Thomas Kuhn and Sir Karl Popper are particularly famous for their opposing views on science and its development. Thomas Kuhn was a philosopher and a historian of science. He focused on the conception, development, and acceptance of scientific ideas and specifically attempted to investigate the context of justification, wondering what the factors affecting the legitimacy of scientific ideas were (“Thomas Kuhn on Normal Science”).
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In particular, Kuhn argued that science is influenced by paradigms, i.e., a set of assumptions, which affect research questions, methods, and the interpretation of results (“Thomas Kuhn on Normal Science”). Sir Karl Popper studied logic and the scientific method. Contrary to Kuhn, he argued that openness is at the foundation of the scientific method and that scientists should not accept or assume any information and should remain open to criticism of their ideas, including the ones that constitute fundamental knowledge.
Andersen explores the subject of cosmology and the development of scientific thought about the universe by referring to past discoveries and ideas. In particular, the author focuses on Kovac’s discovery of the Big Bang afterglow as part of the BICEP2 project, which was later refuted by the scientific community and scientists themselves. The description of scientific thought proposed by Andersen can be used to exemplify the differences in approaches to science as outlined in the Popper-Kuhn debate.
Popper and Kuhn’s Views in Andersen’s Essay
Firstly, the article introduces the contradiction between open-mindedness and the use of paradigms. Andersen mentions that cosmology is a broad subject and that scientific discoveries made to date still cannot explain the majority of processes occurring in space: “They don’t know whether the Big Bang was the beginning, or merely one of many beginnings. Something entirely unimaginable might have preceded it”. This statement is somewhat consistent with the scientific openness constituting the basis of science, as proposed by Popper.
Nevertheless, Andersen acknowledges that this setting is too vague for scientists to work and that they must accept certain assumptions in order to develop their understanding of the universe (e.g., Guth’s theory of inflation). When Kuhn’s line of thinking is applied to the case, it is evident that cosmologists work based on certain paradigms, which largely govern their scientific work and discoveries. Therefore, the view of cosmology offered by Andersen can be related to Kuhn’s arguments regarding normal science and experimental work.
Another important topic of the article is the development of thought about space. Popper believed that scientific change occurs only through conjecture and refutation, whereas Kuhn argued that there are different kinds of change, including change within a paradigm and a scientific revolution (“Kuhn on Scientific Revolutions”). In general, Andersen accepts the notion that scientific work is mostly guided by paradigms, which is why the article also represents a scientific revolution as defined by Kuhn. First of all, a paradigm shift is a scientific change that occurs when an old paradigm is rejected in favor of a new one.
An example of this is the progression of thought about cosmos from Aristotle to Copernicus. Whereas Aristotle imagined space as a group of planets moving around the Earth, Copernicus rejected that paradigm, offering an entirely new view that the sun is at the center of the solar system and that the Earth moves around its own axis, thus creating an illusion that other planets revolve around it (Andersen). Copernicus’ discovery is an example of a scientific revolution as explained by Kuhn, as it offered a refutation of an old paradigm, developed in Ancient Greece, in favor of an entirely new paradigm.
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Another essential feature of scientific development, as mentioned by Kuhn, is the scientists’ ability to choose a particular paradigm. Where Popper argued that scientific knowledge is guided by the results of previous research, which have been extensively tested and scrutinised, Kuhn stated that a scientific revolution is somewhat resemblant of a religious conversion, and that scientists’ preference of one paradigm over the other is a personal choice rather than a rational one (“Thomas Kuhn on the Incommensurability of Paradigms”).
This idea is widely criticized, as the scientific community emphasizes the importance of critical rationalism and reliability of scientific knowledge. However, Andersen shows that scientific discoveries are, indeed, subject to interpretation based on a paradigm. For instance, Aristotle intentionally rejected some of the previous ideas about the cosmos in order to make it more singular and complete: “He preferred the five elements of earth, water, air, fire and ether to a void filled with atoms”.
Another example is Kovac’s discovery, which was believed by scientists to be a significant development in cosmology. The inflationary model was the paradigm that affected the scientists’ line of thinking, thus causing them to interpret results in a positive way (Andersen). Nevertheless, when the scientists with other paradigms saw the work, they offered a different interpretation of the results, leading to the discovery being refuted.
Overall, Andersen’s essay portrays the development of scientific thought from Kuhn’s viewpoint. The author shows how scientific change follows a pattern of scientific revolution observed by Kuhn and how scientists’ work is affected by various paradigms. Although there are also some examples of Popper’s thinking in the article, the text can be used to exemplify Kuhn’s thought on normal science.
Andersen, Ross. “In the Beginning.” Aeon Magazine, 2015. Web.
“Thomas Kuhn on Normal Science (Lecture 7, Part 1 of 2).” YouTube, uploaded by SisyphusRedeemed. 2013. Web.
“Thomas Kuhn on the Incommensurability of Paradigms (Lecture 8, Part 1 of 3).” YouTube, uploaded by SisyphusRedeemed. 2013. Web.