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Can a paradigm in science be true?

Assessing the legacy of philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn in “Shift Happens” (Chronicle of Higher Education Review, April 26, 2012), David Weinberger offers,

In 1950 he met Sir Karl Popper, the pre-eminent philosopher of science, who steered him toward others who were challenging logical positivism, the dominant philosophy of science of the time. The positivists were strict parents. If a proposition could not be verified, it not only wasn’t science, it was devoid of meaning. Popper had pulled much of the ground out from under the positivists by arguing that falsifiability was the real test: If a hypothesis doesn’t come with ways to show it could be false, then it isn’t a scientific hypothesis. Thus our best knowledge of the world isn’t that which has been verified, but instead is characterized precisely by the fact that it can be decisively cast aside.

Kuhn undid Popper even more fundamentally than Popper had undone the positivists. The individual propositions within a science might be characterized by falsifiability, but how about the sort of gestalt that crystallized for Kuhn when at last and in an instant he understood Aristotle’s idea of motion? That gestalt—which Kuhn of course called a paradigm—was of a different category than the propositions it enabled. Its acceptance may be rational in important ways, but Kuhn throughout his career could not bring himself to call paradigms “true.”

The question might be easier to examine if we turn it around and ask, can a paradigm be false? People usually know what they mean by “false,” even if they quibble about what they mean by “true.” Thoughts?

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4 Responses to Can a paradigm in science be true?

  1. News:

    My thought is that it is best to summarise scientific theories, laws and models as explanatory/heuristic constructs. That is, we start from a background premise of a cosmos not a chaos [a now largely unacknowledged gift to science from the Judaeo-Christian worldview], and we seek to discern patterns that unify, explain and allow influence of empirical phenomena.

    In that context, epistemological issues, provisionality and frankly faith come to the fore. Successive theories are in effect attempted best CURRENT explanations, subject to correction, improvement or displacement. Or, to outright failure and collapse.

    (This last is one of the big problems, it is tempting to want to insist on a known broken system instead of reverting to the position that we have a failed theory and must revert to pre-theoretic humble exploration. I argue that the Neo-Darwinian paradigm is looking just such failure in the teeth, as Marxism and Freudianism did over the past 30 – 40 years or so. The best alternative candidate is design, but that is “unacceptable,” as it reminds too many of Him whom they are desperate to forget.)

    So, when I look at a paradigm, I think it is usually a mixed bag. Many observations and problem solving procedures may be well warranted. Key examples may indeed mark breakthroughs and may well serve as exemplars worthy of emulation and setting the pattern for an emerging or in-crisis discipline. Those, rightly can be termed paradigms.

    When we go to the next level, where paradigm begins to take on a worldview level colouring, the matter is much less upbeat. Science all too easily degenerates into ideology. And, science, public policy and politics [follytricks] make for an explosive and unstable mixture prone to suppress inconvenient truth and trigger policy blunders that can wreak havoc across a community, a society, a civilisation and/or even the world.

    In the case of Lewontinian evolutionary materialism, this has been imposed on science as a straightjacket, and the advocates will not let go voluntarily, no matter how often their error is exposed. It is obvious folly to exclude possible explanations ahead of time per ideological imposition, but that is what they are doing. Too often this is compounded by no true scotsman, strawman and stereotyping-scapegoating tactics and whistleblower retaliation. The penumbras of hate sites surrounding UD is sufficient evidence to show this to all who are willing to listen.

    (BTW, the so-called “fallacy of personal incredulity” is itself a fallacy. Ideas must stand on their own warrant and we have no obligation to accept claims that are ideologically driven or exclude the voice of facts ahead of time. Which are exactly what evolutionary materialist ideologues routinely do. Suffice to say that if your system entails that the human mind is determined by chance and mechanical necessity, then it undermines the very credibility of thought and knowledge and reasoning. Reductio ad absurdum.)

    Paradigms then are a mixed bag.

    On the pessimistic induction, at any time they are almost certainly riddled with falsehood. But, since modelling theory and the logic of implication tell us that a literally false framework in a zone of tested reliability can be empirically useful and trustworthy, that does not mean that the constructs are useless and untrustworthy.

    No-one pretends that a transistor amplifier is made up from ideal current or voltage sources, resistors, capacitors and inductors, etc, but 5that makes a useful model that gives quire good results in a range of tested and confirmed reliability. Similarly, we know that Newtonian dynamics are reliable for large, slow moving bodies, but that once we move beyond that it will break down as relativistic and quantum effects begin to surface.

    Let us therefore accept a chastened realism blended with some form of instrumentalism as appropriate in an eclectic model of science.

    And let us have the courage to say on flashpoint topics like origin of the cosmos, origin of life, origin of major body plans, origin of mind, climate trends and driving froces etc, that we simply do not know enough to make overly grandiose confident assertions of “truth,” or “fact.”

    The problem of course is once that is admitted, we will have to re-evaluate evidence that points to reliable signs of intelligent action in some places that will be uncomfortable for the evolutionary materialist ideologues and their fellow travellers.

    Hence the resort to projecting “creationist” bogeymen to object to a Tennessee law that simply says: stop the ideological madness, and get real about the limitations of science. And, if you think to persecute those who blow the whistle in schools, think again.

    The manufactured rage we have seen in recent weeks is all too revealing.

    KF

  2. I could not find a link to the Weinberger article. So here is a link to the article (dated 4/22/12).

    Kuhn was a bit fuzzy on what constitutes a paradigm. I see a paradigm as including a body of scientific practices. So it really isn’t the sort of thing that could be said to be either true or false.

  3. In reading the article, I understand Kuhn’s use for the term “paradigm” means the collected thought patterns of a “scientist” that drive him/her to perform science. Most notably, the thought patterns aren’t primarily concerned with a quest to determine the objective reality of any process, procedure, or result. Rather, those patterns are more about solving a particular puzzle, with little regard to its reflection upon objective reality. I get the sense that Kuhn probably didn’t “believe” in objective reality. Hence, his insistence that paradigms are incommensurable.

    Certainly, I could understand that my paradigm would be incommensurable with that of a schizophrenic or some one suffering from some other cognitive disability. But, I would find it hard that my paradigm is totally incommensurable from within another, rationally-functioning, person’s paradigm. If that were really the case, we would have difficulty living together as a society. I can grant that there conceptual difficulties that prevent a total understanding of my paradigm from within another person’s. However, we have constructed a communication mechanism that allows me to communicate the “meaning” via metaphor or through equation (when you need a more exact replication), of my paradigm views.

    I like Kuhn’s ideas concerning the paradigm, as to my mind, it provides a more “realistic” view of how a scientists most likely conducts his/her scientific inquiry. But, I don’t believe the insistence on a paradigm being incommensurate is totally accurate. I think we could subdivide that into commensurable and incommensurable components of a paradigm. Some ideas are commensurate, those that can be communicated via equation. Definitely the quantitative aspect. Some ideas are relatively commensurate. The meaning of the results of an equation (qualitative), and those items communicated via metaphor and simile. Some items are incommensurate. Such as those items that are incommunicable, such as the actual experience of a “feeling” or perhaps the cognitive renderings of the insane or cognitively disabled. Also, the “mental state” (think computation rather than description “fitness” of mind) of an individual is likely to be incommensurable.

    Is my paradigm too incommensurable to follow? :)

  4. Paradigm shift is just these peoples way of saying they were wrong without saying it and it being a reflection on their scientific investigation.

    All this is about proving things and who decides its been proved.
    i see no difference with these science cats and kids in the playground.

    Evolutionism has a falsifiability thing.
    Its that if the geological presumptions behind the fossils was wrong then evolution never happened because of time issues or diversity.
    Of coarse this also means evolution has no biological falsifiability.
    Thats because evolution is not a biological theory.
    Its a biological hypothesis that passes itself off as a theory because of geological data and conclusions.
    Tricky.

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