Of Science Compared Essay, Research Paper
Popper and Kuhn: Two Views of Science
In this essay I attempt to answer the following two questions: What is Karl Popper s view of science? Do I feel that Thomas Kuhn makes important points against it? The two articles that I make reference to are “Science: Conjectures and Refutations” by Karl Popper and “Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research?” by Thomas Kuhn. Both articles appear in the textbook to this class.
In the article, “Science: Conjectures and Refutations”, Karl Popper attempts to describe the criteria that a theory must meet for it to be considered scientific. He calls this puzzle the problem of demarcation. Popper summarizes his arguments by saying, “the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.” Kuhn says that he and Popper often agree as to what constitutes science and non-science. He claims that he differs with Popper in the methods that he uses to arrive at his conclusions. Kuhn says that if a line of demarcation is to be sought between science and non-science, we shouldn t look for a “sharp or decisive” one, because science is not objective, as Popper would have us believe, but subjective.
Popper claims that the common answer to the problem of delineating between science and pseudo-science is that science uses an empirical method, deriving from observations and experiments. This explanation does not satisfy Popper. He has a gut feeling that areas of study like astrology are not science, and he attempts to come up with a theory to prove it. One of the problems I have with Popper is that instead of looking at a concrete problem and trying to come up with an explanation, Popper first made up his mind that astrology is not science, and then set out to prove it. By Popper s own admissions, confirming evidence is everywhere, but means little. This could be applied all of Popper s examples.
Popper is “dissatisfied” with the Marxist theory of history, psychoanalysis, and individual psychology. He sets out to describe why his gut tells him that these are unscientific theories. He argues against theories that have explanatory power. Popper has a problem with Marxists because no matter what happens in the world, they can explain the event in light of their theory. When a person believes a theory to be true, everything that happens is a verification of the truthfulness of the theory. Popper s example is how a Marxists can t read a newspaper without finding evidence to confirm their theory on every page. Supporters of these theories claim that their great explanatory properties are the strength of their theories. Popper thinks that it is their weakness. He contrasts Marxism with Einstein s Gravitational Theory, noting the main difference is that Einstein s theory is a risky prediction. He says, “The theory is incompatible with certain possible results of observation ” Popper says that confirmations or verifications are easy to come up with for any theory; “Confirmations should only count if they are the result of risky predictions.”
According to Popper, when a theory is proven to be false, it should not be used. He describes the common practice of giving theories a “conventionalist twist” as re-interpreting a theory after it has been disproven so that the theory can survive the apparent challenge. Popper says that Marxism is not science because when the theory was refuted, it was altered to explain the apparent refutations within the frames of the Marxist theory. Kuhn argues against this point. He says that introducing “ad hoc” assumptions to save a theory is done all the time in science, and it helps make the theories accurate. Rarely is a theory perfect the first time it is put down on paper. Kuhn thinks that the refinement of theories is an important part of theory development.
Popper says that Astrology is not science because astrologers were too impressed with confirming evidence. Also astrology is not falsifiable. Astrologers make vague predictions and can explain any apparent refutation to the validity of the theory. Kuhn refutes this point by claiming that Popper s assertion that astrologers escape falsification by “explaining away” any possible refutations is impossible to support. Kuhn uses the example of “reputable records” that indicate many instances where astrology categorically failed. Astrology is a very complex science (or non-science, depending on your opinion). Measuring the planets and the stars is hard, and in the days when astrology was more popular, the tools for measuring were crude. In addition, few people knew exactly when they were born, a crucial detail needed to perform accurate astrology.
Kuhn agrees with Popper in stating that astrology is not a science, but they differ in their reasons. Kuhn main problem with astrology is that the failures of astrology do not “give rise to research puzzles.” He thinks that when a scientific theory fails to explain a phenomenon, there is a new puzzle for scientists to study, learn, and grow from. In astrology, nothing is learned from mistakes. There is no effort to change the theory to explain why it failed or adopt a new theory.
Popper emphasizes the importance of testing when it comes to new theories replacing old ones. Kuhn takes particular offense to this statement. He argues that if one looks at how science is actually done, not how Popper thinks it should be done, it will be clear that many new theories were adopted before they had been tested. Kuhn uses the example of Copernicus theory being adopted over the Ptolemaic theory before it had been proven.
Popper says that deductive logic is the only way to reason in science. Inductive logic is not allowed in science because it is just confirmation. Kuhn attacks Popper s assertion that the history of scientific practice shows that scientists are really falsificationists. The argument against falsification is that there are always outside influences on a theory. Theories are not tested in a vacuum. Falsification will not determine if a theory is valid or not because it is difficult to determine if it is the theory that is wrong, or the assumptions that the scientist made is wrong. This is the essence of the Duim-Klien theory.
Popper s ideas are not descriptively accurate of how science is performed. Popper says that his theories are normative theories, how we should behave, not how we actually behave. Popper says that scientists should not be dogmatic. In reality, however, they always are to some degree. Take anthropologist Steven Gould for example, he says that he can hardly imagine the Darwinian theory being disproven. I would be more useful to describe how science is actually done then discussing how Popper thinks it should be done.
Kuhn accuses Popper of describing scientific growth as, “the revolutionary overthrow of an accepted theory and its replacement by a better one.” Kuhn argues that these revolutionary overthrows rarely actually happen. He says that Popper, “has characterized the entire scientific enterprise in terms that apply only to its occasional revolutionary parts.” Instead, science grows by gradually building up knowledge.
Popper recognizes that science can make mistakes and that, “pseudo-science may happen to stumble on the truth” Popper says that the problem of drawing a line between science and pseudo-science is not concerned with distinguishing between truth and meaningfulness, only a problem of drawing a line. I thought that it was interesting that Popper didn t define pseudo-science at the beginning of his paper. It appears that he didn t know exactly what it was besides an instinct that it was different from more traditional sciences like chemistry or physics. Why was he so determined to separate empirical science from pseudo-science? If I could talk to Popper, I would ask him, “why bother trying to draw a line at all?” It would be more fruitful to try and distinguish between what is or isn t true and what is or isn t significant.
I have a tendency to lean towards Kuhn over Popper. It don t think that Popper s ideal of proper science is useful, and he seems to agree with me (”neither a problem of meaningfulness or significance, nor a problem of truth or acceptability.”) Kuhn looks at how the world really works, a far more significant area of study. Popper thinks that he has all of the answers. I distrust people who think that they know everything. I agree with Socrates, who said something like, “The only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing.” Kuhn doesn t make rules about how science should be done, he makes suggestions. Popper wants to draw a line down the middle between science and non-science. The more I look at the problem, the more it becomes obvious that the line is not sharp, if it can be drawn at all.