Thomas Kuhn And Textbooks Essay, Research Paper
Since the beginning of academic studies, inquiries into history and science have often and generally been regarded as two completely opposite entities. In addition to different research methods, dissimilar types of “scholars” approached these diverse endeavors. In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn discusses the juxtaposition of this dichotomy—namely the history of science.
Central to the book’s theme is the concept of textbooks. Kuhn argues that textbooks act merely as an advertisement into scientific disciplines, proclaiming instead that one should focus upon “the historical record of the research activity itself” (1). Although Kuhn elaborates on the distinction between the “incremental process” of the history of science and the “chronological” history of science, he fails to apply this distinction; rather, he refuses to recognize the bona fide purpose of textbooks as being simply an explanation of what science knows to be true at this point in time and instead believes more could be learned if textbooks were to “describe and explain the congeries of error, myth, and superstition” (2) of scientific predecessors.
Consider the metaphor of a textbook being an oak tree. As scientific knowledge is accrued, the tree grows accordingly. According to Kuhn, when an “error” is exposed or a “myth” is annulled, the tree would die and an acorn would fall. This acorn would then germinate, producing an offspring that would grow rapidly to be slightly larger than the former; this development would proceed as scientific advancements are made and then nullified. More importantly, Kuhn would agree that the entire tree should be the textbook: from the roots to the trunk to the branches and foliage at the top (representing the entire history of science).
Contrary to Kuhn’s view would imply the tree never dies and a new tree never stems from it. Instead, there would be only one tree that would grow continuously. Furthermore, only the foliage atop the tree would be the textbook (representing what is currently known about science).
While the growth of the tree is based on the same premise of the incremental accrual of knowledge as Kuhn’s tree, the difference lies in the fact that Kuhn’s tree must die and then re-grow to become larger whereas the contrary tree is continuously growing. Surely it can be assumed that a tree that is continuously growing will be larger than one that is continuously re-sprouting. To assume this view would infer that the ‘traditional’ textbook would—in the end—provide a greater wealth of knowledge than Kuhn’s textbook, as the contrary tree would grow to be larger than Kuhn’s tree.