter 4 Quotes

There must also be rules that limit both the nature of acceptable solutions and the steps by which they are to be obtained. To solve a jigsaw puzzle is not, for example, merely “to make a picture.” Either a child or a contemporary artist could do that by scattering selected pieces, as abstract shapes, upon some neutral ground. The picture thus produced might be far better, and would certainly be more original, than the one from which the puzzle had been made. Nevertheless, such a picture would not be a solution. To achieve that all the pieces must be used, their plain sides must be turned down, and they must be interlocked without forcing until no holes remain.

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker)
Related Symbols: Jigsaw Puzzles
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

When acute, this situation is sometimes recognized by the scientists involved. Copernicus complained that in his day astronomers were so “inconsistent in these [astronomical] investigations . . . that they cannot even explain or observe the constant length of the seasonal year.” “With them,” he continued, “it is as though an artist were to gather the hands, feet, head and other members for his images from diverse models, each part excellently drawn, but not related to a single body, and since they in no way match each other, the result would be monster rather than man.” Einstein, restricted by current usage to less florid language, wrote only, “It was as if the ground had been pulled out from under one, with no firm foundation to be seen anywhere, upon which one could have built.”

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker), Nicolaus Copernicus, Albert Einstein
Related Symbols: Jigsaw Puzzles
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:
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Jigsaw Puzzles Symbol Timeline in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

The timeline below shows where the symbol Jigsaw Puzzles appears in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4. Normal Science as Puzzle-solving
Linear Progress vs. Circular History Theme Icon
Normal Science vs. Extraordinary Science Theme Icon
...to “achiev[e] the anticipated in a new way”; in other words, normal science is about “puzzle-solving.” Just as a jigsaw puzzle is a rewarding way of completing a pre-determined picture, Kuhn... (full context)
Perception and Truth Theme Icon
Community and Knowledge Theme Icon
Continuing his jigsaw puzzle metaphor, Kuhn suggests that just as puzzles have rules (each piece must be turned face-up... (full context)
Postscript - 1969
Community and Knowledge Theme Icon
...in science, and scientists speak to a much narrower audience. Most of all, science prioritizes puzzle-solving over creation in a way no other field seems to do. (full context)