Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolution

Thomas Kuhn, through the concept of paradigm shift, has demythologized science as an accumulation of knowledge through smooth progress. That, for Kuhn, is just normal science, the incremental progress within the limits, biases and assumptions of a paradigm. For him, a paradigm is a set of accepted practices within the scientific community, the scientific traditions the scientists have grown up with. For him, “The success of a paradigm… is at the start largely a promise of success discoverable in selected and still incomplete examples. And “Normal science consists in the actualization of that promise.”

Though Thomas Kuhn focused on the Copernican Revolution, for me the Quantum Revolution is a more poignant example of paradigm shift. And the latter, like the former, starts with inexplicable phenomena. When the traditional electromagnetic theory of Maxwell’s Equations couldn't explain black body radiation, Boltzmann and then Plank developed a set of equations with quantized energy levels to explain the phenomena. Later, Niels Bohr formulated the quantized levels of atoms to explain their discrete emissions.

Johannes Kepler                  Isaac Newton

As Kuhn says, “When, in the development of a natural science, an individual or group first produces a synthesis able to attract most of the next generation’s practitioners, the older schools gradually disappear.” In this case, Bohr persuaded his colleagues about the new view and pushed quantum mechanics into the forefront, securing it as the dominant theory in modern physics. But there were oppositions. Even Einstein, who proposed the quantization of light, could not accept the probabilistic nature of matter-energy as described by the Uncertainty Principle. For him, “God does not play dice.”

Max Planck                                 Niels Bohr                  

Albert Einstein

The shift from Newtonian mechanics to quantum mechanics is a shift from a deterministic view of the universe to a probabilistic one, a change of beliefs and values. For Einstein and others, accepting quantum mechanics seemed like returning to the pre-scientific age, where a person, even a scientist, couldn’t quantify and analyze and predict natural events. When the way of doing science changes, so do the tools. Whereas calculus was the mathematical tool of Newtonian mechanics, statistics and transforms, Fourier or others, and the related group theories are those of quantum mechanics. And we know, even outside of science, that using different tools creates different results.

Erwin Schrodinger                Werner Heisenberg              Richard Feynman

For Kuhn, “Paradigms may be prior to, more binding, and more complete than any set of rules for research that could be unequivocally abstracted from them.” So the preferences toward a deterministic worldview and the corresponding tools predisposed scientists to solve those problems with a well-defined solution. Motion under gravitational and electromagnetic forces in the macroscopic world. On the other hand, the preference toward a probabilistic worldview and the corresponding tools predispose scientists to focus on the uncertain boundaries between matter and energy, space and time, position and momentum, and energy and time. And so, “one of the things a scientific community acquires with a paradigm is a criterion for choosing problems that, while the paradigm is taken for granted, can be assumed to have solutions.” Following the Quantum Revolution, scientists developed quantum electrodynamics (QED) and quantum chromodynamics (QCD) through normal science. But when string and other theories begin to emerge, scientists must again reevaluate their models and even more importantly their practices and worldviews.

                                                                 Thomas Kuhn

Through The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, we begin to see scientific progress’s jagged path and appreciate the subjective parts of doing science. And instead of worshiping science, we take on the scientific mindset of observing phenomena and analyzing data and revealing biases and modifying models.

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