Scientific revolutions can be discussed as the complex changes of paradigms, and these large scale changes are the results of crises in the scientific world which lead to altering the perspective from which the world of science is perceived by researchers. While discussing the significance and role of the scientific revolution for a scientist, Thomas Kuhn states, “though the world does not change with a change of paradigm, the scientist afterward works in a different world” (Kuhn, cited in Curd & Psillos 2008, p. 242).
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However, Kuhn’s idea can be discussed from two opposite perspectives. On the one hand, accepting a revolutionary paradigm, scientists work in a different world because the new paradigm rejects the old one, and it is necessary to focus on new connections, objects, content, and acceptable solutions to scientific questions.
Moreover, the shift to the new paradigm means significant changes in the scientists’ perception of the world, and in their scientific ‘imagination’; thus, the focus on the new paradigm means changes in the scientists’ world view that is why the world becomes different.
On the other hand, Kuhn’s words can be discussed as rather metaphorical because the change of paradigms cannot mean the change in the world structures, as a result, the scientist often applies new scientific principles to the phenomena studied previously, but the world itself cannot change for individuals and scientists.
To discuss and evaluate Kuhn’s words in detail, it is necessary to concentrate on the nature of the scientific revolution as the change of paradigms. According to Kuhn, “scientific revolutions are here taken to be those non-cumulative developmental episodes in which an older paradigm is replaced in whole or in part by an incompatible new one” (Curd, Cover, & Pincock 2013, p. 79).
These shifts are typical for the “normal science” because non-science does not operate instruments necessary for realising such a shift (Curd, Cover, & Pincock 2013, p. 12). Although the shift of paradigms relates only to the scientific world, it is a revolution which is similar in its aspects to any political revolution (Curd, Cover, & Pincock 2013, p. 80).
If the existing paradigm cannot satisfy the scientists’ needs any more, the new paradigm to respond to the observed changes and processes is developed, and a kind of the scientific crisis is observed, the revolution becomes the expected result of the mentioned processes’ development.
Scientific revolutions as the changes of paradigms also lead to changes in the scientists’ perceptions of the world and explanations of its processes, and it is possible to speak about the specific scientific world discussed by Kuhn. The revolutionary paradigm traditionally develops with the help of instruments and vocabulary used within the previous paradigm. Kuhn states that “paradigms provide scientists not only with a map but also with some of the directions essential for map-making” (Curd, Cover, & Pincock 2013, p. 92).
Moreover, “the reception of a new paradigm often necessitates a redefinition of the corresponding science” (Curd, Cover, & Pincock 2013, p. 87). As a result, objects and instruments round the scientist can be changed or unchanged, but the scientist’s perception of this world alters significantly because the world based on new connections and observed from a different perspective also becomes different for the scientist (Curd, Cover, & Pincock 2013, p. 87).
Furthermore, rejecting a traditional paradigm, a scientist can also reject a set of questions which were important in the context of the old paradigm, but now the questions and problems which are important to be discussed are new as well as the ways to see the world and resolve these questions (Gower 1997, p. 245). The scientist has to operate within a different scientific world where new questions are asked, new connections between objects are observed, and new approaches are used to examine this world.
The idea of the different world is closely associated with the idea of the new world view which is followed by the supporter of the new paradigm. According to Kuhn, “the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds” because the scientists look at scientific questions through different lens (Kuhn, cited in Naugle 2002, p. 202).
In spite of the fact that the scientist who realised the scientific revolution saw the world as the follower of the previous paradigm during a long period of time, the situation of the paradigm shift makes this scientist see the world absolutely differently, and the promoters of the new paradigm often cannot find the place for them within the traditional theoretic framework (Curd, Cover, & Pincock 2013, p. 87).
In this case, it is possible to speak about the “displacement of the conceptual network through which scientists view the world” (Curd, Cover, & Pincock 2013, p. 87). While explaining these aspects of the scientific revolution, Kuhn refers to the results of the transition from Newtonian mechanics to Einsteinian mechanics which can illustrate the issue clearly (Curd, Cover, & Pincock 2013, p. 83). The new paradigm provides scientists with the new lens and new world view to work in the scientific world.
Kuhn’s approach to the effect of the new paradigm’s development on changing the world for scientists can also be evaluated with references to Kuhn’s notion of incommensurability (Gower 1997, p. 245).
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Following the criterion of incommensurability, it is possible to interpret the world and its processes according to different paradigms, and those scientists who follow various paradigms can be equally right because they live and operate within absolutely different paradigms, as a result, these scientists operate in different worlds because the environments round them develop according to the laws of the concrete paradigm (Babich 2003, p. 78; Naugle 2002, p. 202).
The criterion of incommensurability is also used to explain the conceptual changes followed by those scientists who have to work in a different world while applying new conceptions and hypotheses to the objects of the real life (Chins 1998, p. 38). Experiencing the shift in paradigms, scientists not only investigate different worlds, but they also perceive these worlds differently because now the followers of the revolutionary paradigm know the new way of the world’s development.
However, it is also possible to refer to the opinion that Kuhn’s words about the scientists’ work in a different world are rather metaphorical because the world does not change with the shift to the new paradigm, and scientists have to apply the newly developed principles to the existing phenomena to explain them with the focus on the new theoretical framework.
As a result, scientists stay to live in the familiar world, but they begin to concentrate on their attempts to explain this world’s processes with the help of revolutionary theories.
That is why, Kuhn’s words about the “different world” in which the scientist should work can be discussed as reasonable only with the focus on the follower of the revolutionary paradigm and only in the context of the specific scientific world which differs from the other people’ world in terms of emphasizing the laws according to which the world phenomena develop (Curd & Psillos 2008, p. 243).
The problem of evaluating Kuhn’s words is closely associated with the idea of differentiation between the traditional understanding of the concept of world and the notion of scientific world. If Kuhn’s words raise a lot of questions while focusing on the world concept in general, Kuhn’s idea about the “different world” seems to be reasonable while focusing only on the specific scientific world where the change of paradigms influences the scientists’ perceptions of the whole world and its processes.
In spite of the fact that there are two possible perspectives appropriate to discuss and evaluate Kuhn’s words, it is relevant to focus on Kuhn’s idea of the scientific world’s existence instead of discussing his words with references to the general impact of the paradigm shift on the world’s development.
Thus, Kuhn focuses on a scientist who is expected to operate in a different world after the situation of the paradigm shift because this scientist accepts a new vision of the world and its processes, and this conception or the theoretical framework can change significantly from the paradigm which was previously followed.
However, the change of paradigms does not mean the absolute replacement of one paradigm by the other more revolutionary vision of scientific laws. As a result, different scientists as the followers of various paradigms are expected to live and operate within different worlds because of the changes in the world views or perceptions.
From this point, it is possible to conclude that the scientific revolution primarily affects the way according to which the scientist can see and analyze the world. Thus, the paradigm shift is the problem which is closely associated with the idea of the scientists’ perception.
Babich, B 2003, ‘From Fleck’s Denkstil to Kuhn’s paradigm: conceptual schemes and incommensurability’, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol. 17. no. 1, pp. 75-92.
Chins, M 1998, ‘Kuhn: realist or antirealist?’, Principia, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 37-59.
Curd, M, Cover, J, & Pincock, C 2013, Philosophy of science: the central issues, Norton & Company, USA.
Curd, M & Psillos, S 2008, The Routledge companion to philosophy of science, Routledge, USA.
Gower, B 1997, Scientific method: A historical and philosophical introduction, Psychology Press, USA.
Naugle, D 2002, Worldview: the history of a concept, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, USA.