The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

by

Thomas S. Kuhn

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A paradigm is a set of perceptions, rules, and methodologies that scientists in a given field agree on. Paradigms are invented through extraordinary science, in which one person intuits a new way of understanding the world. Paradigms are then strengthened and applied through normal science, in which a group of scientists rely on the general ideas and techniques of the paradigm to solve a variety of increasingly specific problems. Because paradigms focus on one set of observations and questions at the expense of others, they are always, to some extent, arbitrary or subjective—but they tend to present themselves as completely objective and accurate (especially in scientific textbooks).

Paradigm Quotes in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

The The Structure of Scientific Revolutions quotes below are all either spoken by Paradigm or refer to Paradigm. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). 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 1 Quotes

If these out-of-date beliefs are to be called myths, then myths can be produced by the same sorts of methods and held for the same sorts of reasons that now lead to scientific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. If, on the other hand, they are to be called science, then science has included bodies of belief quite incompatible with the ones we hold today.

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

No natural history can be interpreted in the absence of at least some implicit body of intertwined theoretical and methodological belief that permits selection, evaluation, and criticism. If that body of belief is not already implicit in the collection of facts—in which case more than “mere facts” are at hand—it must be externally supplied, perhaps by a current metaphysic, by another science, or by personal and historical accident. No wonder, then, that in the early stages of the development of any science different men confronting the same range of phenomena, but not usually all the same particular phenomena, describe and interpret them in different ways.

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker)
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

Mopping-up operations are what engage most scientists throughout their careers. They constitute what I am here calling normal science. Closely examined, whether historically or in the contemporary laboratory, that enterprise seems an attempt to force nature into the preformed and relatively inflexible box that the paradigm supplies. No part of the aim of normal science is to call forth new sorts of phenomena; indeed those that will not fit the box are often not seen at all.

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker)
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
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 5 Quotes

That process of learning by finger exercise or by doing continues throughout the process of professional initiation […] One is at liberty to suppose that somewhere along the way the scientist has intuitively abstracted rules of the game for himself, but there is little reason to believe it. Though many scientists talk easily and well about the particular individual hypotheses that underlie a concrete piece of current research, they are little better than laymen at characterizing the established bases of their field, its legitimate problems and methods.

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker)
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

An investigator who hoped to learn something about what scientists took the atomic theory to be asked a distinguished physicist and an eminent chemist whether a single atom of helium was or was not a molecule. Both answered without hesitation, but their answers were not the same. For the chemist the atom of helium was a molecule because it behaved like one with respect to the kinetic theory of gases. For the physicist, on the other hand, the helium atom was not a molecule because it displayed no molecular spectrum. Presumably both men were talking of the same particle, but they were viewing it through their own research training and practice. Their experience in problem-solving told them what a molecule must be.

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker)
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

New and unsuspected phenomena are, however, repeatedly uncovered by scientific research, and radical new theories have again and again been invented by scientists. […] If this characteristic of science is to be reconciled with what has already been said, then research under a paradigm must be a particularly effective way of inducing paradigm change. That is what fundamental novelties of fact and theory do. Produced inadvertently by a game played under one set of rules, their assimilation requires the elaboration of another set.

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker)
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Anomaly appears only against the background provided by the paradigm. The more precise and far-reaching that paradigm is, the more sensitive an indicator it provides of anomaly and hence of an occasion for paradigm change.

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker)
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

Philosophers of science have repeatedly demonstrated that more than one theoretical construction can always be placed upon a given collection of data. History of science indicates that, particularly in the early developmental stages of a new paradigm, it is not even very difficult to invent such alternates. But that invention of alternates is just what scientists seldom undertake […] The reason is clear. As in manufacture so in science—retooling is an extravagance to be reserved for the occasion that demands it. The significance of crises is the indication they provide that an occasion for retooling has arrived.

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker)
Page Number: 76
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:

Instead, the new paradigm, or a sufficient hint to permit later articulation, emerges all at once, sometimes in the middle of the night, in the mind of a man deeply immersed in crisis. […] Almost always the men who achieve these fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have been either very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change. And perhaps that point need not have been made explicit, for obviously these are the men who, being little committed by prior practice to the traditional rules of normal science, are particularly likely to see that those rules no longer define a playable game and to conceive another set that can replace them.

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker)
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

What occurred was neither a decline nor a raising of standards, but simply a change demanded by the adoption of a new paradigm. Furthermore, that change has since been reversed and could be again. In the twentieth century Einstein succeeded in explaining gravitational attractions, and that explanation has returned science to a set of canons and problems that are, in this particular respect, more like those of Newton’s predecessors than of his successors.

Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Examining the record of past research from the vantage of contemporary historiography, the historian of science may be tempted to exclaim that when paradigms change, the world itself changes with them. Led by a new paradigm, scientists adopt new instruments and look in new places. Even more important, during revolutions scientists see new and different things when looking with familiar instruments in places they have looked before. […] In so far as their only recourse to that world is through what they see and do, we may want to say that after a revolution scientists are responding to a different world.

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker)
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

Looking at the moon, the convert to Copernicanism does not say, “I used to see a planet, but now I see a satellite.” That locution would imply a sense in which the Ptolemaic system had once been correct. Instead, a convert to the new astronomy says, “I once took the moon to be (or saw the moon as) a planet, but I was mistaken.”

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker), Nicolaus Copernicus
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

Chemists could not, therefore, simply accept Dalton’s theory on the evidence, for much of that was still negative. Instead, even after accepting the theory, they had still to beat nature into line, a process which, in the event, took almost another generation. When it was done, even the percentage composition of well-known compounds was different. The data themselves had changed. That is the last of the senses in which we may want to say that after a revolution scientists work in a different world.

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker), John Dalton
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

These examples point to the third and most fundamental aspect of the incommensurability of competing paradigms. In a sense that I am unable to explicate further, the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds. One contains constrained bodies that fall slowly, the other pendulums that repeat their motions again and again. In one, solutions are compounds, in the other mixtures. One is embedded in a flat, the other in a curved, matrix of space.

Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

Though a generation is sometimes required to effect the change, scientific communities have again and again been converted to new paradigms. Furthermore, these conversions occur not despite the fact that scientists are human but because they are.

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker)
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:
Postscript Quotes

The law-sketch, say f = ma, has functioned as a tool, informing the student what similarities to look for, signaling the gestalt in which the situation is to be seen […] After he has completed a certain number, which may vary widely from one individual to the next, he views the situations that confront him as a scientist in the same gestalt as other members of his specialists’ group. For him they are no longer the same situations he had encountered when his training began. He has meanwhile assimilated a time-tested and group-licensed way of seeing.

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker)
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:
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Paradigm Term Timeline in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

The timeline below shows where the term Paradigm appears in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2. The Route to Normal Science
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Kuhn then discusses the concept of “shared paradigms.” These paradigms emerge with a very specific kind of discovery: first, the discovery must be... (full context)
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A given scientific field cycles through a variety of these research paradigms; Kuhn gives the example of physics, which moved from a material view of light to... (full context)
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In a pre-paradigm science, scholars cannot build on one another’s work because there is no agreed-upon foundation. However,... (full context)
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At the same time, there are major challenges to working without a paradigm. First of all, there is so much information available that without a single guiding principle... (full context)
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Paradigms then emerge to help scientists focus their attention on certain phenomena and questions. But while... (full context)
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When a new paradigm becomes popular, the older groups of scientists slowly disappear. Some of these scientists change their... (full context)
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Similarly, as a paradigm develops, the scientists working in it grow increasingly specific in their discoveries. Therefore, scientific literature... (full context)
Chapter 3. The Nature of Normal Science
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Kuhn emphasizes that paradigms are often very limited when they emerge—they are successful not because they solve everything, but... (full context)
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...scientists to solve specific problems in a way that would be impossible without a guiding paradigm. There are three main kinds of knowledge that a paradigm allows its practitioners to focus... (full context)
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...on normal science must figure out new ways to observe the relevant facts in their paradigm (e.g., star positions in astronomy or wave lengths in physics). To do this, they will... (full context)
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Second, scientists try and make nature line up with the paradigm theory’s predictions. Once again, this involves investing in and inventing brand-new machines and technologies to... (full context)
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Third, scientists look for the actual numbers or rules (“empirical work”) that make a paradigm theory applicable in the real world. Kuhn lists several examples of these kind of constants:... (full context)
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...elementary form of science, as it merely involves carrying out trials to affirm what a paradigm has already predicted. (full context)
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Another major part of normal science is responding to the imperfections of the paradigm’s first major discovery (what Kuhn calls “reformulating the paradigm”). For instance, when Newton’s theories about... (full context)
Chapter 4. Normal Science as Puzzle-solving
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...that normal science is not interested in novelty—and in fact, discoveries that might upend the paradigm are often ignored or actively discounted. Kuhn then seeks to understand why scientists are so... (full context)
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Importantly, many problems that people were trying to solve in the pre-paradigm era are dismissed once the paradigm comes into power. In this way, the paradigm further... (full context)
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...have rules (each piece must be turned face-up and interlocked with the others), so do paradigms. The most obvious kind of rule in a paradigm is the explicit laws associated with... (full context)
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There are two other categories of rules: first, paradigms generally dictate what methods and technologies should be used to glean information. Second, there are... (full context)
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Rules are important, but Kuhn does not think a paradigm is defined merely by its most important rules. Instead, he suggests that paradigms can still... (full context)
Chapter 5. The Priority of Paradigms
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...his own experience, Kuhn reflects that as a historian, it is easier to isolate a paradigm than it is to articulate that paradigm’s rules. This is because scientists can often “agree... (full context)
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Rather than focusing on rules, then, Kuhn focuses on how a given paradigm can link a set of scientific problems. He draws on philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein to explain... (full context)
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Moreover, paradigms never exist purely in the abstract. Rather, scientists understand paradigms through their applications—for instance, young... (full context)
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Finally, Kuhn argues that rules are more important to normal science when paradigms are starting to collapse (just before and during scientific revolutions). But when paradigms are functioning... (full context)
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...specify that contemporary science is not one unified study; there are many sub-fields and smaller paradigms within each larger discipline. Therefore, there can be smaller scientific revolutions, in which one group... (full context)
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...physicist said no, and the chemist said yes, because each was drawing on their respective paradigms’ different needs and expectations. Kuhn tells readers that in upcoming chapters, these kinds of “paradigm... (full context)
Chapter 6. Anomaly and the Emergence of Scientific Discovery
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Kuhn argues that a paradigm shift begins with an “anomaly”: some case or instance in which the rules of the... (full context)
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Lavoisier’s discovery of oxygen initiated a paradigm shift. But Kuhn is careful to point out that Lavoisier had long been skeptical of... (full context)
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...strange glow before Roentgen did—and had ignored it, because it was incompatible with their accepted paradigm’s beliefs. (full context)
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Finally, Kuhn argues that developed—specific—paradigms allow more easily for this kind of resistance. Only when scientists are looking for very... (full context)
Chapter 7. Crisis and the Emergence of Scientific Theories
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...scientists thinking about oxygen in the 1770s struggled with competing applications of their supposedly shared paradigm. In fact, Kuhn sees the “proliferation of versions of a theory” as one of the... (full context)
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...this anomaly, scientists ignored the experiments and tried to theorize new edits to the original paradigm. It was nearly a century before James Maxwell, a committed Newtonian, started to think about... (full context)
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...these three examples: one, it usually only took 20 or 30 years for a new paradigm to emerge out of crisis. Two, scientists recognized problems in the paradigm long before a... (full context)
Chapter 8. The Response to Crisis
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Though crisis causes scientists to abandon old paradigms, Kuhn believes that—at least according to the various historical examples he has studied—scientists never do... (full context)
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But while anomalies lead to crises, counterinstances (or moments in which the paradigm does not behave exactly as expected) are an everyday part of normal science. Kuhn thus... (full context)
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...the field advances; sometimes, the anomaly cuts immediately and clearly to the heart of the paradigm. When a great many scientists have to pay attention to one anomaly, their responses to... (full context)
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...up, deciding they do not have the necessary equipment or knowledge to create a new paradigm. A complete scientific revolution, then, is relatively rare. But each crisis does “loosen” the rules... (full context)
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Moreover, as Kuhn insists, a true paradigm shift is not cumulative; instead, it requires scientists to go back to basics. To illustrate... (full context)
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...reject or resolve the anomaly, extraordinary science works with the anomaly to create a new paradigm. However, Kuhn notes that it is more difficult to describe this process purely with historical... (full context)
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...science, Kuhn argues, is to test out normal science by “push[ing] the rules” of a paradigm as far as they will go. The second step, as practiced by Copernicus and Einstein,... (full context)
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...is not a coincidence, Kuhn writes, that “thought experiments” are a fundamental part of new paradigms. (full context)
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...claim to understand how a person can eventually arrive at the beginnings of a new paradigm—how such an idea “emerges all at once, sometimes in the middle of the night.” But... (full context)
Chapter 9. The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions
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...when society is not governed. The same could be said of the gaps between scientific paradigms, when science retreats to a pre-paradigm version of itself. (full context)
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...power assumes control, they must do so by persuading the populace. In science, the replacement paradigm will not be entirely correct, just as its predecessor had some holes. Rather, the new... (full context)
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...the aspects of the previous theory that contradict it—therefore making it almost impossible for one paradigm to build on another. However, very few people share Kuhn’s belief that each paradigm is... (full context)
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At the same time, old paradigms still offer important answers. This is true both of Newtonian physics, which is still widely... (full context)
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Paradigms differ in the substantive ways they describe the universe. But each paradigm also entails a... (full context)
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To demonstrate the differences between paradigms (and to hint at the cyclical nature of science), Kuhn discusses the ancient Greek belief... (full context)
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Importantly, Kuhn does not see any one paradigm as more legitimate than the others. For example, Cartesian scientists (those working in the paradigm... (full context)
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However, this circularity poses a crucial problem. Each paradigm has its kinds of questions, with its own kind of acceptable solution, and each has... (full context)
Chapter 10. Revolutions as Changes of World View
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To some extent, Kuhn argues, “when paradigms change, the world changes with them.” Though scientists are not literally transported to a new... (full context)
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But if Galileo had gleaned insight from impetus theory, which was compatible with an old paradigm, Kuhn believes that his new way of seeing was ultimately the result of a “lightning... (full context)
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...not have an alternative explanation. So, while Kuhn is confident that scientists’ draw on their paradigm’s assumptions for even seemingly factual observations, he lacks a theory of perception to describe why... (full context)
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...to call her mother “mama” is also learning about gender and family structures in general. Paradigms do not determine single facts or experiences, and so paradigm shifts affect many ideas and... (full context)
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Fascinatingly, then, science in a new paradigm involves many of same techniques, tools and terms as science in the old paradigm did.... (full context)
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...revolution caused by John Dalton. For much of the 18th century, chemists worked under the paradigm of affinity theory, which dictated that certain substances dissolved in others because of an innate... (full context)
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Though some chemists were deeply opposed to Dalton’s view, this new paradigm quickly proved more useful and efficient. Since even skilled scientists had been conducting their experiments... (full context)
Chapter 11. The Invisibility of Revolutions
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...textbooks collapse after each scientific revolution and must be completely rewritten to reflect the new paradigm. Crucially, however, these new textbooks make no mention of this erasure. Instead, science textbooks “begin... (full context)
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As a result, textbooks often make science look linear. And in justifying their own paradigms, even some scientists themselves participate in this historical erasure. For example, Newton credits Galileo with... (full context)
Chapter 12. The Resolution of Revolutions
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...Copernicus, Galileo, and Lavoisier). How did these men persuade their colleagues and ensure that their paradigms were the successful ones? (full context)
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In moments of crisis, scientists begin to test out the old paradigm to see if it holds up against various anomalies. At the same time, they begin... (full context)
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Historian Karl Popper believes that it is falsification of theories—and not verification—that determines which paradigm will flourish. Kuhn sees Popper’s idea of falsification as another way of talking about anomalies... (full context)
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Paradigm verification is never so simple, however. Each worldview has such different basic assumptions that often,... (full context)
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...same language to talk about contrasting ideas. There is always “misunderstanding,” then, between the competing paradigms, and Kuhn is firm that “communication across the revolutionary divide is inevitably partial.” (full context)
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Most importantly, it is difficult to compare paradigms because of something Kuhn struggles to define. “In a sense that I am unable to... (full context)
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Indeed, most new paradigms do not take hold while their creators are still alive. Charles Darwin (who first conceptualized... (full context)
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But rather than seeing this miscommunication as evidence of scientists’ stubbornness, Kuhn believes that a paradigm shift is “a conversion experience that cannot be forced.” If normal science is effective because... (full context)
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...but because they are.” The most effective claim, however, seems to be that the new paradigm can solve the problems that caused the old one to collapse (e.g., Newton could use... (full context)
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Finally, some paradigms succeed because they are almost aesthetically pleasing in their neatness. This is especially important because... (full context)
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If an individual’s initial conception of the paradigm is a “lightning flash,” the persuasion stage is much slower. Not all scientists are persuaded... (full context)
Chapter 13. Progress through Revolutions
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...disagreement is not possible in normal science because it is guided by a single coherent paradigm. (full context)
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...for moments of crisis (and subsequent scientific revolutions), this textbook-based education also helps to make paradigm shifts possible. However, it does not necessarily equip students to think outside the box in... (full context)
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Since scientific groups have a shared knowledge of which problems have yet to be solved, paradigms are selected not because they are new but because they offer “concrete problem-solving ability.” Similarly,... (full context)
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...further, arguing that society has to “relinquish the notion, explicit or implicit, that changes of paradigm carry scientists and those who learn from them closer and closer to truth.” (full context)
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...for something similar in science: rather than progressing toward a single goal, new ideas and paradigms have adapted and succeeded through a kind of natural selection. There is a larger question... (full context)
Postscript - 1969
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First, Kuhn reiterates that paradigms are circular—and therefore he wishes that before leaping into this circular narrative, he had begun... (full context)
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Kuhn also specifies that even in pre-paradigm periods, scientific communities share some basic ideas and beliefs. What really changes in a paradigm... (full context)
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...most demonstrate the need for Kuhn’s argument. Similarly, he acknowledges that the crises that start paradigm shifts may be introduced from other disciplines or subgroups. (full context)
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In the next section, Kuhn revises his blanket use of the term paradigm, which he feels he originally used in two contradictory ways. Rather than saying that scientists... (full context)
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Kuhn also redefines the crucial problems of a given paradigm as “exemplars.” These exemplars (usually famous experiments that helped to clarify the overarching disciplinary matrix)... (full context)
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In the next section, Kuhn argues that exemplars deserve special attention because “the paradigm as shared example is the central element of what I now take to be the... (full context)
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...world from everyone else. Kuhn then argues that one of the fundamental principles of a paradigm is that it allows various members of a scientific group to feel the same sensations... (full context)
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...of science who criticized his original text, Kuhn clarifies his remarks about the incommensurability of paradigms. Rather than saying that believers of different paradigms can never understand each other, Kuhn specifies... (full context)
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Translation across paradigms is therefore one of the crucial tools of persuasion. However, Kuhn is realistic about the... (full context)