The structure of the scientific revolutions.

( See Thomas S . KUHN's book)

(for French, click on the flag)

It is possible to model the exchanges in the scientific community by means of the theory exposed here, indeed:

First of all, what is precisely a theory?
It is a means to pass on a certain vision of things.

To pass on implies that there is:

A broadcasting station:
The author of the message whom is the "Observer"
A receiver:
The " Scientific Community ", formed by the "Peers" who recognize themselves as such
A message:
The "Theory" itself.

As regards a theory with scientific or technical character, this message is in connection with "Objects".
Kant wanted to show that in any experiment, it is necessary to distinguish two elements, the one relating to the object (the object "in itself") - which we shall indicate by " Object 1 ", the other one in the own nature of the observer
We shall define as object " for one " or " Object 2 ", the object mediatized by the scientist. Although the object is the cause of the experiment, what sees the observer of it also depends on him.

On the other hand, the public which addresses our Observer forms a group, with its own culture, i.e. all the common accepted knowledge. This forms the "Paradigm" in which it is advisable to refer.
In this field are elaborated the scientific ideas, are in confrontation the theses in a ceaseless work of justification, refutation, forgery and a check. This work constituting, by itself, the material of paradigm (in Thomas S . Khun's sense) in the heart of which they evolve.
We can schematize this paradigm to represent there the connections which become established there in the following way:

Field of Paradigm:

  1. Experiment:
    Object 2 == > Observer
  2. Communication:
    Observer == > Community
  3. Validation:
    Community == > Paradigm
  4. Appropriation:
    Paradigm == > Object

The final feedback is a modification of the way the community look at the World.
Everything paradigm wears in him its limits and bounds by there even a field of experience. In this context, certain experiments can show themselves crucial, in what it fault paradigm already admitted.
There is no more feedback: we are in front of a "catastrophic" case.
It was, for example, the measure of the speed of light, or the theory of the black bodies at the beginning of the 20th century...
This representation remains rather summary because preoccupations of different order get involved there: from the raw observation towards a coherent interpretation of the object, there is a level change of language.
In a symmetric way, the expression of the public formulates rather rarely in propositions of tests and against direct checks.
The debate does not come down immediately on the experimental ground and limits itself at first to an exam of admissibility of the proposed thesis.
It is to say that the previous pattern, describing the scientific speech, is inserted between two levels concerning very different activities:
The scientific method lays on  3 levels
Level 1: the Field of Observation
Level 2: the Paradigm
Level 3: the Sociological Field
Field of the observation: It is in particular about the work in "laboratory":

At first, the observer addresses nobody, but bounds his field of observation, defines a protocol of experiment, the results of which he will directly use to refine his experiment.
In this work, the Observer presents two faces, alternately active and passive:
On one hand he has to build its experiment
( We shall speak about "Experimenter" and of " Protocol of experiments "),
On the other hand he collects the result and confronts it with the theory which drove him
( We shall speak about "Theorist" and shall keep the term of " Object 1 ").

  1. Settling of the experiment:
    Experimenter == > Protocol
  2. Experiment:
    Protocol == > Object 1
  3. Observation:
    Object 1 == > Theorist
  4. Adaptation of the Protocol:
    Theorist == > Experimenter

There are situated the considerations of the epistemologists of  "realist" tendency trying to define what is the experiment.
The systematic consideration of a feedback of the observer / experimenter on the object is rather recent. It became almost indispensable since Heisenberg's works in the thirties.

Sociological field:

The scientific activity is not made outside the social field, indeed:
The Observer should gather the means to experience
He should make live his "lab", his team, present budgets by respecting the standards of the civil society: it is what defined the " researcher's " status,
The scientific community is included in a society, which asks for accounts.
They should justify their social utility, answer the expectations of the public.
It is to say that the scientific activity does not develop freely, and gets closer the most active part of the society: where from the importance of the military justifications for certain researches.

  1. Communication:
    Observer == > Community
  2. Publication:
    Community == > Society
  3. Social evaluation:
    Society == > Researcher
  4. Feed back:
    Researcher == > Observer

This stake in perspective of the scientific debate allows to understand that it is not a pure and simple exchange of arguments among peers.
It is always difficult to make listen to a new theory which questions existing paradigm, because the questioning interferes on the previous 3 levels:
  1. At the level of experimental, there are no available credits,
  2. At the scientific level (paradigm) it strikes the accepted theories,
  3. In the social standing, it genes established institutions (where from a lack of means at the level 1 etc....)
To establish the debate, it has to be judged relevant by the scientific community, it must be seen as part of  the preoccupations of the moment.
It is always possible, when the theory in question gives the hope to fill a gap of paradigm.
For example, the physicists are looking forward to new ideas to take out some contradiction between quantum mechanics and relativity.
The physics knew number of "revolutions" and advances by jumps, since Galilee.

But, there is no hope of listening when the investigated domain does not belong to a field of questioning considered relevant.

It is exactly the case of the theory that occupies us here: no place for a theory of the social organization using tools of the physics.
The problem is not scientific any more but becomes philosophic because we touch the status of the individual.

Indeed, the individual stops having a particular status, he is not any more (as the "Observer" describes here) that a piece of few levels structure, flooded within infinite structures: he becomes FRACTAL

Structure in 3 levels:

(Remark: this 3 levels model can quite easily be seen as a Chinese's hexagram. Refer to my page I Ching)

Return to homepage

page updated on 07/11/02
author : Alain SIMON
© copyright 1999 Alain SIMON
adresse : isa.al.simon@wanadoo.fr

Free Web Hosting