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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

since once the

since once the post-revolutionary paradigm hastaken root, a young politically correct version willcome to replace her. So, Kuhn’s talk of ‘worldchanges’ should be taken literally, after all.To be sure, for Kuhn, the ability to understandthe world through two paradigms with radicallydifferent – or ‘incommensurable’ – assumptions, askill he compared to bilingualism, is not restrictedto historians of science who enjoy the benefitof hindsight. It is also a mental capacity presentin such scientific revolutionaries as Galileo andEinstein. Kuhn’s interesting and controversialpoint here is that very few scientists are intellectuallybilingual because it is not part of theirnormal training. Consequently, the main propellantof revolutionary change in science is thatsubsequent generations are taught only the newand not the old paradigm. Scientists are not taughtto be mentally flexible.The revolutionary process may not happenovernight, but its implications are clear. Argumentationin science does more to sway uncommittedspectators, especially if they are young or newcomersto the field, than to change the minds of thescientific principals themselves. The sheer fact thatnewcomers have not yet personally invested in theold paradigm may be enough to make them open toa radical change in direction. From that perspective,38

matters of ‘tradition’, ‘track record’, ‘accumulatedwisdom’ and ‘presumption’ are myths perpetuatedin scientific textbooks to indoctrinate the young inthe dominant paradigm. However, as Kuhn pointsout, these myths need to be reinvented after eachscientific revolution; hence, the Orwellian turn.Such is the ‘genius’ of inter-generational successionthat Kuhn honoured under the name of thePlanck Effect, named for the Nobel Prize-winningfounder of quantum mechanics, Max Planck(1858–1947), who had a series of polemicalexchanges on the future of German science withErnst Mach (1838–1916) in the years leading up toWorld War I. As we shall shortly see, the tenor oftheir exchanges presaged the issues raised in theKuhnPopper debate. Among other things, Planckcorrectly predicted that Mach’s anti-establishmentscientific views would die with him because helacked academically well-placed students to reproduceand extend his position. Mach’s vanquishedstatus is reflected in the fate of his admirers asphilosophers of science, specifically the logicalpositivists – in whose number Popper may beincluded here. Kuhn’s own ‘genius’ lay in concealingthe brute biological character of the PlanckEffect, whereby decisions about, say, whosestudents to hire constitute a second-order version ofnatural selection.39

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