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Archive for the ‘Discovery’ Category

Think about the features of working on a puzzle for a moment. From the get-go, we assume that a solution to the puzzle is not only possible, but assured. In the case of a jigsaw puzzle, we begin with the picture on the box and our activity is aimed at reordering the pieces to reproduce that image. In the case of a crossword puzzle, we don’t begin with a final image in mind, but the clues provided and, more importantly, the arrangement of numbered boxes, give us faith that there is in fact a solution to the puzzle.

Rubix cube, in the process of being solved

My favorite (by which I mean infuriating) puzzle is the Rubix Cube. I have never solved even the simplest mix-up of squares on the thing. Despite my long-held belief in the solvability of each arrangement, my attempts to solve the puzzle have always resulted in an epic fail. Generally, I break down – or rather, I break it down – tearing it to pieces and reassembling it in the correct arrangement. Actually, my first attempt at this sort of problem solving was to peel the stickers off the faces and then reapply them, but this doesn’t really work. It’s much better to just destroy the cube and then try to reassemble it, all in the name of science.

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The first text I will attempt to “blog through” is Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

Why this text? To begin with, its impact on 20th century thought – not just in the history of science but in the popular mind as well – is immeasurable and quite possibly unparalleled. His introduction of the idea of a “paradigm,” which I will discuss at more length as we get further on, has infiltrated politics, business, theology, and all manner of scientific enterprises. If you use the word paradigm in any sense for describing the complex of ideas (i.e. a “worldview”) that organize our activities and self-understanding, then you are indebted to Kuhn.

In addition to being such a popular and influential work, it also appears on the majority of syllabi for philosophy of science courses. Again, this can be attributed to the fact that Kuhn’s work established its own paradigm for how scientists understand the history of their discipline and the nature of scientific advancement. While it has come under criticism, most current works in the history of science seem to articulate themselves in relation to Kuhn.

Finally, and most importantly, it raises a number of fairly fundamental questions about the nature of scientific claims to adequately* describe reality. It places itself as a work between logical positivism** and postmodernism, generating criticism from both sides. This seems, then, like a nice place to start a discussion about the nature of scientific discovery and the (ontological) status of theory.

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