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Kuhn,The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (XXI)

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Maj Matt Domsalla

SAASS 601/4

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Precis

In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the American physicist, philosopher, and scientific historian Thomas S. Kuhn postulates that scientific progress does not occur via a linear accumulation of knowledge. Rather, science undergoes periodic revolutions, or paradigm shifts, that abruptly transform the nature of scientific inquiry in particular field. In periods of ‘normal science,’ scientific research is grounded in methods established from past achievement that the community has acknowledged as the foundation for further practice. Periods of ‘normal science’ are traditionally described with rubrics – Ptolemaic or Copernican astronomy, Aristotelian or Newtonian dynamics, or corpuscular or wave optics. ‘Normal science’ is concerned with three classes of problems – determination of significant facts, matching of facts with theory, and articulation of theory. Change in scientific paradigms results from the observation and subsequent exploration of an anomaly. The paradigm then adjusts so that the anomalous becomes the expected. Here, Kuhn uses Lavoisier’s ‘discovery’ of oxygen and Roentgen’s ‘discovery’ of X-rays as examples of anomalies. Eventually, however, anomalies exist for so long, that the field experiences a crisis – failure of the rules is a prelude for looking for new rules. Kuhn uses the emergence of Copernican astronomy as the new set of rules developed due to the crisis resulting from the increasing complexity without the concomitant increase in accuracy of Ptolemy’s system. In response to this crisis, the new paradigm is adopted and the old discarded. The crisis ends in one of three ways – (1) normal science ultimately handles (explains) the crisis, (2) the problem resists even radically new approaches and is shelved for a future generation, or (3) the emergence of a new paradigm and the battle for its acceptance. The transition to the new scientific paradigm is a scientific revolution. The scientific paradigms preceding and succeeding a paradigm shift are so different that their theories are incommensurable – the new cannot be proven or disproven by the rules of the old. Kuhn uses the transition from Newtonian to Einsteinian mechanics to illustration how a scientific revolution displaces the conceptual network through which scientists view the world. Paradigm changes cause scientists to view the world differently – a gestalt switch occurs, and what was a duck becomes a rabbit. These world view transformations are an important element of scientific training and education. Kuhn uses the example of the psychological experiment where the subject must identify mis-colored cards in a deck. The first time, the subject doesn’t notice anything; then the subject notices something is amiss, but it is difficult to discern; finally, the subject is aware that the color may not match the expected suit, and the mismatches are easily identified. He also uses Herschel’s discovery of Uranus. He also cites Dalton’s work on atomic theory. Kuhn likens the transformation to a new paradigm to a conversion, which cannot be forced. The best strategy for the proponents of a new strategy to gain acceptance is to demonstrate that the new paradigm can solve the problem that led to the crisis. It also helps if the new paradigm predicts phenomena that had been unsuspected with the old.


· “Perhaps science does not develop by the accumulation of individual discoveries and inventions.” (2)

· Copernicus, Newton, Lavoisier, and Einstein. “Each of them necessitated the community’s rejection of one time-honored scientific theory in favor of another incompatible with it. Each produced a consequent shift in the problems available for scientific scrutiny and in the standards by which the profession determined what should could as an admissible problem or as a legitimate problem-solution.” (6)

The Route to Normal Science

· “Aristotle’s Physica, Ptolemy’s Almagest, Newton’s Principia and Optiks, Franklin’s Electricity, Lavoisier’s Chemistry, and Lyell’s Geology – these and many other works served for a time implicitly to define the legitimate problems and methods of a research field for succeeding generations of practitioners… Their achievement was sufficiently unprecedented to attract an enduring group of adherents away from competing modes of scientific activity. Simultaneously, it was sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined group of practitioners to resolve.” (10)

· “To be accepted as a paradigm, a theory must seem better than its competitors, but it need not, and in fact never does, explain all the facts with which it can be confronted.” (18)

The Nature of Normal Science

· “Paradigms gain their status because they are more successful than their competitors in solving a few problems that the group of practitioners has come to recognize as acute.” (23)

· “By focusing attention upon a small range of relatively esoteric problems, the paradigm forces scientists to investigate some part of nature in a detail and depth that would otherwise be unimaginable.” (24)

· “No other work known to the history of science [Principia] has simultaneously permitted so large an increase in both the scope and precision of research.” (30)

Normal Science as Puzzle-Solving

· “Even the project whose goal is paradigm articulation does not aim at the unexpected novelty.” (35)

· “One of the things a scientific community acquires with a paradigm is a criterion for choosing problems that, which the paradigm is taken for granted, can be assumed to have solutions.” (37)

Priority of Paradigms

· “Explicit rules, when they exist, are usually common to a very broad scientific group, but paradigms need not be.” (49)

Anomaly and the Emergence of Scientific Discoveries

· “In both cases [Lavoisier and Roentgen] the perception of anomaly – of a phenomenon, that is, for which his paradigm had not readied the investigator – played an essential role in preparing the way for perception of novelty. But… the perception that something had gone wrong was only the prelude to discovery.” (57)

· “The decision to employ a particular piece of apparatus and to use it in a particular way carries an assumption that only certain sorts of circumstances will arise.” (59)

· Characteristics of all discoveries from which new sorts of phenomena emerge include: “the previous awareness of anomaly, the gradual and simultaneous emergence of both observational and conceptual recognition, and the consequent change of paradigm categories and procedures often accompanied by resistance.” (62)

· “That awareness of anomaly opens a period in which conceptual categories are adjusted until the initially anomalous has become the anticipated. At that point the discovery has been completed.” (64)

Crisis and the Emergence of Scientific Theories

· “Because it demands large-scale paradigm destruction and major shifts in the problems and techniques of normal science, the emergence of new theories is generally preceded by a period of pronounced professional insecurity… Failure of existing rules is the prelude to a search for new ones.” (67 – 68)

· ”Retooling is an extravagance to be reserved for the occasion that demands it.” (76)

The Response to Crisis

· “The decision to reject one paradigm is always simultaneously the decision to accept another, and the judgment leading to that decision involves the comparison of both paradigms with nature and with each other.” (77)

· “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.” (90)

The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions

· Political revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, often restricted to a segment of the political community, that existing institutions have ceased adequately to meet the problems posed by an environment that they have in part created. In much the same way, scientific revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, again often restricted to a narrow subdivision of the scientific community, that an existing paradigm has ceased to function adequately in the exploration of an aspect of nature to which that paradigm itself had previously led the way.” (92)

· “Political revolutions aim to change political institutions in way that those institutions themselves prohibit.” (93)

· “Like the choice between competing political institutions, that between competing paradigms proves to be a choice between incompatible modes of community life.” (94)

· “Just because it did not involve the introduction of additional objects or concepts, the transition from Newtonian to Einsteinian mechanics illustrates with particular clarity the scientific revolution as a displacement of the conceptual network through which scientists view the world.” (102)

· “This need to change the meaning of established and familiar concepts is central to the revolutionary impact of Einstein’s theory.” (102)

· “Though an out-of-date theory can always be viewed as a special case of its up-to-date successor, it must be transformed for the purpose. And the transformation is one that can be undertaken only with the advantages of hindsight, the explicit guidance of the more recent theory.”” (103)

Revolutions as Changes of World View

· “It is hard to make nature fit a paradigm. That is why the puzzles of normal science are so challenging and also why measurements undertaken without a paradigm so seldom lead to any conclusions at all.” (135)

The Invisibility of Revolutions

· “All three [textbooks, popularizations, and philosophical works modeled on them] record the stable outcome of past revolutions and thus display the bases of the current normal-scientific tradition.” (137)

· “The textbook tendency to make the development of science linear hides a process that lies at the heart of the most significant episodes of scientific development.” (140)

The Resolution of Revolutions

· It is just the incompleteness and imperfection of the existing data-theory fit that, at any time, define many of the puzzles that characterize normal science.” (146)

· “The transfer of allegiance from paradigm to paradigm is a conversion experience that cannot be forced.” (150)

Progress through Revolutions

· “The Origin of Species recognized no goal set either by God or nature.” (172)

· “And the entire process [of selection of scientific ideas] may have occurred, as we now suppose biological evolution did, without benefit of a set goal, a permanent fixed scientific truth, of which each stage in the development of scientific knowledge is a better exemplar.” (173)


The Structure of Scientific Revolutions – Thomas Kuhn (1962)

- Made the modern understanding of a paradigm (p X – “universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners”)

- Written specifically to a scientific field describing what he saw as how science works

- Pre-paradigm, divergent efforts that don’t go anywhere

- Paradigm – aggregation of fact, fast progress in analyzing natural world through paradigm

o Puzzles – Solvable within a specific paradamic worldview

o Anamolies – Unsolvable puzzles inside a paradigm

§ Anamolies will exist in all paradigms, level of noise???

- Crisis Point – 2 paradigms that are too incommensurate (they can’t both exist)

o Paradigm can exist within another paradigm (subset) as long as commensurate

o Changes in paradigms are resisted, must have crisis

- Eventually one new paradigm settles out, can takes a generation to occur fully

o Requires faith to follow new paradigm during initial lack of evidence(p158)

- Kuhn (170-3) No absolute truth, truth lick Darwin natural selection, random…

Application to Military Strategy???

- Do I Strictly translate (p 164 doesn’t apply to other fields) or loosely translate

- Paradigms exist know thy own (including allies) and know they enemies

o Vietnam – 10 yrs N. Vietnamese showed the power of patience, US lesson learned we must go faster next time (operation on 2 different paradigms)

- US Military Ability to shift paradigms

o Negative view – Big Bureaucracy that does not change quickly

o Positive view – Rapid change from Wright Flyer to WWII; chain of command, UCMJ allows a powerful leader to make quick change


The Structure of Scientific Revolutions – Thomas S. Kuhn


Kuhn describes how science progresses. Based on his central idea of the paradigm. Paradigm – accepted examples of scientific principle—laws, theories, application,-- that provide models from which spring coherent traditions of scientific research. Paradigms lead to Natural Science—which basically examines a paradigm to its fullest and deepest. This full study of natural science leads to anomalies, which either adjust the paradigm or lead to a revolution and the acceptance of a new paradigm. In a new paradigm the world actually looks differently. Science is both conservative (holds onto to its paradigm with natural science techniques) and liberal in that it uses those anamolies and crisis to build a new paradigm. GREAT BOOK HUGE IMPLICATIONS FOR STRATEGY—IN SOME WAYS WE ARE PRE=PROGRAMMED…IN SOME WAYS THIS IS GOOD. NEED TO ACKNOWLEDGE OR THINK ABOUT OUR OWN PARADIGMS.


1. Paradigm guides a whole fields research

2. Paradigm -- > Anomaly à Adjusted Paradigm à or Revolution à New Paradigm

3. When you start debating the fundamentals, have doubt, revolution may be occurring

4. Only in times of revolution—do you spend the big bucks on new technology

5. More precise measurement in Natural Science leads to more sensitivity to anomaly which leads to more shift

6. Natural science seems boring (DOES NOT search out Novelty), but hugely important – finds the limits of the paradigm 3 parts to it

A. Determination of fact

B. Matching of fact to theory

C. Further articulation of the theory

7. Precision and measure are important and expensive. More precise more chance for more knowledge and a shift.

8. In normal science, a novelty is considered a failure usually!

9. Decision to reject a paradigm means you must compare old and new to nature and to each other

10. Social scientist s almost always defend their choice of a problem (like SAASS!) unlike hard science.


Really describes discovers that led to Atom Bomb. In 1898 Thompson discovers electron – “like an artillery shell bouncing off a piece of toilet paper” and 47 years later A-Bomb. Takes funds and huge brains with a common paradigm to get to something new. Still confused as to what A-Bomb might do.

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