|AlanWinstanley.com Incandescent Collection|
Thomas Kuhn was wrong. He failed to understand the dynamics of scientific revolutions. Far from such revolutions occurring through an accumulation of evidence – until, so to speak, the dam bursts – they fail to occur until such time as scientific constraints have been weakened – namely, the scientific method. I shall explain.In recent generations, we have witnessed a rising awareness of an inter-connected world, and cosmos. One of the results of modern science in particular is the perception that 'everything is related to everything else'. Yet paradoxically, even at the same time, we find that science requires the very opposite of openness to the totality of things, to survive and to thrive. For science to advance, there is the need for scientific control on the one hand, and a strictly normed language on the other. In the words of Wilhelm Kamlah and Paul Lorenzen, science must 'screen things out'. This applies to all four phases of the scientific method: characterisations, hypotheses, predictions, and experiments.
There is something equally true about science which we typically do not much pay nearly as much attention to. If the scientific method should exert any influence on those potential influences which it excludes, then scientific control is compromised. For instance, if in seeking to establish how much energy is required to convert a kilogram of ice into steam, I find that I am warming the laboratory at the same time, then the procedure is fundamentally flawed. Energy is being lost. We therefore require what I shall call a 'double isolation' in science. Not only does science screen things out, but it needs to screen itself out from its environment.
This 'double isolation' has led historically to two major problems:
Firstly science, having screened itself out from the world, ultimately needs to 're-enter' the world. After the final, experimental stage of the scientific method, with the artificial conditions of the laboratory removed, science begins again to have an effect on the world. Yet little thought is given to what happens at this point. Science, when it re-enters the world, typically goes beyond anything that was formally taken into account in the scientific method. The disasters which have here occurred have led various thinkers to suppose that science is responsible for the ruination of our world. Stephen Hawking puts it simply: science may score an own goal.
Secondly, the isolation of science from the world has resulted in confusion as to how science really advances. The orthodox view is that science advances by and large through an inductive process: by making broad generalisations from specific observations. Yet consider that those specific observations have already followed the procedure of 'screening things out'. That is, such science has already minimised the effects of variables. It has excluded a great many possible relations in order to trace the relations which it does. There is a limit, therefore, to what can be achieved with previous scientific observations, as far as the tracing of relations is concerned.
Not only this. Experience tells us that scientific conjectures are not adequately explained by an inductive method. Here is an example from my own experience, dating from 2004. In that year I came up with a new principle for metal detecting, called coil coupled operation (CCO). I was already familiar with the transformer coupled oscillator. This is governed by theory which, even in its full complexity, has little or no interest in outside influences on the oscillator. Now consider that such outside influences could include coins beneath the soil, which may change the frequency of the oscillator. In order to turn this into a metal detector, my mind needed to leap outside of the theory, to discover a principle which rested precisely on those influences which the present theory excluded.
Science, therefore, would seem to require not only the inductive method, but something far larger – namely intuition. Albert Einstein wrote, 'Knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.' This has important implications for the scientific method. The inductive method should be taught only as one possible means of doing science – and probably not the best way. Rather, the emphasis should be on a more frenetic and imaginative thinking. This is borne out, among other things, by the fact that many scientists of note were inter-disciplinary or multi-disciplinary in their pursuits – among them Archimedes, Leonardo da Vinci, and Albert Einstein.
On the other hand, science should take account not only of the individual mechanisms which are isolated in controlled experiments. It should deliberately keep track of those mechanisms which are excluded from such control. These may potentially be infinite – yet it is crucial that there be an attempt to list them. No experiment is truly complete until this has been done, and no experimenter has been truly responsible without it. Inconsistently, today, some of our scientific pursuits are systematically regulated and supervised after the final, experimental stage of the scientific method – most notably in the areas of food and drugs – while vast areas remain ill-considered. The scientific method, far from being closed after four stages, should be an open-ended process.
This is intimately connected with the philosophy of scientific revolutions. In the process of 'screening things out', scientists' thinking is constrained. Yet a paradigm shift requires an eye for the wider canvas of relations. Therefore science, through the very scientific method, works to prevent paradigm shifts. However, as a science advances, the need for scientists to 'screen things out' becomes weaker. The work of scientific control has been done, and the ability to think creatively becomes stronger. Rather than paradigm shifts occurring through an accumulation of evidence, they occur where the scientific method is weakened – like a housewife, perhaps, who after kneading her bread, looks up to see the sun rise.