N. R. Hanson: Observation, Discovery, and Scientific Change

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Scientific Method: Selected full-text books and articles

The total field is so under-determined by its boundary condition, experience, that there is much latitude of choice as to what statements to reevaluate in the light of a single contrary experience. No particular experiences are lined up with any particular statements in the interior of the field, except indirectly through considerations of equilibrium affecting the field as a whole Any statement can be held true, come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system. In practice the scientist works within the framework of accepted assumptions, and throws all the doubt on one new hypothesis at a time; but it might be just the accepted assumptions which should be questioned.

In some cases of discrepancy between theory and data, he points out, it is the implicit theoretical assumptions in the data which have been challenged. The use of data presupposes theories about the operation of instruments and the interpretation of experimental procedures, any of which may be questioned.

Hanson Observation Discovery Scientific Change by Lund Matthew - AbeBooks

Auxiliary hypotheses may be introduced to remove a disagreement. A classic instance was the beta-decay of the nucleus, in which experimental data seemed clearly to violate the law of conservation of energy. Rather than abandon this law, physicists postulated an unobservable particle, the neutrino, to account for the discrepancy. Only at a considerably later point was there any independent evidence for the existence of the neutrino.

Experiments giving He was unable to support this auxiliary hypothesis. Yet one can see a partial vindication of his theory in the later discovery that samples separated by physical rather than chemical means into pure isotopes do indeed have atomic weights which are almost exactly integral multiples of the atomic weight of hydrogen. But Lorentz showed that the latter is not refuted if bodies change dimensions when moving the Fitzgerald -- Lorentz contraction.

Later Einstein on other grounds developed the theory of relativity; only then did the Michelson-Morley experiment, performed twenty-five years earlier, appear as important evidence against all ether theories. The term is honorific, bestowed long after the event by the victorious party. Finally, a recurrent discrepancy may simply be set aside as an unexplained anomaly.

Newton admitted in his Principia that the observed motion was twice that predicted. More recently, the advance of the perihelion of Mercury was treated as an anomaly for eighty-five years, and only after the advent of relativity theory was it taken as evidence against Newtonian mechanics. The history of science is replete with such anomalies which for varying, periods have been left unexplained.

It is worth noting that a theory of great generality is usually abandoned only in favour of an alternative theory, not just because of conflicting data. A theory which seems defective at a few points is better than none at all. In the absence of an alternative, one can usually doctor up the old theory with suitable amendments, though there may eventually be so many patches and ad hoc adjustments that in the interests of simplicity one starts looking for alternatives.

In practice, then, discordant observations are important, but they do not have any absolute power to falsify a theory, especially a comprehensive one. It is a policy for determining which hypotheses are to be considered essential to the programme, to be retained as long as possible, and which hypotheses are non-essential, to be sacrificed when difficulties occur. In such a degenerative stage, there will usually be an accumulation of ad hoc modifications for which there is no independent evidence.

There will be no growth, over a protracted period of time, in the corroborated empirical content of the hard-core theories. But Lakatos maintains that there are no clear-cut rules for judging when a period is protracted enough, or the novelty slight enough, or the alternatives promising enough, to warrant relinquishing a programme.

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Here Lakatos, like Kuhn, holds that only scientists themselves can decide, in particular historical contexts, whether to stick with a research programme or not. In the next chapter, such commitment to a programme will be compared to commitment in religion. Of the exponents of new views of the relation of theories and observations, Thomas Kuhn has been the most influential.

One discussion of his ideas lists thirty-six reviews of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in journals whose fields range from philosophy and science to psychology and sociology.

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But others hold that he gives far too much prominence to subjective aspects of science. I will summarize four themes of his book as it originally appeared, and then indicate some of the criticisms it has evoked and his subsequent reply to his critics. The debate reveals a new understanding of the nature of science which has far-reaching implications. Paradigms dominate normal science. Because 1such examples also serve as norms of what constitutes good science, they transmit methodological and metaphysical assumptions along with key concepts.

Normal science, says Kuhn, consists of work within the framework of a paradigm which defines a coherent research tradition.


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Scientific education is an induction into the habits of thought and activity presented by text books, and an initiation into the practice of established scientists. Paradigms illustrate ways of attacking a problem -- for instance, by analysis in terms of masses and forces. A shared paradigm creates a scientific community -- a professional grouping with common assumptions, interests, journals and channels of communication. This stress on the importance of the community suggests parallels in the role of the religious community which will be explored later.

Scientific revolutions are paradigm shifts. Kuhn holds that in normal research fundamental assumptions are not questioned.


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Anomalies are set to one side, or accommodated by ad hoc modifications. Ptolemaic astronomy went on adding planetary epicycles to remove discrepancies; defenders of the phlogiston theory were driven to postulate negative chemical weights in order to maintain their paradigm.

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But with a growing list of anomalies, a sense of crisis leads the scientific community to examine its assumptions and to search for alternatives. A new paradigm may then be proposed which challenges the dominant presuppositions. Kuhn shows that when a major change of paradigm does occur it has such far-reaching effects that it amounts to a revolution. Paradigms are incompatible. A new paradigm replaces the old; it is not merely one more addition to a cumulative structure of ideas. For a period, adherents of two different paradigms may be competing for the allegiance of their colleagues, and the choice is not unequivocally determined by the normal criteria of research.

Kuhn writes:. Though each may hope to convert the other to his way of seeing his science and its problems, neither may hope to prove his case. The competition between paradigms is not the sort of battle that can be resolved by proofs.. Before they can hope to communicate fully, one group or the other must experience the conversion that we have been calling a paradigm shift. Just because it is a transition between incommensurables, the transition between competing paradigms cannot be made a step at a time, forced by logic and neutral experience. Like a gestalt switch it must occur all at once or not at all.

As Kuhn portrays it, a paradigm shift is thus a highly subjective process. He claims that scientific revolutions, like political revolutions, do not employ the normal methods of change. Observations are paradigm-dependent. Kuhn agrees with Feyerabend and Hanson that there is no neutral observation language. Paradigms determine the way a scientist sees the world.

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Galileo saw a swinging pendulum as an object with inertia, which almost repeats its oscillating motion; his predecessors, inheriting the Aristotelian interest in progress towards -- final ends, had seen a pendulum as a constrained falling object, which slowly attains its final state of rest. As with a gestalt switch, the same situation can be seen in differing ways.

Scientists with rival paradigms may gather quite dissimilar sorts of data; the very features which are important for one may be incidental to the other. Criteria are paradigm-dependent. Competing paradigms offer differing judgments as to what sorts of solution are acceptable. There are no external standards on which to base a choice between paradigms, for standards are themselves products of paradigms. One can assess theories within the framework of a paradigm, but in a debate among paradigms there are no objective criteria.

Hanson Observation Discovery Scientific Change by Lund Matthew

Paradigms cannot be falsified and are highly resistant to change. Each revolution, says Kuhn:. Each produced a consequent shift in the problems available for scientific scrutiny and in the standards by which the profession determined what should count as an admissible problem or a legitimate problem-solution.

And each transformed the scientific imagination in ways that we shall ultimately need to describe as a transformation of the world within which scientific work was done. Its proponents must try to show that it can solve the problems which led to the crisis of the old paradigm. They can sometimes point to quantitative precision or to the prediction of novel phenomena not previously suspected.

But in the very early stages the enthusiasts for a new paradigm may have little empirical support to offer, while the traditionalists may have many solved problems to their credit, despite unresolved anomalies. And even at later stages there is seldom anything approaching a conclusive proof of the superiority of one paradigm over another. He has had enthusiastic supporters and strenuous critics. Each of the four theses outlined above has been attacked:. Masterman lists twenty-one different senses of paradigm in the book. Popper argues that in science there is continual criticism of fundamental assumptions; only beginning students or routine workers in applied science would uncritically accept dominant presuppositions.