Scientific Revolution and Change

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  • Glorious rev – bloodless ascension of William & Mary. Cath -> Prot. Seen to be beneficial & progressive

  • Social? Class?
  • Dangers of Whig history … Roots: Greece / Arabic/ Chinese

  • We do not observe “gravity,” we observe it’s effects on the behavior of objects.

  • Scientific ideas do have social implications

  • Historian. Can fail at any stage (and most do!)
  • SSR published in 1962
  • And then back to “normal science”. Pre-science is epistemological chaos

  • Contrary to Popper, even good theories have “defense-mechanisms.”
  • Aesthetic rather than rational criteria
  • Feyerabend rejected prescriptive rules / relationship / science goes on


  • 1. Revolution & Change
  • 2. Revolution The action or fact, on the part of celestial bodies, of moving round in an orbit (1390) The return or recurrence of a point or period of time; the lapse of a certain time (1430)
  • 3. Revolution An instance of great change or alteration in affairs or in some particular thing. (1450) A complete overthrow of the established government in any country or state by those who were previously subject to it; a forcible substitution of a new ruler or form of government. (1600)
  • 4. Political The “Glorious Revolution” (1688) American Revolution (1776) French Revolution (1789) Russian Revolution (1917) Chinese Revolution (1949)
  • 5. Revolution Political revolutions involve major transformations in political structures. Social revolutions involve major transformations in social structure. Scientific revolutions involve major transformations in conceptual structures.
  • 6. The Scientific Revolution 1543 (Copernicus) to 1687 (Newton) to ... “The most profound revolution achieved or suffered by the human mind” since Greek antiquity (Alexander Koyré, 1943) It “outshines everything since the rise of Christianity and reduces the Renaissance and Reformation to the rank of mere episodes … [it is] the real origin both of the modern world and of the modern mentality.” (Herbert Butterfield, 1949)
  • 7. Individual Revolutions Copernicus’ On The Revolutions (1543) Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632) Newton’s Principia (1687) Lavoisier’s theory of combustion (1783) Darwin’s Origin of Species(1859) Einstein’s theories of relativity (1905 / ‘15) Wegener’s theory of continental drift (1915)
  • 8. A systematic method for understanding facts about the natural world with reference to natural law.
  • 9. Naturalism Methodological: Science can only study nature using natural laws. Supernatural entities, while they may exist, are not allowed as scientific explanations of phenomena. Philosophical: The supernatural does not exist.
  • 10. Popular Hierarchy Fact Hypothesis Theory
  • 11. Philosophical Hierarchy Hypothesis Fact
  • 12. Theory “A well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.” (NAS, 1998) “Science not only generates facts but seeks to explain them, and the interlocking and well- supported explanations for those facts are known as theories.” (T. Ryan Gregory, 2008)
  • 13. Theory Theories are the ultimate goal of science. They explain facts and are tested by generating hypotheses. These three things are distinct aspects of science.
  • 14. Hypothesis “A tentative statement about the natural world leading to deductions that can be tested.” (NAS 2008) “The rejection of an hypothesis does not automatically imply the refutation of an entire theory because hypotheses are usually sufficiently focussed to test only one aspect of complex theories.” (Gregory, 2008)
  • 15. Law A “generalization about how some aspect of the natural world behaves under stated circumstances.” (NAS, 1998) Descriptive not prescriptive
  • 16. Universal Gravitation
  • 17. Gravity We have facts that we need to explain. There are laws that describe the behavior of objects under the influence of gravity We currently do not have a mechanism for gravitational attraction
  • 18. General Relativity Gravity as a consequence of the warping of space- time An incomplete theory - how does it reconcile with sub-atomic quantum effects? Why is gravity relatively weak? Does this incompleteness make gravity “just a theory”?
  • 19. Theories • Big Bang Theory • Theory of Plate Tectonics • Cell Theory • Acoustic Theory • Evolutionary Theory • Electromagnetic Theory • Germ Theory of Disease • Quantum Field Theory • Atomic Theory • Kinetic Theory of Gases
  • 20. String “Theory”
  • 21. A General Pathway Observe world (collect observations / facts) Ask “why” questions Make explanatory hypothesis Make predictions or retrodictions Test predictions or retrodictions by experiment or further observation - Assume uniform cause and effect (actualism) Eventually form a theory
  • 22. How Does Conceptual Change Happen?
  • 23. I.B. Cohen’s Stages 1. The “intellectual revolution” or “revolution- in-itself” (private) 2. Written commitment to the new method, concept or theory (private) 3. Dissemination of the ideas (public) 4. Adoption by a critical mass of individuals or groups (public)
  • 24. Thomas Kuhn (1922 - 1996)
  • 25. Pre-science Normal Science Crisis Revolution New Science
  • 26. Key Concepts A paradigm organizes scientific inquiry. Normal science is “puzzle-solving” and does not question the reigning paradigm. A state of crisis eventually emerges when unsolved puzzles and anomalies accumulate. Revolutionary science is methodologically unconstrained and often irrational forces are at work (idiosyncrasies and accidents of history). Successive paradigms are incommensurable
  • 27. Paradigm Kuhn himself had 21 different usages, but two “levels” emerge Narrow sense: A standard exemplar of “good” science - the right kind of problem to solve and the right way to solve it. Broad sense: A framework of shared methods, standards, modes of explanation, theories
  • 28. Paradigm Metaphysical views about the nature of the world and the things in it Methodological rules about correct scientific practice and of what constitutes a legitimate scientific question or a scientific fact
  • 29. Resulting Claims The conflict among paradigms can’t be settled on any rational methodological grounds, because each paradigm contains its own view of rational scientific methodology and of what counts as a “fact.”
  • 30. Resulting Claim Different paradigms are in thus incommensurable, i.e. not comparable by any neutral standard. Adherents of different paradigms “live in different worlds,” and speak different technical languages.
  • 31. Resulting Claim Scientists with different theoretical viewpoints will generally fail to understand one another and the arguments made in favor of one theory will not be fully understood by, or persuasive for, adherents of the other. New paradigms will introduce new theoretical terms, or change the meanings of old ones, in ways that will be incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t already accept the new theory.
  • 32. Resulting Claim A scientific revolution has to be regarded as a social and psychological phenomenon rather than as a purely intellectual one. For an individual scientist, the change in point of view is more like a religious conversion than a rational process of comparing theories against the facts.
  • 33. Karl Popper (1902 - 1994) All science is “normal” and it proceeds by “conjecture and refutation” No accumulation of confirming instances is sufficient to verify a universal generalization, but only one disconfirming instance suffices to refute a universal generalization Scientific theories are distinguished by the fact that they are falsifiable
  • 34. Imre Lakatos (1922 - 1974) Scientific theories are “research programmes” that consist of: a “hard core” of fundamental principles, and a “protective belt” of “auxiliary hypotheses” that explain how the fundamental principles apply to particular cases, and how to deal with apparent discrepancies. The fundamental difference is between progressive and degenerating programmes.
  • 35. Paul Feyerabend (1924 - 1994) Epistemological Anarchism There are no rules to science - anything goes to get one’s theory accepted
  • 36. Descriptive versus Prescriptive? Science and Philosophy