How Scientific Research Works Essay

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Response to "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” by Thomas Kuhn

How the Reading Has Affected What I Believe about the Nature of Science and What It Can Tell Us about the World

Science has always been a part of the world: people from the beginning of time have asked questions about nature and the world—and they have based their answers on evidence. Discovering laws or formulating theories is part of the process of science. But so too is something like building or designing or doing mathematics or making a work of art. The science of architecture, or the science of medicine—these sciences are always growing and developing in new ways because the human mind is not static. It can look back on all of human history and on personal experience to make new discoveries and to advance the field of science in unique ways. The reading really opened this idea up to me, first off by discussing the notion of science in terms of the big breakthroughs—i.e., the Newtonian breakthrough (gravity), the Einstein breakthrough (relativity), and so on. People might have understood that things fall—but it took Newton’s theory to help explain the why. Considering the history of human life, that is a relatively modern theory, which indicates that science is still very much a field that has a lot of room to grow.

As Kuhn (1972) points out, “normal science” is that science which builds upon the work of others—i.e., “research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice” (p.10). Kuhn’s point is that science is normal when it is growing, when it is standing on the shoulders of those who came before and finding what else it can make sense of or explain. This is what Kuhn describes as the “acquisition of a paradigm” (Kuhn, 1972, p. 11). It is important to realize, however, that paradigms are not wholly complete in and of themselves. New discoveries—such as the movement of planets and stars—only come about with changes in technology. The telescope required a new scientific explanation to address the reality, and Newton, for example, helped to provide that explanation. This is how science works, as Kuhn describes it.

Science can thus tell us about the world by shedding light on the dynamics at play. Science relies on proof but it takes a rational mind to arrive at that ability to collect the right data in the first place. That data then needs to be interpreted and the interpretation of facts is a science in and of itself. In short, science and the world around us and somewhat constantly in a state of revision—of new thinkers and researchers looking at the data and discovering new features of reality.
The Nature of the Nature of Facts, Theories, and the Scientific Enterprise

The nature of the nature of facts is determined by the paradigm—but the paradigm, less like a pattern that is repeated again and again, is more like a judicial decision that is uttered by the Supreme Court and used by later justices to apply meaning to an emergence of future facts or to be deepened by further explication.
As Kuhn (1972) states, in science a paradigm “is an object for further articulation and specification under new or more stringent conditions” (p. 23). Science is, therefore, a field in which theory and enterprise are united in a kind of court of law—where facts are presented and scientists (like lawyers) argue on the meaning and proper interpretation of the facts. Is there a judge? To some extent, the public is the judge—but really anyone with any type of power or authority in society can serve in the capacity of judge. For what really makes science “science” is the acceptance of a certain interpretation of the facts. This gets to the meaning of the scientific revolution—it is a revolution in the interpretation of the facts, in so far as society is concerned.

An example would help to explain this phenomenon. Galileo helped to advance the idea that the earth was not the center of the universe. The facts not had really changed substantially between what Galileo was able to introduce in his research and what others had introduced before him. The difference was that he articulated a new interpretation of the facts. Some, especially within the Church, challenged his interpretation. Others (also in the Church) welcomed them. The deciding point, or rather tipping point, did not come suddenly like an avalanche but rather grew over time. As society changed in the following years, so too did the perception on the heavens and the position of the earth. The field or inquiry of science adjusted itself accordingly: researchers began adjusting their viewpoints to fit the paradigm that emerged as society shifted away from a theologically-based paradigm to a naturalistic or rationalistic one. Science during the Enlightenment operated essentially within the structure of this latter paradigm. It was the judicial decision rendered by society in the wake of the Protestant Reformation and the ensuing secularization of society. Theories and the scientific enterprise were adjusted accordingly.

The Way We Can Understand the World Ourselves

Just like in any court of law, argument matters. We can understand the world ourselves by articulating the argument that makes the most sense to us and communicating it to others. Science must….....

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References

Kuhn, T. (1972). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

 

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