A Misconception About Science – Paradigms

I have said in the past that if you want to teach someone something you got to start with the misconception. So let’s start with a misconception about science. The misconception is that science proceeds in a steady, gradual way. accumulating knowledge, and that’s basically how science grows and builds the body of knowledge that we have today. That is a misconception at least according to Thomas Kuhn who’s written the book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” which is a book I quite like and I think there’s a lot of validity to the things he says. So, the way Thomas Kuhn breaks it down is that there are actually two different types of science “normal science,” Which is basically that slow, steady progression where people are you know puzzle-solving and accumulating more knowledge. And then there’s “revolutionary science” which is a very different type of science that happens just occasionally. More rarely. So, let’s talk about those two types of science.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

In normal science, all the scientists are operating under a particular paradigm. What does the word “paradigm” mean? Well, it means that everyone has a sort of a shared understanding of the current body of knowledge. What counts as decent methods for investigating new questions. What counts as valid evidence and, that allows everything to move forward pretty smoothly. And for a lot of many scientists’ lives, they just live in that normal science world. But, the thing about normal science is that it naturally drives us towards Anomalies because we’re measuring things More and more accurately. We’re investigating the sort of corners of our knowledge the places where we’re like “well, we don’t actually know what happens there. So, maybe we should check that out. And sometimes in the process of doing that, you come across an anomaly. Something that really doesn’t seem to fit within the existing paradigm. And well, oftentimes those anomalies go away, like when we found out that neutrinos seem to be traveling faster than light everyone thought, “That’s ridiculous.” In our paradigm like knowing what we do about you know special relativity You know it would be crazy for neutrinos to be traveling faster than light, and sure enough you know within a year, people had kind of figured out that it was a loose cable and that we, you know, this anomaly was just due the equipment. It wasn’t actually something real about the universe, but other times anomalies can come up that just don’t seem to go away. like, uhh back in the late 1800s people were trying to measure the speed of the earth through “the ether” and “the ether” had long been thought to be this medium that fills all space and light travels through it and the speed of light is relative to that fixed medium. So, people were trying to measure well, “How fast is Earth moving through this medium of the ether?” and strangely enough, They just couldn’t seem to get a result. Eventually, it took Einstein to really suggest what was going on. That there was no ether and that the speed of light is the same for all observers regardless of how they’re moving and that space and time that things that seemed absolute, actually can change.

Albert Einstein

Now that is what I call revolutionary science. That’s a period where our entire notions of The universe change. You know things that people would assume would always be constant like the rate that a clock ticks. You know that is thrown into question. So, you can see the way that normal science drives towards anomalies. Once anomalies are reached either they’re cleared because they’re just mistakes, or they lead to crisis and in those crisis periods that is when revolutionary science takes place. One thing that’s kind of interesting is that science scientists don’t necessarily abandon their Pre-existing paradigms until they have a new one that seems viable. A new one that they can jump on to. A good example of this is the Copernican revolution so, before Copernicus, we thought that the earth was the center of the universe and everything was revolving around the earth. And uh, You might say once Copernicus points out “hey, you know, maybe the earth is just a planet going around the Sun and all these other bodies or planets going around the Sun.” You would think that oh, You know, immediately you’d be able to compare those two theories and say oh the Copernicus theory makes a lot more sense in away.


But strangely, that’s not what happened because when Copernicus proposed his theory, Thing was he wasn’t really able to account for that many more results. He wasn’t able to do it more cleanly. That’s kind of a misconception. People had been working with this Ptolemaic model for so long they had refined a model in which the earth was the center and everything else was going around and All these planets had these epicycles. They had basically sub-orbits on their orbits to explain their motions in the sky and the Ptolemaic model was so well refined. It had been around for so long, that it actually created better predictions than the Copernican model. And so what you saw was scientists at the time maintained a kind of conservative outlook towards this paradigm shift in effect that Copernicus was suggesting and They stuck with the old model for a long time. You know, I think there’s this idea people have that science can proceed pretty straightforwardly. That when we get the results of some sort of observation, we can compare two different theories and Say, “oh this one works better than that one.” And so we throw that one out. But, in periods of revolutionary science and periods of paradigm shifts, I don’t think you can even compare them. I mean, this is the argument of Thomas Kuhn which is that Paradigm’s different paradigms are incommensurable. It’s like they don’t even agree on What’s a valid question? What counts as valid evidence? It’s like they’re talking past each other. And I think quantum is another great example here because you’d say, “Well surely we can talk about where the electron is when we’re not looking at it I mean the electron still exists right it’s still a particle. It’s still there,” but you run into all kinds of problems if you actually assume that. So, you know we went from a classical world in which everything could be talked about in those ways, to a quantum world in which we have to be much more careful and You know it’s just not as easy as comparing.



The predictions of one theory to another theory when it comes to these periods of revolutionary science. So to me, you know the paradigm changes the paradigm shifts that have happened in our development of scientific knowledge, are really fascinating. Now the first one, what we’re doing is about how our ideas of vision have changed. How they were paradigm shifts in that realm. Now the word “paradigm” comes from the ancient Greek for “to see side by side,” and that is what we’re going to be doing today. Seeing side by side. Different ways people have tried to understand seeing. The most popular theory among the ancient Greeks themselves was that vision was basically a “long-distance” version of touch. It involved something coming out reaching out from the eyes to get an impression of objects in the world. The philosopher Plato suggested that “Sight was a visual fire” that melded with daylight somehow allowing the forms of objects to travel long distances and Into the observer’s eye. Now Plato was pretty vague on the details, but the basic idea of “visual fire” rang true for people for a number of reasons. I’ve been wanting to make something like this for a really long time to really talk about how we know what we know and do it with higher production values and really cool animation and great writing.


And this is the end of the article in which a misconception was discussed that is a paradigm. Our technology is filled with a lot of misconceptions. Some theories are released. But every brain is different and thinks according to that. I hope you guys enjoyed reading this out.


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