Made You Think Podcast

Mar 30, 2022
What is Science? The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Part of

“The man who is striving to solve a problem defined by existing knowledge and technique is not, however, just looking around. He knows what he wants to achieve, and he designs his instruments and directs his thoughts accordingly. Unanticipated novelty, the new discovery, can emerge only to the extent that his anticipations about nature and his instruments prove wrong. . . . There is no other effective way in which discoveries might be generated.”

Welcome back to another episode of Made You Think! In this episode, Nat and Neil discuss their key takeaways from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. While the book is geared towards an academic audience, a lot of interesting ideas were brought up in terms of scientific progress, where Kuhn argues that science is anything but linear.

We cover a wide range of topics including:

  • Paradigm shifts in science (and other areas, too!)
  • What is normal science, and how does it differ from paradigm-shifting science?
  • Connections between science, religion, and politics
  • The direction and timing of inventions over time
  • How sciencing everything may lead to negative outcomes

And much more. Please enjoy, and make sure to follow Nat and Neil on Twitter and share your thoughts on the episode.

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0:43 Today, Nat and Neil dive into their takeaways from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. The phrase “paradigm shift” was coined by Thomas Kuhn and used throughout the book to describe fundamental changes in underlying assumptions.

4:47 Kuhn argues that science doesn’t progress linearly, it goes through cycles. There are foundational truths and beliefs that current science is being built on, and when those beliefs crack, we have to establish new ones. It doesn’t mean the old ideas were unscientific, but perhaps insufficient or incomplete.

8:01 Neil applies the ‘map vs. territory’ analogy. Territory is the real natural world, and every theory and paradigm we test out is the map.

11:54 The book talks about normal science as trying to solve a puzzle. When you buy a jigsaw puzzle, you know what the picture looks like and that all pieces will fit together somehow. In the same way, theories of experiments have already predicted what the results of your experiment should be, you’re just running the experiment to confirm it. Paradigm shifts are so rare and accidental because most of science is filling in gaps of the current paradigm, as that’s also where the funding is.

“The scientific enterprise as a whole does from time to time prove useful, open up new territory, display order, and test long-accepted belief. Nevertheless, the individual engaged on a normal research problem is almost never doing any one of these things.”

15:20 What are the things in science today that feel like they might be invented to explain the anomalies in the current paradigm? Dark matter and gravity for example.

17:59 There aren’t enough debates on science, and it’s important to ask the question WHY to better understand the underlying assumptions. If you disagree with one of the provided assumptions, you can challenge it.

22:09 The book explains how science is an ever-evolving process that requires challenging the current assumptions in the paradigm. Asking questions is the scientific thing to do. We can have conflicting paradigms and ideas, and use those to get an accurate view of the world, but obviously nothing is perfect.

25:50 Over time, science has become more politicized. Global warming rebranded into climate change.

30:31 Most issues are never completely binary like they’re positioned to be. The abortion debate  for example. There are 2 different paradigms with completely different underlying assumptions: 1) Individual choice is more important than when life begins and 2) Life begins at conception and it’s not an individual choice type of thing.

35:03 Every choice has a tradeoff. One problem in politics is when candidates aren’t upfront about the tradeoffs of a certain choice or pretend that there isn’t any, which makes it harder to believe them. Nat and Neil talk about the start of Covid with the stay-at-home orders and wearing a mask.

39:08 Linking to Dictator’s Handbook (episode here), it is advantageous for politicians to say problems are more urgent and pressing than they are because you can use that to retain power and influence.

43:41 Differences in generations and the trust in scientists. Younger generations are starting to suffer the consequences of explorations like combining science with food. Does science need to be added to everything?

46:41 People find what they’re looking for. If you go in with a set of beliefs, you won’t be looking for anything that confirms against your beliefs, in fact you may discard anything that argues against what you think is right without acknowledging the other set of values.

51:20 What’s a Made You Think episode without a tangent? Nat and Neil talk about the vaccine/Autism debate. With dietary changes and other factors in the first year of a child’s life, why are some scientists so set on vaccines being connected to Autism?

58:22 Paradigm shifts aren’t in science only. Nat and Neil talk about paradigm shifts in technology, Web3, single sign-on, and more.

1:05:29 A new paradigm of community ownership, fundraising, and access to capital arose as NFTs became bigger. There are now new standards for membership, and how we can own music, art, etc.

1:07:05 Paradigms are like little blips on the map, and occasionally one will present a lot of solutions to existing problems. The same things happens in both science and technology.

1:11:46 Normal science vs. paradigm-shifting science. What would have been figured out anyway vs. what was truly a leap forward.

1:14:44 The direction and timing of different inventions. There are some things that develop slowly for years but then have a period of rapid development because the underlying technology catches up. Are there things that we are technologically ready for now but just haven’t come up with yet?

1:19:28 Inversely, there are also inventions where the timing wasn’t dependent on the underlying technology.

1:23:30 Thanks for listening! If you want to read ahead before our next episode, make sure to pick up a copy of The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe.

If you enjoyed this episode, let us know by leaving a review on iTunes and tell a friend. As always, let us know if you have any book recommendations! You can say hi to us on Twitter @TheRealNeilS and @nateliason and share your thoughts on this episode.

You can now support Made You Think using the Value-for-Value feature of Podcasting 2.0. This means you can directly tip the co-hosts in BTC with minimal transaction fees. To get started, simply download a podcast app (like Fountain or Breez) that supports Value-for-Value and send some BTC to your in-app wallet. You can then use that to support shows who have opted-in, including Made You Think! We’ll be going with this direct support model moving forward, rather than ads.

Thanks for listening. See you next time!