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Scientific Progress as a Matter of ‘Mob Psychology’ Essay

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Updated: Oct 14th, 2021

The development of ideas and their subsequent adoption as modes of operation has dominated human society since its conception. It is this adoption and putting into use various ideas that have seen the evolution of the human perception towards its environment from mythology to science. New ideas in the way human beings perceive their environment has resulted in a remarkable change in society from simple hunting and gathering to a more complex industrial society. This change however is not drastic. It takes centuries of modification, replacement and development of paradigms.

Among the things that have revolutionized human society and thoughts is science and its progress is marked by mass psychology. According to Kuhn, if science is a cluster of collected facts, theories and methods, then scientists are those people who in one way or another have striven to contribute some elements to this cluster. In order for an element to qualify to be added into this cluster, it must replace some other element.

Scientific development, therefore, is the process by which elements have been added to the growing cluster which constitutes scientific knowledge and technique. The chronological summation of these elements into the cluster of scientific knowledge constitutes the history of science.

In human society, there exist some accepted scientific practices that provide a model through which coherent traditions of scientific research are based. People whose research are based on certain shared paradigms adopt the same rules and standards for their practice. The commitment to these particular rules and standards provides the ground for the development and growth of a particular research tradition.

However, one of the things that a particular scientific community achieves with paradigms is the criteria for choosing problems that are in most cases assumed to have solutions. These are the problems that the community will convince its members to pursue. In other words, whenever a group of individuals discover a way through which new ideas can be integrated into the existing ones, they must seek the support of the great majority in order for the theory to be put into practice. The result is that the original problems are discarded as not worth handling or too complex to be allocated any time.

According to Kuhn, a paradigm can be political revolutions that are meant to overthrow the existing political institutions in the way that these institutions themselves prohibit. The success of such a paradigm lies in the selective replacement of one institution by another. At the onset, the existence of a crisis disables the political institution hence the paradigm. Individuals then become detached from the political life thereby behaving unpredictably within it.

As the situation gets worse, most of these individuals engage themselves in finding a way through which the society can be reconstructed using a new institutional framework. In the process and during this period, the society becomes drawn up into competing sides, one seeking to institute a new institutional structure while the other defending the old one. Once it has reached this stage then resorting to a political solution may not bear any fruits. Owing to the difference in the way political change is to be affected, and owing to the fact that there is no institutional framework that can come into play in bringing this revolutionary conflict to harmony, Kuhn observes that resorting to the techniques of mass persuasion is inevitable. According to him, the evolution of political institutions largely depended upon revolutions.

Scientific revolutions are also embraced by a growing sense that an existing paradigm can no longer function adequately in the exploration of an aspect of nature to which the paradigm itself had previously been at the forefront. This leads to a rejection of the existing paradigm and subsequent replacement made. However, the sense of malfunction that can result in a crisis in both political and scientific development is required as a precondition to a revolution. Just like in a political revolution, the scientific revolution undergoes the same stages of development.

Kuhn’s theory not only recognizes that scientific progress is a matter of mass psychology but mass psychology is an integral element in the human society that drives all conceivable human knowledge. Every concept in human society has proponents and depending on how huge the population of the followers is, it may develop to be the dominant position. According to Kuhn, every paradigm struggles and competes against other paradigms which provide a foundation for the development of a viable theory. The theory that is more relevant in describing the situation gains backing from the masses.

Mass psychology is in essence a group behaviour whereby a great majority are comfortable adopting a particular mode of behaviour or system simply because they can identify such behaviour with the majority. Comfort is drawn from the fact that there are a number of people who are also engaged in the same practice. In other words, it is the acceptable way of doing things. Science progresses in the way that a great majority of scientists adopts a certain way and method of research that the scientific community recognizes as relevant to that particular field.

If a method is accepted by the majority of scientists, it is embraced by the scientific community till it outgrows its purpose or till a new method surfaces. Still, this new method will not entirely be adopted because there will be other scientists who will attempt to defend the old system. This breeds conflict in the scientific community and should the majority see the need for replacement of the old paradigm then, a revolution is attained.

Science being a sensitive field, it is the scientists who are always in the forefront to steer it forward through intensive research. Just like politicians, scientists go against the existing system to come up with new methods and thoughts that they convince the masses to adopt. The majority who are in most cases ignorant are the people at risk in case a certain theory is not well researched. The scientist’s responsibility is to convince the scientific community that his/her theory is more feasible and once they are convinced then the masses have no choice but to act naturally.

What normally drives human society is the attitude of mass influence. Once a section of the society -which is in most, cases are the professionals- accept a certain worldview or theory as true, the majority in most cases do not question it. For instance, it is a known historical fact that the earth was assumed to be at the centre of the universe. This position was held for quite a long period of time till the theory was replaced by a more practical one.

Even then, it was not easy for Copernicus to convince the world that his theory was the true one since he was going against the widely held belief and system of looking at the world. How then did he manage to go against the world and still manage to have a backing? He had the support of other philosophers who had earlier questioned the system but did not have the courage to go against it.

Contrary to the original position that the development of science is uniform and accumulative, Kuhn’s theory gave science another view. According to him, science progresses in alternating phases; normal and revolutionary. Kuhn likens normal science to puzzle-solving, a stage where there is a perceived problem that seeks an answer. There are chances of solving this puzzle and the methods adopted will be familiar hence making it cumulative. Revolutionary science on the other hand involves a revision of the existing beliefs and practices. However, it is not always the case that all the achievements of the earlier period of normal science are preserved in a revolution.

Some phenomena that might have successfully been explained before may lack explanations in later periods of science. This whole concept, being a human affair, revolves around what the majority of the human population holds at some point in time. It follows then that the progress of science is a holistic human affair.

Work Cited

Kuhn, Thomas. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.

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