Scientific revolutions as social reality
Chapter 13 endnote 21, from Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:
A scientific revolution swaps out one social reality for another, just like a political revolution does with its new government and social order.
Even the concept of a “scientific revolution” is a concept of social reality. In the philosopher Thomas Kuhn's famous book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he proposed three phases of scientific activity:
- Pre-paradigmatic science
- multiple scientific paradigms exist simultaneously and proceed in parallel with no resolution
- Normal science
- most scientists share one set of assumptions, questions, and methods
- Extraordinary science
- failures to replicate introduce problems in science such that the assumptions, values, questions, and methods change in dramatic upheaval called a scientific revolution or paradigm shift
A scientific revolution depends on collective intentionality that there is a problem with the status quo and that it is time to shift to a new conceptual system, with new methods and new analytics. In the science of emotion, some scientists (like me) propose that we are in the middle of a scientific revolution, whereas others might argue that we are in a pre-paradigmatic era. (For example, the linguist George Lakoff recently called emotion an essentially contested concept, meaning scientists agree that emotions exist, but a variety of definitions and meanings are simultaneously employed for emotion, and scientific inquiry seems unable to settle the matter.) And not all scholars agree that scientific revolutions occur in the first place (e.g., Kuhn himself wrote that revolutions do not occur in the social sciences).
In my view, a paradigm shift occurs in science when observations reveal that a so-called universal law only holds under certain conditions or in certain contexts.
Notes on the Notes
- Kuhn, Thomas S. 1966. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Also see Mayr, Ernst. 2004. What Makes Biology Unique? Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline. New York: Cambridge University Press.
- For an interesting alternative view on psychology's cognitive revolution, read Leahey, Thomas H. 1992. "The mythical revolutions of American psychology." American Psychologist, 47(2): 308-318.