#5 The shock of accepting past scientific anomalies while at the same time rejecting current ones
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn, pages 111-143
In these two chapters I especially liked Kuhn’s critiques of the linear explanation of science in student textbooks. Kuhn says that revolutions are not explained as anomalies that lead to crises that lead to said revolutions, but rather presented as logical additions to the scientific tradition. For me, this is absolutely hypocritical on the part of contemporary scientists.
According to Kuhn’s assessment thus far in the book concerning scientific revolutions, scientists are skeptical and unaccepting of new discoveries that threaten their paradigm. Yet the hypocrisy lies in the fact that these same scientists view discoveries by Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, Maxwell, Lavoisier, and Dalton as normalized today. They might say in hindsight: of course these discoveries by these individuals would have eventually happened by someone. What I find discouraging, from what I presume, is the matter-of-factness on the part of contemporary scientists to accept the crazy ideas of people who saw things differently or whose instruments countered the paradigm of their day hundreds of years ago, while these same contemporary scientists ignore or deny the possibility that today’s anomalies might offer the next big revolution in their field. It makes no sense that they’re open enough to accept previous anomalies yet closed-minded enough to stick to the cozy problem-solving and expansion of and within their current paradigm, in effect paying little or no attention to that-which-threatens today. That-which-threatens might be the next biggest thing in the advancement of human knowledge, science, and civilization.
As I wrote in stream of consciousness #4, nobody likes to be forced to do or think something. But if you know that water levels are rising in say Florida, for example, because of climate change (regardless whether you think it’s natural or caused by humans or both), shouldn’t you maybe think of planning the next step, to where you might flee because the water cannot be pushed back any further, that the water will one day totally submerge your neighborhood? Or it’s like having a fire on the first floor of your building but you decide not to react right away because the fire isn’t on your floor yet. It’s madness. If the water or the fire or the whatever threat it is is on your doorstep, then address it, understand it, try to know what it is.
How do we account for many scientists’ acceptance of tried-and-true, and once anomalous, theories and concepts from decades or centuries ago, but they ignore or discredit current anomalies, i.e. the possible next big thing? It’s shockingly hypocritical, I just don’t understand it.
What I want to know is whether there are common denominators among the people who discovered anomalies in the history of science, apart from the observations Kuhn made about these people being young in age or new to the field? What other factors allowed them to see the unseen? Do they share the same sun sign (astrologically speaking); do they have fantasy prone personalities; do they have obsessive compulsive disorders; are they autistic savant; do they have a specific education, background, or some cultural signifier, etc., that played a significant part in discovering the anomaly? Are they aliens! Just joking, probably not. But you understand why I said this: who were these people and how did they do what they did? From a phenomenology perspective I’m fascinated by seeing the unseen, what others do not or cannot see for no other reason than they don’t. Perhaps they don’t operate the same as “seers.” Perhaps seers have a very specific mind suited to the task or field at hand. I’m not talking about being a genius; I’m saying that seers might have a suitable mind for a very narrow problem/puzzle/discrepancy, and it was he or she at the right time and place in history to see anew. In today’s scientific climate then we might say the same: a particular mind looking at a particular problem will see what the others do not see. It’s a bit like snow blindness or proofreading your paper for the twentieth time; you don’t see any more what is wrong with it, while your colleague will notice something on the first read because they are detached from the work. I think scientists need more nonchalantness; a caring indifference to their research. Scientists should get away from their work, do something completely different for periods of time. I read that Einstein would occasionally play the violin or ride his bicycle to take his mind away from the work. With that said, he still didn’t figure out quantum entanglement, but the point is he made an effort to switch up his routine.
Nothing will solve the hypocrisy I speak of above by scientists gladly accepting the past anomalies and brushing away the anomalies of today. It’s illogical, a paradox, one that hurts my head.
Kuhn, T. S. (1996/1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (3rd ed.). University of Chicago Press.