Re: Chapter 4 - Normal Science as Puzzle-solving
Once again, using Prof Pajares excellent summary from http://des.emory.edu/mfp/Kuhn.html
The "known in advance" comment is not quite right. Research can confirm a hypothesis, but if the outcome is certain there is no point in conducting the study. All investigation has a purpose, framed as an explicit reason for activity. Failure to confirm a hypothesis is not failure of a research study. For example, an astrology study analyzed correlation between birth charts and suicide data, and found none. This shows that any planetary effects are far weaker than is imagined by astrologers.
This one applies strongly to pharmaceutical research especially drugs for mental illness. The proponents have a conflict of interest, pushing them to publish results that will be to their commercial advantage, and to suppress results that will not aid them financially. So we see the flourishing of the paradigm of drug treatment of mental illness and neglect of other methods. This example shows that a paradigm is not just an objective framework, but is conditioned by money and politics.
The bottom line here is that no one who has vested interests welcomes surprises that may put their interests at risk. "Intrinsic value" is a very obscure notion. Intrinsic to whom? There is no value without a valuer. And assurance of solvability is also not a real priority. People fund research they consider useful. "Pure" research with no immediate use always has some deeper strategic purpose, such as reinforcing a cultural framework (English literature) or enabling possible future technology (pure mathematics). Obscure research proposals need to articulate a strategic justification if they are to get resources.
This distinction between puzzle solving and paradigm shift is comparable to the military distinction between tactics and strategy. Most practical work is tactical, operating within a defined strategy. Debate over strategy is high level, and generally proceeds within a framework of shared assumptions. Yet, a strategic shift, especially one that changes core assumptions, produces major change in tactical possibilities.
This idea of a paradigm as 'a strong network of commitments' is illustrated by religious debate. Adherents of a creed view any doubt as threatening to unravel their entire belief system. So creationists see evolution as a threat to community and morality, and cannot separate the metaphysical and the social functions of belief. The rule of Biblical inerrancy is seen to limit the nature of acceptable solutions. Yet once inerrancy becomes questionable, the whole network of practices based on it may also become questionable, potentially sometimes in ways with destructive or unforseen consequences.
This observation that scientific theory contains a metaphysical dimension is important. Part of the standard scientific paradigm includes the assertion that metaphysics is obsolete. But then Kuhn's observation that theory determines which questions are admissable shows that scientific values do function in a way that goes beyond merely empirical observation. In functioning as a network of commitments, the paradigm has a subconscious dimension, revealed in emotional reactions to ideas that may challenge the paradigm. George Orwell explained this psychological syndrome very astutely in 1984 with his concept of 'crimestop', the ability to see that a line of thought has risky potential and so to nip it in the bud.
Again, looking at the religious example, theologians and archaeologists have studied the Bible and historical sites in order to confirm traditional belief. However, their research has often led to findings that refute the premise that inspired them.