Philosophy, Thomas Kuhn and Pseudo-science

While cleaning up my bookshelf I stumbled on a volume of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions[4]. It is an important book, and Kuhn’s impact on philosophy of science was remarkable.

According to Kuhn, science does not progress steadily, but instead through big and revolutionary changes, paradigm shifts. We stay in the era of normal science as long as the current paradigm is sufficiently compatible with the observations. When the situation ceases to be so, we have a need for revolution, which will eventually replace the current paradigm with a new one. Gradually, when the new paradigm is accepted by the scientific community, we re-enter the era of normal science.

An other philosopher of science, Karl Popper, approached the problem from an other direction. He was concerned of something that is known as the demarcation problem [7]. That is, how to make a difference between what is science and what is for example religion, politics or pseudo-science. He devised a term falsification, which means that a scientific claim must be such, that you can at least in principle to be able to prove it wrong [8]. If this is not a case, we are not dealing with science.

The Mad Scientist. Picture: Wikpedia.

Kuhn did not believe falsification was not any more plausible than proving something was real and thus all views we might have of reality must be treated as equal.

Personally, I have not been a great fan of Kuhnian philosophy and many scientists tend to agree, that the idea of scientific revolution is actually very problematic. Irish physicist Cormac O’Rafferty has written a very nice article about the subject: Was Kuhn more wrong than right? [5]. Same blog also has an introduction to Karl Popper’s philosophy [9].

I am not very surprised, that Kuhn is more popular with pseudo-science practitioners that Popper. At least, Kuhnian philosophy gives you an option, or even an obligation, to trash all that was and start a new brave world.

Kuhn was an important philosopher of science and his book still has a great influence, but even Kuhn was known to say, that nobody actually understood his true meaning and he is much fonder of his critics than his fans [6].

Thomas Kuhn. Picture: Wikipedia.

___________________________________________________________________

References:

[1]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Kuhn
[2]
http://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Popper
[3]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imre_Lakatos
[4]
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962
[5]
http://coraifeartaigh.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/was-kuhn-more-wrong-than-right/
[6]
http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2012/05/23/what-thomas-kuhn-really-thought-about-scientific-truth/
[7]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demarcation_problem
[8]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability
[9]
http://coraifeartaigh.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/popper-and-falsification/

 

4 thoughts on “Philosophy, Thomas Kuhn and Pseudo-science

  1. Pingback: Newton was wrong – And other scientific revolutions | The Pathoskeptic

      • Sorry, someway I missed your reply completely.
        It seems very difficult to make fans of either Popper or Kuhn agree
        Maybe because Kuhn mainly weakened his brilliant concept ‘paradigm’ in later publications. In fact he made a mess of it.
        Both Popper and Kuhn were conservative scientists closely connected to the ‘elite’. Kuhn’s concept ‘paradigm’ deserved a better defender.

        Like

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