The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

by

Thomas S. Kuhn

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Normal Science vs. Extraordinary Science Theme Analysis

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Science textbooks present science as an endless process of new discovery. But in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, historian Thomas Kuhn argues that the kind of work most scientists do day-to-day actually discourages novelty and original thinking. Instead, Kuhn suggests that there are two different kinds of science: extraordinary science, in which one individual suddenly conceptualizes the world in a new light, and normal science, which involves trying to “force nature” to conform to their expectations. Extraordinary science leads to new sets of questions and techniques, while normal science involves answering those questions and applying those techniques. Yet rather than dismissing normal science, Kuhn makes a surprising case for its importance: because it eventually forces scientist to face the holes in their beliefs, normal science is what makes extraordinary science possible.

Kuhn argues that day-to-day, normal science is not about new ideas and discoveries—and in fact, normal science actively works to suppress this kind of original thinking. “No part of the aim of normal science is to call forth new sorts of phenomena,” writes Kuhn. Instead, Kuhn refers to normal science as “mop-up work,” in which scientists apply the rules of their paradigm to a variety of increasingly specific problems—cleaning up the existing ideas without adding any of their own. To illustrate his point, Kuhn compares normal science to a “jigsaw puzzle.” Completing a jigsaw puzzle is not about imagining a different or more interesting picture; rather, it is putting together the pieces to reform the picture on the puzzle box. Similarly, Kuhn argues that normal science is about providing new examples of familiar conclusions (through experimental data and research). But to continue this kind of puzzle-solving work, normal science must not acknowledge any new guiding rules or concepts. As Kuhn puts it, normal science “often suppresses fundamental novelties” because those novelties undermine the basic ideas of the current paradigm. For the “mop-up work” of normal science to have meaning, the ideas and beliefs that undergird that science must not be changed. For scientists who conduct research and experiments according to the rules of a given paradigm, then, thinking outside the box would actually invalidate the vast majority of their daily work.

On the other hand, extraordinary science, which does involve radically new ideas, has almost nothing to do with the everyday practices of science (such as research and calculation). If Kuhn used the predictable jigsaw puzzle to symbolize normal science, he sees extraordinary science as an unsolved puzzle: “scientists then often speak of the ‘scales falling from the eyes’ or of the ‘lightning flash’ that inundates a previously obscure puzzle.” Importantly, Kuhn describes the process of extraordinary science with language more often reserved for discussing moments of artistic inspiration. In other words, if normal science is like solving a jigsaw puzzle, extraordinary science is about creating a new picture entirely. And while normal science involves preserving the world as it is, extraordinary science marks such a change in perception that it is a “transformation of the world within which scientific work was done.” Because extraordinary science reorients scientists’ perspective on the world, it also changes the way their own personal experiences and perceptions.

Ultimately, though normal science and extraordinary science are very different, Kuhn shows that neither type would be possible without the other.  Extraordinary science—the invention of a given paradigm—always opens the door to normal science. As Kuhn puts it, “during the period that the paradigm is successful, the profession will have solved problems that its members could scarcely have imagined and would never have undertaken without commitment to the paradigm.” Extraordinary science, which provides a set of scientific values and beliefs, is necessary for normal scientists to focus on a small set of questions and to build on one another’s work. However, because normal science allows scientists to see the flaws of their paradigm, it also highlights the anomalies any new theorist must consider. For example, X-ray technology was discovered when one physicist, conducting a routine experiment with cathode rays, noticed a glow where he did not expect to see one. Because normal science teaches its practitioners what to look for with great detail and precision, it is much easier to notice the unexpected—and therefore to realize the flaws in a paradigm that lead to the revelation of an entirely new paradigm. This is why scientific theories are also formed with what Kuhn calls a “certain circularity.” Extraordinary science makes normal science possible—and then, in turn, normal science, by slowly identifying holes in the current paradigm, creates the need for extraordinary science. Therefore, even as Kuhn draws a distinction between the two types of science, he does not suggest that either one is better than the other; in fact, he suggests that they are both necessary parts of scientific discovery.

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Normal Science vs. Extraordinary Science Quotes in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Below you will find the important quotes in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions related to the theme of Normal Science vs. Extraordinary Science.
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

Once engaged, his motivation is of a rather different sort. What then challenges him is the conviction that, if only he is skillful enough, he will succeed in solving a puzzle that no one before has solved or solved so well. Many of the greatest scientific minds have devoted all of their professional attention to demanding puzzles of this sort. On most occasions any particular field of specialization offers nothing else to do, a fact that makes it no less fascinating to the proper sort of addict.

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker)
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

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
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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
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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

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

As in political revolutions, so in paradigm choice—there is no standard higher than the assent of the relevant community.

Related Characters: Thomas Kuhn (speaker)
Page Number: 94
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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:

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:
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
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