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The Structure of Scientific Revolutions – Thomas Kuhn

This is a famous and important book about history and sociology (and philosophy?) of science. It analyzes the way science evolves: with an historical approach the author shows how science doesn’t progress in a linear way, but instead by small increases alternated by scientific revolutions in which the paradigm shifts.

Kuhn examines mainly the historical progress of physics and of chemistry, plus some aspects of science in general, and it is able to distinguish three phases of science. The first is a phase without a mainstream paradigm: there are many contrasting, with little or no principles sharing between them. Then, when one of them is able to explain lot of the present-time questions of interests, it emerges as the dominant one, and we enter into the second phase: the so defined “normal science”, in which scientists try to solve puzzles and answer questions using the current mainstream paradigm, whose set of principles, knowledge and methods are now well accepted . During this “normal science” period, many puzzles are solved (as much as the current paradigm permits to solve them!), but whenever some investigation gives results that are contrary to the paradigm, it is commonly assumed that it was because of a mistake or inability of the researcher. Hence it is quiet evident as the “falsification” principle is not really working during this phase when it has to deal with the core principles of nromal science. Interactions of scholars are important in this period: well affirmed scientists happens to oppose to critics to the present paradigm. So Science is obviously more a social interaction product than a “discovering of the truth”.

Once the puzzles that can’t be solved by normal science become many and relevant, many scientists become aware of it and do not deny the fact the normal science is not able anymore to give solutions. So we enter a “crisis period” in which a new science could substitute the current one. This period is the “revolutionary science” in which scientists try to build new paradigms to explain the phenomena that normal science can’t explain and to solve the unsolved puzzles. When one of this new paradigms is able to answer most of the questions, it becomes the new dominant one and we enter a new “normal science” phase. The book details examples of this phases in the history of physics and chemistry, narrating events in an convincing and interesting way.

The author shows that science progress is also a product of social interactions, and it is determined by how scientists act in their communities, for example when the affirmed scholars deliberately refute new and better ideas to avoid the paradigm shift (and in INSITE we aim to study the relationship between innovation and social world). One last thing to say about this book is the sharing of many ideas with Polanyi, with whom Kuhn exchanged opinions long before the publication of the book, so people interested in the topic could read also Polanyi’s contributions.

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