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"How does science evolve?" (part 2)

Updated: Jan 4, 2022

In the last blog we covered what a paradigm is and what it means to shift a paradigm. We also briefly talked about the 4 phases they evolve in, and described one of the phases, Normal science. Today, we will be discussing the rest of the phases in detail. The first phase of paradigm shifts is the Pre-paradigmatic phase. This phase will focus on what happened before the norms or the paradigms were actually established. This was when scientists didn’t have any major theories about that subject or question. I would compare the pre-paradigmatic phase to the time before any school lab report that required the scientific method. In this scenario, no question is being tackled and no new subject is being broached. We could also take the example of the debate about the orientation of the planets in the solar system. The pre-paradigmatic phase is when no one cared or even questioned where the earth was located in the solar system. No paradigm was being set and everyone continued on with their lives without knowing or caring about the truth behind this astrological fact.

(Side-note): The reason why we will use the example of “heliocentric vs geocentric” model is because it is a very relatable and famous example of how paradigm shifts occur. I also encourage you to read Kuhn's book on paradigm shifts - "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"

Now that the pre-paradigmatic phase has been explained, we can jump to the third phase, which is Crisis. Some of you may be wondering how and why a crisis occurs after the first 2 peaceful phases. See, sometimes a paradigm has problems that need to be solved. Whether it be a major or minor problem, all of those are still called anomalies. If we were looking at these anomalies using the Popper method of falsification, we would say something like, “This paradigm seems to have a problem, let's have a look … Hmmm, very well then, seems like we have to falsify this and try to prove it wrong.” Yet Kuhn’s proposal was in fact very different to this. While Popper’s route is shorter and stops at this phase, Kuhn’s method thought that there were anomalies in all first attempted paradigms. While Popper might have seen this as a bad thing, Kuhn decided this was normal.

As long as scientists stayed confident that they could solve this anomaly, it was fine and they would just make some quick changes to the paradigm. Yet if the anomaly is a large problem or if there are many anomalies piling up, then scientists would start to doubt their capabilities and even give up on trying to solve it. They go into a state of panic, therefore creating the 3rd phase: Crisis. To put it in one short sentence, the phase Crisis, only occurs when scientists start to doubt their own paradigms. Yet as we all come to know scientists aren’t the kind of individuals that lose hope so easily. Interested scientists are challenging individuals that always seek the right answer to all their problems. When they are in a state of crisis they work on the clock trying to solve their anomaly. In the next blog, we will talk about the last and final phase of paradigm shifts and wrap up/revise what we have learned in the past two blogs.

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