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Does Natural Science Encourage a Narrow Mind?


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Oct 6, 2008
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Does Natural Science Encourage a Narrow Mind?

Paradigm directed science encourages the scientist to steadfastly adhere to carefully crafted narrow minded thinking. Because “normal science” has been so successful in achieving its narrow goals I claim that our whole society has become dangerously enchanted into viewing all domains of knowledge in restricted narrow constraints.

Normal science is a puzzle-solving enterprise. Normal science is a slow accumulation of knowledge by a methodical step-by-step process undertaken by a group of scientists.

‘Paradigm’ is a word that was given great meaning and clarity by Thomas Kuhn in his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”.

“One of the things a scientific community acquires with a paradigm is a criterion for choosing problems that, while the paradigm is taken for granted, can be assumed to have solutions…A paradigm can, for that matter, even insulate the community from those socially important problems that are not reducible to the puzzle form, because they cannot be stated in terms of the conceptual and instrumental tools the paradigm supplies.”

The author notes that all “real science is normally a habit-governed, puzzle-solving activity” and not a Critical Thinking activity. Paradigm and not hypothesis is the active meaning for the ‘new image of science’. Paradigm is neither a theory nor a metaphysical viewpoint.

Kuhn’s new image of science—the paradigm—is an artifact, a way of seeing, and is a set of scientific problem solving habits. Normal science means research based upon one or more past achievements ‘that some particular community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice…and these achievements are sufficiently unprecedented to attract an enduring group pf adherents away from competing modes of scientific activity’ furthermore they are sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined group of practitioners to solve’. Such achievements Kuhn defines as paradigm.

“A puzzle-solving paradigm, unlike a puzzle-solving hypothetico-deductive system, has also got to be a concrete ‘way of seeing’.”

Kuhn constantly refers to the ‘gestalt switch’ when discussing the switch in reference from one paradigm to another as ‘re-seeing’ action. Each paradigm has been constructed to be a ‘way-of-seeing’. Here Kuhn is speaking not about what the paradigm is but how the paradigm is used. He is defining a paradigm as a newly developed puzzle-solving artifact that is used analogically to understand another artifact; for example, using wire and beads strung together to facilitate understanding the protein molecule.

I think that we place “Science” (meaning normal science) on too high a pedestal and thereby distort our comprehension of political and social problems. We cannot solve social and political problems like we solve the questions formed by the normal sciences.

Do you think that the techniques of normal science are directly applicable for solving the social and political problems of society?
First, for someone so pedantic, confusing science with engineering is unforgivable. Human society is very different from the chemistry of building a car engine. The amount of variables are insurmountable, the amount of time it takes to perform an experiment can be decades, and ethical constraints prevent destructive testing of a feedback loop. However, the same underlying basis of trial and error remains. You take the body of knowledge on what happened in the past ,analyze to predict what will happen in the future and adjust the system to try and get what you want. While it can be difficult or impossible to get desired results with engineering, it is still the best method that humanity has.
A person can walk the corridors of any big city hospital and observe the effectiveness of human rationality in action. One can also visit the UN building in NYC or read the morning papers and observe just how ineffective, frustrating and disappointing human rationality can be. Why does human reason perform so well in some matters and so poorly in others?

We live in two very different worlds; a world of technical and technological order and clarity, and a world of personal and social disorder and confusion. We are increasingly able to solve problems in one domain and increasingly endangered by our inability to solve problems in the other.

Normal science is successful primarily because it is a domain of knowledge controlled by paradigms. The paradigm defines the standards, principles and methods of the discipline. It is not apparent to the laity but science moves forward in small incremental steps. Science seldom seeks and almost never produces major novelties.

Science solves puzzles. The logic of the paradigm insulates the professional group from problems that are unsolvable by that paradigm. One reason that science progresses so rapidly and with such assurance is because the logic of that paradigm allows the practitioners to work on problems that only their lack of ingenuity will keep them from solving.

Science uses instrumental rationality to solve puzzles. Instrumental rationality is a systematic process for reflecting upon the best action to take to reach an established end. The obvious question becomes ‘what mode of rationality is available for determining ends?’ Instrumental rationality appears to be of little use in determining such matters as “good” and “right”.

There is a striking difference between the logic of technical problems and that of dialectical problems. The principles, methods and standards for dealing with technical problems and problems of “real life” are as different as night and day. Real life problems cannot be solved only using deductive and inductive reasoning.

Dialectical reasoning methods require the ability to slip quickly between contradictory lines of reasoning. One needs skill to develop a synthesis of one point of view with another. Where technical matters are generally confined to only one well understood frame of reference real life problems become multi-dimensional totalities.

When we think dialectically we are guided by principles not by procedures. Real life problems span multiple categories and academic disciplines. We need point-counter-point argumentation; we need emancipatory reasoning to resolve dialectical problems. We need critical thinking skills and attitudes to resolve real life problems.
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