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Is our scientific worldview ready for a revolution?


Thomas Kuhn's ground-breaking book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"

There are some books that you know the universe has put on your path. For me, ‘Ask and It Is Given’ was one such revelation, and ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ was another.


This journey began during the early stages of shaping my novel ‘Pilgrim’. I envisioned a scientist as one of the main characters, but the specifics weren’t yet apparent to me.


Living in a vibrant university city like Cambridge, serendipitous conversations are a joy. One evening, over a bottle of wine, a discussion about quantum physics led to the intriguing topic of scientific paradigms. It was then that a knowledgeable friend suggested I read Thomas S. Kuhn’s ground-breaking work, affectionately known simply as ‘Structure’.


Published in 1962, 'Structure' became a landmark book in the history and philosophy of science. Kuhn (1922-1996) introduced the world to the concept of the “paradigm shift,” a term originally applied to the natural sciences but now widely recognised across various fields.


Kuhn’s exploration of scientific history reveals a series of revolutionary shifts in thinking. The transition from Ptolemy’s Earth-centric universe to Copernicus’s heliocentric model. From Aristotle’s physics to Newton’s. From Newton’s gravitational force to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, where gravity is the warping of spacetime by mass. And the most captivating for me: the leap from the atomic view of the universe, composed of tiny particles, to the quantum physics revelation that everything is fundamentally energy.


Kuhn explains that "normal" science operates within the confines of a prevailing paradigm, conducting experiments to solve puzzles raised by that framework. When serious anomalies arise and cannot be explained away, these can lead to a crisis. This upheaval invites a flurry of competing ideas until one new paradigm emerges victorious, allowing normal science to resume.


The scientific community, by its very nature, tends to reinforce the status quo. Students are indoctrinated into the current paradigm, which becomes the frame of reference for their scientific careers. As Kuhn aptly puts it: “the educational initiation…prepares and licenses the student for professional practice."


What truly fascinates me is the latter stages of a paradigm's life and the human resistance to change, even when faced with glaring contradictions. When a scientist’s career is deeply entwined with a particular paradigm, anomalies challenge not only the scientific framework but also personal identity.


This tension is embodied in Gabe, the disillusioned scientist in 'Pilgrim'.


Yet, it also prompts broader reflections. Despite the Standard Model of particle physics being hailed as the most successful framework to date, it still grapples with numerous unanswered questions—anomalies, if you will. I'll delve into Lynne McTaggart’s 'The Field' in a future blog, which touches on some of these issues.


Moreover, we are awash with alternative theories: supersymmetry, string theory, M-theory, and even the Many Worlds Interpretation (which has captured popular imagination with the concept of the multiverse). Could this be indicative of an ongoing paradigm shift?

 

I don’t know whether ‘Structure’ is required reading for science undergraduates, but it certainly should be. As Ian Hacking says in his introductory essay to the 50th anniversary edition: “Great books are rare. This is one. Read it and you will see”.


So, is our scientific worldview on the cusp of a revolution? Only time will tell, but one thing is clear: Kuhn’s insights continue to resonate, challenging us to reconsider the very foundations of our understanding.

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