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He saw sunspots, demonstrating that the sun itself was not the perfect orb demanded by the Greek cosmology that had been adopted by the church.

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But he also saw something else, a thing that is often now forgotten. He saw that the Milky Way, that cloudy streak across the sky, is made of stars. That observation was the first hint that, not only is the Earth not the centre of things, but those things are vastly, almost incomprehensibly, bigger than people up until that date had dreamed. And they have been getting bigger, and also older, ever since. Astronomers' latest estimates put the age of the universe at about That is three times as long as the Earth has existed and about , times the lifespan of modern humanity as a species.

The true size of the universe is still unknown.

Its age, and the finite speed of light, means no astronomer can look beyond a distance of But it is probably bigger than that. Nor does reality necessarily end with this universe. Physics, astronomy's dutiful daughter, suggests that the object that people call the universe, vast though it is, may be just one of an indefinite number of similar structures, governed by slightly different rules from each other, that inhabit what is referred to, for want of a better term, as the multiverse.


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The shattering of the crystal spheres which Galileo's contemporaries thought held the planets and the stars, with the sphere containing the stars representing the edge of the universe, is along with Darwin's discovery of evolution by natural selection the biggest revolution in self-knowledge that mankind has undergone. The world that Galileo was born into was of comprehensible compass. The Greeks had a fair idea of the size of the Earth and the distance to the moon, and so did the medievals who read their work.

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But these were distances that the imagination might, at a stretch, embrace. Kuhn dated the genesis of his book to , when he was a graduate student at Harvard University and had been asked to teach a science class for humanities undergraduates with a focus on historical case studies. Kuhn later commented that until then, "I'd never read an old document in science. Kuhn wrote " About motion, in particular, his writings seemed to me full of egregious errors, both of logic and of observation.

While perusing Aristotle's Physics , Kuhn formed the view that in order to properly appreciate Aristotle's reasoning, one must be aware of the scientific conventions of the time.

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Kuhn concluded that Aristotle's concepts were not "bad Newton," just different. Prior to the publication of Kuhn's book, a number of ideas regarding the process of scientific investigation and discovery had already been proposed. Ludwik Fleck developed the first system of the sociology of scientific knowledge in his book The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact He claimed that the exchange of ideas led to the establishment of a thought collective, which, when developed sufficiently, served to separate the field into esoteric professional and exoteric laymen circles.

Kuhn was not confident about how his book would be received. Harvard University had denied his tenure, a few years before. However, by the mids, his book had achieved blockbuster status. Kuhn also addresses verificationism , a philosophical movement that emerged in the s among logical positivists. The verifiability principle claims that meaningful statements must be supported by empirical evidence or logical requirements. Kuhn's approach to the history and philosophy of science focuses on conceptual issues like the practice of normal science , influence of historical events, emergence of scientific discoveries, nature of scientific revolutions and progress through scientific revolutions.

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What types of lexicons and terminology were known and employed during certain epochs? Stressing the importance of not attributing traditional thought to earlier investigators, Kuhn's book argues that the evolution of scientific theory does not emerge from the straightforward accumulation of facts, but rather from a set of changing intellectual circumstances and possibilities. Kuhn did not see scientific theory as proceeding linearly from an objective, unbiased accumulation of all available data, but rather as paradigm-driven.

Rather, they are concrete indices to the content of more elementary perceptions, and as such they are selected for the close scrutiny of normal research only because they promise opportunity for the fruitful elaboration of an accepted paradigm. Far more clearly than the immediate experience from which they in part derive, operations and measurements are paradigm-determined.

Science does not deal in all possible laboratory manipulations. Instead, it selects those relevant to the juxtaposition of a paradigm with the immediate experience that that paradigm has partially determined. As a result, scientists with different paradigms engage in different concrete laboratory manipulations. Kuhn explains his ideas using examples taken from the history of science. For instance, eighteenth-century scientists believed that homogenous solutions were chemical compounds.

Therefore, a combination of water and alcohol was generally classified as a compound. Nowadays it is considered to be a solution , but there was no reason then to suspect that it was not a compound. Water and alcohol would not separate spontaneously, nor will they separate completely upon distillation they form an azeotrope. Water and alcohol can be combined in any proportion. Under this paradigm, scientists believed that chemical reactions such as the combination of water and alcohol did not necessarily occur in fixed proportion.

This belief was ultimately overturned by Dalton's atomic theory , which asserted that atoms can only combine in simple, whole-number ratios. Under this new paradigm, any reaction which did not occur in fixed proportion could not be a chemical process. This type world-view transition among the scientific community exemplifies Kuhn's paradigm shift. A famous example of a revolution in scientific thought is the Copernican Revolution. In Ptolemy 's school of thought, cycles and epicycles with some additional concepts were used for modeling the movements of the planets in a cosmos that had a stationary Earth at its center.


As accuracy of celestial observations increased, complexity of the Ptolemaic cyclical and epicyclical mechanisms had to increase to maintain the calculated planetary positions close to the observed positions. Copernicus proposed a cosmology in which the Sun was at the center and the Earth was one of the planets revolving around it. For modeling the planetary motions, Copernicus used the tools he was familiar with, namely the cycles and epicycles of the Ptolemaic toolbox.

Yet Copernicus' model needed more cycles and epicycles than existed in the then-current Ptolemaic model, and due to a lack of accuracy in calculations, his model did not appear to provide more accurate predictions than the Ptolemy model. Copernicus' contemporaries rejected his cosmology , and Kuhn asserts that they were quite right to do so: Copernicus' cosmology lacked credibility.

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  8. Kuhn illustrates how a paradigm shift later became possible when Galileo Galilei introduced his new ideas concerning motion. Intuitively, when an object is set in motion, it soon comes to a halt. A well-made cart may travel a long distance before it stops, but unless something keeps pushing it, it will eventually stop moving.

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    Aristotle had argued that this was presumably a fundamental property of nature : for the motion of an object to be sustained, it must continue to be pushed. Given the knowledge available at the time, this represented sensible, reasonable thinking. Galileo put forward a bold alternative conjecture: suppose, he said, that we always observe objects coming to a halt simply because some friction is always occurring.

    Galileo had no equipment with which to objectively confirm his conjecture, but he suggested that without any friction to slow down an object in motion, its inherent tendency is to maintain its speed without the application of any additional force. The Ptolemaic approach of using cycles and epicycles was becoming strained: there seemed to be no end to the mushrooming growth in complexity required to account for the observable phenomena.

    Johannes Kepler was the first person to abandon the tools of the Ptolemaic paradigm. He started to explore the possibility that the planet Mars might have an elliptical orbit rather than a circular one. Clearly, the angular velocity could not be constant, but it proved very difficult to find the formula describing the rate of change of the planet's angular velocity. After many years of calculations, Kepler arrived at what we now know as the law of equal areas. Galileo's conjecture was merely that — a conjecture. So was Kepler's cosmology. But each conjecture increased the credibility of the other, and together, they changed the prevailing perceptions of the scientific community.

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    Later, Newton showed that Kepler's three laws could all be derived from a single theory of motion and planetary motion. Newton solidified and unified the paradigm shift that Galileo and Kepler had initiated. One of the aims of science is to find models that will account for as many observations as possible within a coherent framework.

    Once a paradigm shift has taken place, the textbooks are rewritten.

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    Often the history of science too is rewritten, being presented as an inevitable process leading up to the current, established framework of thought. There is a prevalent belief that all hitherto-unexplained phenomena will in due course be accounted for in terms of this established framework. Kuhn states that scientists spend most if not all of their careers in a process of puzzle-solving. Their puzzle-solving is pursued with great tenacity, because the previous successes of the established paradigm tend to generate great confidence that the approach being taken guarantees that a solution to the puzzle exists, even though it may be very hard to find.

    Kuhn calls this process normal science. As a paradigm is stretched to its limits, anomalies — failures of the current paradigm to take into account observed phenomena — accumulate. Their significance is judged by the practitioners of the discipline. Some anomalies may be dismissed as errors in observation, others as merely requiring small adjustments to the current paradigm that will be clarified in due course.