Synopsis of the Ideas
The readings start by introducing us to – David Hume’s induction methodology, which puts forth that a theory can be empirically confirmed via the process of ‘induction’. This means as we ‘hold-on’ to a theory, we look for positive instances, data points and patterns which back it. 17th
Karl Popper later criticized this approach, and maintained that inductive logic is faulty. He held that theories cannot be ‘proved’ but only ‘falsified’. For example – one instance of observing a black swan will falsify the theory that all swans are white. Hence, science advances by ‘falsifying theories’ rather than ‘proving’ them. We cannot verify a scientific theory to be true as a new investigation in the future might contradict the prevailing theory. The theories of science are temporary.
Thomas Kuhn’s views departed in several important respects from that of Karl Popper. Kuhn examined cases of scientific advances and argued that periods of normal science were disturbed by key ‘paradigm shifts’ in which longstanding ideas were abandoned. Explained further, Kuhn said that in normal working, most scientists do not question the paradigm but provide solutions which expand the range of the paradigm. There are anomalies that the paradigm cannot explain or dispute. As such anomalies cumulate, they cause a revolution in which scientists discard the old paradigm for a new one. Scientists often may also accept a paradigm because it is promoted by other reputed members of community. The conversion of scientists is hence a subjective process. It also proposed the (now commonplace) idea that politics play a significant role in science.
Before Kuhn, the opinion about science was led by philosophical ideas about how it ‘ought to develop’. According to Popper, genuine scientists were characterized by ‘refutations’ rather than ‘confirmations’ of theories. However Kuhn suggested that refutation is the last thing a scientist seeks to do, especially of the theories rooted in their paradigm.
In my opinion, Kuhn’s view is more convincing and psychologically precise interpretation of science vs. that of Popper.
Falsification as an idea is a good rule or a guideline, but cannot be applied so strictly to every scientific model or field. And how different is falsification from verification? Science is not about thorough substantiation. And scientists typically don’t uphold a theory one hundred percent in order to have full confidence in it or to use it. In a majority of the cases, a theory necessitates to be ‘good enough’. Many theories currently subscribed to are those that have not yet been shown false. Yet, such provisional theories may have been useful. Perhaps such provisional theories have also led to current ‘technological’ conveniences. Unwittingly Kuhn has also conveyed that scientists don’t exactly understand the real world.