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Then the process begins again. Facts can be accumulated within a paradigm. And many of the facts accumulated in one paradigm can survive, with only slight translation effort, into a new paradigm. But scientific progress is the story of one relatively-successful and genuinely-scientific effort giving way to a different and contradictory relatively-successful and genuinely-scientific effort.

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This gets awkward because paradigms look a lot like facts. Once you have atomic theory, chemistry starts looking a lot different.

Submission history

You are not particularly interested in the surface appearance of chemicals, since you know that iron and silver can look alike but are totally different elements; you may be much more interested in the weight ratio at which two chemicals react which might seem to the uninitiated like a pretty random and silly thing to care about. If someone tells you a certain chemical is toxic because toxicity is a fundamental property of its essence, you can tell them that no, it probably has to do with some reaction it causes or fails to cause with chemicals in the body.


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None of these things are obvious. All of them are hard-won discoveries. There are all kinds of different schools — Kantians, Aristotelians, Lockeans — who all disagree with each other. People will talk past one another; the Aristotelian can go on all day about the telos of the embryo, but the utilitarian is just going to ask what the hell a telos is, why anyone would think embryos have one, and how many utils the embryo is bringing people.

A real science is one where everyone agrees on a single paradigm. Newtonianism and Einsteinianism are the same kind of things as Aristotelianism and utilitarianism; but in , everybody believed the former, and in , the latter. I got confused by this — is Aristotelian philosophy a science? But all physicists unite behind Einstein in a way that all philosophers cannot behind Aristotle.

This is very much not that part. First, there is rarely a single experiment that one paradigm fails and another passes. Rather, there are dozens of experiments. For example, one might try to test the Copernican vs.

Ptolemaic worldviews by observing the parallax of the fixed stars over the course of a year. Nobody expected the stars to be that far away, so advantage Ptolemy. Meanwhile, the Copernicans posit far-off stars in order to save their paradigm.

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What looked like a test to select one paradigm or the other has turned into a wedge pushing the two paradigms even further apart. What looks like a decisive victory to one side may look like random noise to another. Did you know weird technologically advanced artifacts are sometimes found encased in rocks that our current understanding of geology says are millions of years old? Creationists have no trouble explaining those — the rocks are much younger, and the artifacts were probably planted by nephilim. Meanwhile, probably creationists say that some fossil or other incompatible with creationism is a hoax or a mistake.

In , flat-earther Samuel Rowbotham performed a series of experiments to show the Earth could not be a globe. In the most famous, he placed several flags miles apart along a perfectly straight canal.

[] A Tale of Two Paradigms: the Mutual Incommensurability of LCDM and MOND

Having done so, he concluded the Earth was flat, and the spherical-earth paradigm debunked. Luckily for Wallace, refraction was already a known phenomenon; if not, it would have been the same kind of wedge-between-paradigms as the Copernicans having to change the distance to the fixed stars. But the supporters of old paradigms can do that too!


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  • The Ptolemaics are rightly mocked for adding epicycle after epicycle until their system gave the right result. But to a hostile observer, positing refraction effects that exactly counterbalance the curvature of the Earth sure looks like adding epicycles. Before that happens…well, good luck.

    Many people associate utilitarianism with the trolley problem , which is indeed a good way to think about some of the issues involved. It might be tempting for a utilitarian to think of Aristotelian ethics as having some different answer to the trolley problem. An Aristotelian can say their paradigm is best, because it does a great job explicating all the little types and subtypes of justice. A utilitarian can say their paradigm is best, because it does a great job telling you how to act in various contrived moral dilemmas.

    The closest thing I can think of to an ancient Greek moral dilemma is the story of Antigone. Antigone is torn between her duty to obey her uncle, and her desire to honor her dead brother. Utilitarianism is…not really designed for this sort of moral dilemma. Is ignoring her family squabbles and trying to cure typhus an option? Third , two paradigms may disagree on what kind of answers are allowed, or what counts as solving a problem. Then Newton discovered gravity and caused an uproar. Gravity posits no corpuscles jostling other corpuscles.

    Newton was denounced as trying to smuggle occultism into science. How much do you discount a theory for having occult elements? How do you figure out when you need to relax your assumptions about what counts as science, versus when somebody is just cheating? A brilliant example of an anomaly explained, which proves the superiority of combustion theory to other paradigms that cannot account for the phenomenon?

    In the seventeenth century, [an explanation of weight gain] seemed unnecessary to most chemists. If chemical reactions could alter the volume, color, and texture of the ingredients, why should they not alter weight as well? Weight was not always taken to be the measure of quantity of matter. Besides, weight-gain on roasting remained an isolated phenomenon.


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    • Most natural bodies eg wood lose weight on roasting as the phlogiston theory was later to say they should. It was just a perfectly okay thing that might happen. It starts with exasperation; the old paradigm is clearly inadequate. Progress is stagnating. Awareness [of the inadequacy of geocentric astronomy] did come. By the thirteenth century Alfonso X could proclaim that if God had consulted him when creating the universe, he would have received good advice.

      And Copernicus himself wrote in the Preface to the De Revolutionibus that the astronomical tradition he inherited had finally created only a monster. Then someone proposes a new paradigm. In its original form, it is woefully underspecified, bad at matching reality, and only beats the old paradigm in a few test cases. For whatever reason, a few people jump on board.

      ‘SDN represents a paradigm shift’

      Sometimes the new paradigm is simply more mathematically elegant, more beautiful. These people gradually expand the new paradigm to cover more and more cases. At some point, the new paradigm explains things a little better than the old paradigm. Some of its predictions are spookily good.

      Submission history

      The old paradigm is never conclusively debunked. But the new paradigm now has enough advantages that more and more people hop on the bandwagon. Gradually the old paradigm becomes a laughingstock, people forget the context in which it ever made sense, and it is remembered only as a bunch of jokes about dormitive potency. But my impression is that Kuhn is not really willing to say this. He would, for example, interpret it to mean the Earth was set in a slowly-turning crystal sphere with the sun at its center. Then he might ask — where does the sphere intersect the Earth?

      Is Marco Polo going to try to travel to China and then hit a huge invisible wall halfway across the Himalayas?

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      And what about gravity? They believed objects had a natural tendency to seek the center of the universe. This impresses me less than it impresses Kuhn. But whatever his argument, Kuhn is not really willing to say that there are definite paradigm-independent objective facts, at least not without a lot of caveats.