16 November, 2012

Kuhn’s Non-Revolution

Staying in the Right Mode
In a 50th Anniversary celebration of publication, Ian Hacking contributes an article on Thomas Kuhn, the author, in 1962, of his book The Structure of Scientific Revolution.
Now Kuhn’s idea of revolutions in Science stands in direct contrast with the Emergentist description and explanation of such things in general, which, of course, they do not restrict to a single area such as Science, but are said to occur in all spheres of human endeavour, as well as in natural developments in all areas of Reality.

For Kuhn’s version considers only the Forms of scientific research, and the consequent treatment of the acquired results, and as such concerns itself with appearance only, and is by no means a causal revelation of either the “revolutionary” contribution, or its consequences in the conceptions and research of those who thereafter followed that event.

He explains that what most scientists did after such a revelation, actually only conforms to a new current template of what legitimate research should be. Kuhn described what was taken on by the scientists as a new paradigm (though he also considered calling it an exemplar).

For, once established in any new area of study (by a brilliant new discovery, say), the actual work is taken as the new way of doing such research, and is rapidly copied as to its forms and method by literally everyone thereafter. Not, it must be emphasized, by just repeating the very same research, but certainly by doing their chosen work in-the-same-way as was thereafter a consensus paradigm or template.

The “successfully used way” of the innovator becomes universal, but because it is mainly an approach, method and means of presenting the results (perhaps as an equation), it is certain to be, to some extent, an example of “the tail wagging the dog” – in that it, to a remarkable degree tends to determine the sorts of areas and sorts of questions that are tackled.

An excellent example is the discovery almost a century ago that Accelerator Experiments with elementary particles, would be a very productive form for research in Sub Atomic Physics, and that paradigm has persisted ever since: only the size and power of the Accelerators used changing to give results unobtainable by earlier kit.

This paradigm, being only a template pattern, has long ago turned into a straight jacket for such research, and has merely demanded ever bigger machines culminating currently in the Large Hadron Collider, and search for the fabled Higgs’ Boson – the supposed creator of all matter. [It begets a fixed theoretical standpoint and keeps well within its assumptions and ideas]

You similarly have to follow the effects of the Giant Astronomical Telescopes, which commenced with Hubble at Mount Wilson, and has worked up through ever-larger devices in ever more conducive circumstances, until the process moved out into space with the famed Hubble Space Telescope.

Such a paradigm gives the most blinkered, yet “productive”, trajectory of progress. For, being technology driven, the newest and most powerful kit will always deliver new information to interpret, which wasn’t available previously. Pure kit development, doing exactly what was done before, is guaranteed to deliver an ever-increasing access to entirely new data.

I could go on with many other examples of the same ilk, but what is crucial is that instead of a new piece of crucial research opening up the prospect for a different and revolutionary stance, and the necessary of a complete change in our assumptions and basic beliefs, we get instead the easiest way to “progress” along a well tried and developable path.

And because of this, it turns out to be basically reactionary: it does NOT focus all efforts at correcting the previously wrong stance. No major reassessing and redefining of the fundamental bases occur.
It does not have to recognise real revolutions in conceptions, and errors in our assumptions, and because of this cannot lead to the necessary root and branch revolution in Science, that the original work warranted.
On the contrary, it merely re-directs research into a “proved-to-be-successful” method.

So, as such, it wasn’t revolutionary or even revelatory in the way it was responded to.
It was instead a definition of a Royal Road by a well-established route, but as to your destination, that would be put down to trusting the pattern-setting innovator, or alternatively producing the same as before, only more so!

Now, it may be asked with justice, why I am critical of Kuhn’s contribution. And the answer is, “It is because it doesn’t in any important way lead to the implied and necessary revolution in Science!
Indeed, it led to the exact opposite in particular with the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory.

For, instead of the significant discovery of the Quantum leading to a major break through in Science, and the conscious abandoning of the incorrect assumptions and principles on which it had previously stood, it not only kept many of the worst of these (Zeno must have been spinning in his grave), but, in addition gave cover for a debilitating retrenchment in Science, away from an increasingly materialist approach, to strengthen immeasurably the ever-present conception of eternal and abstract Natural Laws driving Reality like the Hand of God.

A thoroughly idealist, maths-led approach was not only considered justified, but actually demanded, and attempts by anyone at “old-fashioned”, theoretical explanation were henceforward banned as purely misleading self-kid.

Clearly Kuhn, in looking for an absolutely necessary revolution in Science, was waylaid by a mere change in approach and method – a paradigm.
Instead of a switch to the study of Emergences – where revolutions actually occur, we grasped at the “templates” for productive, technological and pragmatist Science. We joined the side of the innovators by “doing what they did”.

The main objective of moving constantly towards an ever better explanation of Reality was abandoned “Because” as they insisted, “it is always mistaken anyway!

Now, having mentioned the study of Emergences as the only way to deal with Revolutionary (qualitative) Change In Science, as everywhere else), we must go a great deal further, and make clear the significant differences between an Emergence and a Change of Paradigm.
The former, if completed, really is a Revolution, but the latter certainly isn’t: it, at best, involves a change of standard exemplar or template for scientific endeavours, established by a significant piece of scientific work, which demolishes many “past truths”
But let us be absolutely clear what a “revolutionary” contribution in Science ought to engender, and judge whether a paradigm shift, in any way, fulfils that requirement.

Detailed study of all kinds of Emergences (revolutions), in a whole variety of situations has revealed the essential trajectory of different phases that has to happen in such an Event.
For example, all such Events start with a thoroughgoing cataclysm. The whole edifice of the preceding Stability seems to be crashing down into total chaos. Yet at some Nadir of Dissolution, and almost miraculously, things change around and, though none of this is smooth, a vigorous growth of a New Order emerges, which can be finally established as a wholly New Level of Reality. [For the original work on Becoming, as he called it, read Hegel].

The initial dissolutory Phase is essential for it in terms of Science, leads to a total re-evaluation of the basic assumptions and premises, which we unquestioningly assume as our basis. And, as each one collapses, it trips another and thereafter causes a chain reaction, and the whole edifice crumbles.

NOTE: The writer of this review on Kuhn mentions the attitude of Pauli who definitely felt this avalanche of dissociation and seriously thought of quitting Physics altogether.

Now, this certainly began to happen with the Quantum, but somehow the usual transformation process was stopped.

An analogy can be made with the 1905 Social Revolution in Russia, which certainly also began this avalanche of dissolution, but it too was stopped, and returned to Stability, if only for a time.
Of course, both these cases involve thinking Human Beings and hence forces for the status quo can act strongly against the tumult of changes, and sometimes win.

With the Copenhagen Interpretation a significant move was made to halt the avalanche. To avoid that calamity certain major changes were essential, and as in the 1905 revolution had to be reactionary: they had to be a strong step backwards!

Let us clearly lay out the new rules:-

Explanation was to be jettisoned!

Formal Equations were to become the main objectives!

Materialism was to be rejected and replaced by positivist idealism: for Reality was as it was because of the immutable Natural Laws that drove it!

Finally, the pragmatism of Technology was to replace the “always wrong” theoretical explanations, so USE could carry on as usual.

To gain from radical and revealing experiments, we should “copy its Form” – use it as a template, exemplar or paradigm, which if followed will keep new work “within the ground” of the revolutionary contribution.

But, note the major changes instituted and acclaimed as revolutionary changes, were in fact reactionary returns to past modes of activity.

The retreat was acclaimed as a victory!
Forms changed but the foundations remained the same, and Theory took a major step backwards.
The crucial thing about these paradigms is that they effectively blinkered scientists from the true revolutionary implications of significant system-breaking contributions, and allowed things to continue as before in precisely what had to be thrown out.
Indeed, the walling-off (like a Berlin Wall) kept the revolution at bay until a Back Door could be found into a World where the revolution wasn’t necessary.
That was, and still is, the parallel World of Ideality – the World of Pure Form alone, where most modern physicists prefer to dwell.

The Paradigm We Call Fashion

As someone who has spent a lifetime attempting to understand the World, and hence assuming that everyone else must be doing that too, though perhaps to a greater or lesser extent, , I always found fashion to be somewhat perplexing.

For it seemed to indicate that certain “things were in”, yet only for an indeterminable short time, after which what was the fervent aim of almost everyone, had suddenly become extremely derisory and extremely passé. The whole thing certainly didn’t bode well for Progress, and seemed to be a measure of how the successful.practitioner could be most like everyone else.
I am, of course, well aware of the so-called fashion-setter, but that is a very different thing, as for every one of those, there must be hundreds of “weirdos”, and tens of thousands of fashion-followers.
And the most striking thing about those followers is how poor they generally are at wearing what suits them. It is a slavish conformity that seems to make fashion what it is.

Now, elsewhere (see above) I have been considering the ideas of Thomas Kuhn with regard to paradigms in Science, where once a significant piece of scientific research has been achieved, and applauded by all, the form or paradigm of that work is rapidly taken as the new norm for all following research.

Everyone follows the leader in doing the same sort of investigations: surely they too are “following the fashion”, and it will change again with the next serious and significant contribution. Once you recognise the “follow-the-leader" pattern, you begin to see it absolutely everywhere.
TV programmes fit like a glove. Each successful and innovatory contribution is immediately followed by a rash of similar or closely related offerings on all channels.
Indeed, a whole TV channel culture has been built on merely repeating successful programmes from the past, time after time.

Paradigms it seems are for the totally unimaginative.

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