Chomsky, Popper, et al (fwd)

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Sun Apr 2 08:14:54 PDT 2000

Michael Pollak wrote:

> But I hope we can agree that the central meaning of paradigm attaches to
> the idea of a scientific revolution.

What bothers me most about Kuhn is the idea of "scientific revolution." I don't believe there has ever been such a thing. Relativity and quantum mechanics, for example, did *not* represent anything at all like a revolution (unless you want to consider the Dodge Brothers Revolution or the invention of Diet Coke in your concept of revolution). Nor did the she shift from Ptolemaic to Copernican astronomy represent a scientific revolution: it merely represented the birth of science. Nor did Darwin represent a scientific revolution; it merely represented the switch from pre-scientific biology to biological science.

I would suggest that Canto II of Dante's *Pardiso* throws some light on this. There you find two explanations for different intensities of light on the moon. The first (false) explanation is that those differences correspond to differences in the density of matter. This, because it is quantitative rather than qualitative, is rejected. Beatrice then gives Dante the true explanation. I give here just a couple sentences from the long note by Grandgent (quoted in Singleton) of what is at issue:

By Nature Dante means the operation of the heavenly bodies,

directed by celestial Intelligences, or angels, which are the

ministers of God. The world of matter, therefore, corresponds

to the world of spirit, and is its visble image. From the Maker,

in his Empyrean abode, descends a vital principle, which is

received by the 9th sphere, or Primum Mobile, the outermost

of the revolving heavens. This sphere, which contains no stars,

is alike in all its parts; and for that reason it does not analyze

the force bestowed upon it, but imparts it, translated into

material energy, to the heavens within its circuit. The 8th

sphere -- that of the fixed stars -- by means of these bodies

differentiates, in accordance with the needs of the world,

the single but potentially multiform power that comes from

the Primum Mobile. This diversified power then sifts

downward to the earth, passing through the other spheres,

each of which combines with those energies which are

akin to its own essence, and transmits them still further

modified. . . .

The shift from this to the astronomy of Galileo clearly involves a revolution of some kind -- but it trivializes the magnitude of that revolution if we merely call it a "pardigm switch" *within* science. Science as we know it simply does not exist in Dante. (And after the birth of science as we know it, it took over two centuries for us to discover that the change required a name: that is, "science" in anything like the modern sense did not enter the English language until early in the 19th century.)

>From Galileo to the present we have had only (in Kuhn's
terms) normal science in physics and astronomy. And this absence of any paradigm switch *within* science is one of the reasons that Kuhn so easily misleads.


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