Paradigm and presuppositions

Paradigm is a greek word literally meaning ‘to show beside’ or ‘to point out beyond’ (‘para’ = beside or beyond). Tomas Kuhn gave the word its present-day meaning in the book ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolution’ in 1962. Kuhn meant that the development of science is not uniform but has alternating normal and revolutionary (or extraordinary) phases. When Kuhn began his historical studies of science (in the 1950s), the history of science was a young academic discipline. When he later wrote the book, the scientific changes were actually not really considered. There was a notion of how science ought to develop. According to the notion or presupposition if you would like to; science develops by the addition of new truths to the old truths, and in a few cases – the correction of past errors.

Kuhn was of a different opinion. He expressed that during normal science, scientists neither test nor seek to confirm the guiding theories of their ‘disciplinary matrix’ as he sometimes called the paradigm. Nor do they regard abnormal results as falsifying those theories. This conservative resistance of key theories means that revolutions are not sought except under extreme circumstances. The response to a crisis will be the search for a revised paradigm. A revision that will allow for the elimination of at least the most common exceptions and hopefully the solution of many unsolved puzzles. Such a revision will according to Kuhn be a scientific revolution, a paradigm shift.

The 2011 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Dan Shechtman is definetly a living proof of this. When he in 1982 discovered what today is called quasicrystals, he really made a shift in the paradigm of his discipline. The peer scientists didn’t believe him. He could show them that the quasicrystals existed but according to the theory – to the presuppositions – they couldn’t exist. As Mr Shechtman says: ‘…for a couple of years I was alone, I was ridiculed, I was treated badly by my peers and my colleagues. ‘People did not just believe in what I said  – People were hostile.’ Mr Shechtman was expelled from the group of scientists he belonged to because he was a disgrace. Not only his group backbite him. Very well known chemists such as professor Linus Pauling a two times Nobel Laureate (in chemistry and the peace prize) who until he died – claimed that ‘Dan Shechtman is talking nonsense.’

It’s very funny that still in 2011 the crystals are called quasicrystals. They are crystals however to convince the scientists of the old paradigm, Shechtman et al. called them ‘quasi’ which means ‘as if, almost’.

Scientists at Cern might be in exactly the same phase as Shechtman was in 1982. In September 2011 they made an experiment with neutrinos (a very small elementary particle) and observed that: ‘the neutrinos travel at a velocity 20 parts per million above the speed of light, nature’s cosmic speed limit.’ The scientists didn’t really beleive in what they experienced since if it’s right – then parts of Einstein’s theory of relativity is false! So at the moment ‘independent’ researchers are looking into the results from CERN to see if they are true. Expressed in another way to see if a whole world have to change its presupposition, its ‘paradigm’.

What we presuppose is really an extremely forceful power for how we think and act. Sometimes we don’t trust what we experience with our senses due to the fact that – this can’t be true. It took Mr Shechtman two years before his observations started to make ground and then as he says ‘hell broke loose’. Please watch this interview with Dan Shechtman where he in an intriguing way describes his story when he developed the quasicrystals from which he got the Nobel Price in Chemistry 2011. Mesmerizing!

Our presuppositions are really the solution to and the obstacles for progress. So please also consider; which are the ‘truths’ I have that support me in my progression and which are the truths that ‘hinder’ me.


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