Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi

Those in the know are now very disappointed for clicking on this link. No, I'm not going to discuss the question of whether Kuhn "plagiarized" Polanyi's ideas. By the way, I haven't looked into it, but I bet the reason Kuhn had massive influence and Polanyi is little known is because Kuhn's analysis comes in a more narrative form...

I've had writer's block on philosophy for about two months now. Chapter 8 of my philosophy text has just sat there waiting for two textboxes to get done. Argh!

So since I don't know if I will post anything else today, here is, finally, my textbox on Thomas Kuhn. I'll never go back to do a PhD in philosophy--I pity those who do. But if I had lots of extra time on my hand, I would love to explore the thought of Hilary Putnam. He sure makes me feel stupid...

And now, the textbox:

"Thomas Kuhn lived from 1922-1996 and is best known in philosophy for his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Philosophically, Kuhn stands in between the logical positivists, who believed that only things that could be observed could be considered true in any real sense, and postmodern philosophers of science like Paul Feyerabend (1924-94), who did not believe science was truly about reality at all but about sociology and groups of people interacting with each other.

The most central challenge of Kuhn’s work to the prevalent understanding of science is his sense that scientific discovery is not strictly an ever improving movement toward greater and greater understanding of reality. Rather, significant human elements are involved in the process of what we think of as scientific development. Differing scientific “paradigms” operate from categories that are “incommensurable,” meaning that they cannot really be compared with each other. Critics of this claim have suggested in contrast that some of the fundamental observations that paradigms interpret remain the same and thus that differing paradigms do allow for comparison.

Kuhn himself was quite keen to distance himself from the label of “relativist” in the aftermath of his first edition. In his second edition, for example, he suggests that a paradigm that covers more content in its scope—explains a larger pool of data—can be considered a better paradigm. He thus did not reject the basic idea of scientific progress.

Some overlap exists between the thought of Thomas Kuhn and the slightly earlier Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) such that some of Polanyi’s followers initially saw Kuhn as borrowing from Polanyi’s thought. Thus Kuhn brought Polanyi into explicit conversation with his ideas in the second edition of Structure. Polanyi argued that “tacit knowledge,” elements of our thought that are not completely conscious or easily articulated, is involved in all knowing. We thus cannot be completely objective because there are always hidden elements steering our thinking (Polanyi is associated with critical realism). Scientific development is thus not strictly an objective development, but human factors are also involved.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

How could we believe otherwise? Politics is the "human element".

Politics is the medium of "getting one's voice heard". The well-connected have an advantage over those who are not. This is why there is so much competition in getting accepted in "Ivy League" association with the "name" brings "open doors".

The same is true for those who know important people, who can introduce you to some other important person, or tell you about some "inside information" that will give you an advantage in getting the grant, connecting with the right scientist, or getting the job, etc.

The reality is that there are some good scientists from unknwon schools, and bad scientists from "Ivy League" schools...but the advantage of "Public image" is all that needs to tilt the which one get the advantage?

The same could be said about appearance and personality. Some scientists get the break because of their appearance and personality.

So, would we see science progress "more" if those that are discriminated against were allowed "a voice"? Perhaps.

Fortunately, the genuis among us, may not be accepted within their lifetime,but their contribution will inevitably be the case "in the end"...Such was a person such as, Einstein.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Another aspect of this post does bother me, though.

Shouldn't there be protection of "intellectual property" unless there is consent given? I'm not informed in detail about this type of "law",but have read bits and pieces about it,especially with the issue of "cyperspace"...

I forgot to add, there is also EGO as far as major scientists are concerned. If scientific journals publish according to the "approval" of a "peer review", then, if a Big Ego is at the helm of the review board, and another scientist has a "discovery" that undermines that "Ego", then, most likely, it will not get "approved" for publication. The information can be published in another journal, but will probably not reach the same population, which limits scientific progress, all because of "Ego.