III Monograph Contd. : Refutation and Paradigm shifts

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Refutation  and  Paradigm Shifts

Research in science has followed the path of refutation (Popper, 1968; 1969). When something is systematically refuted, something new can, and must, be accepted. Sticking to the old and discarding the new in spite of evidence to the contrary can be as reactionary as believing in the new and rejecting the old to appear modern. Or being coerced into  accepting it because of impressive portrayals by ‘specialists’ presented by pharmaceutical companies at five star seminars. For, just as obsession with the old is stifling, that with the new can be equally anarchical (Singh and Singh, 1988).

The outstanding feature of scientific advance is its capacity for self correction.* Our acceptance of scientific theories is always provisional. This requires an attitude in the scientist of being willing to be proved wrong; though he may believe a theory, he should not be committed to it, or give it his unreserved loyalty (Slater, 1973).

Human beings have a strong tendency  to look for explanations and to seek final answers. It is often perplexing to find several competing explanations being advanced to account for the same phenomena. In fact the more complex the phenomena, the greater the number of diverse opinions that emerge. Ofcourse all these viewpoints cannot be valid. Some will stand the test of time and scientific scrutiny, some must indeed be discarded, or become history. But the applicability of a viewpoint is often determined by the extent to which it seems helpful in understanding a given case. Historically, theoretical orientations in science typically retain a strong hold over their adherents, even in the face of discomforting evidence and equally plausible alternative explanations of observable phenomena (Kuhn, 1970). They continue to do so until some new or fundamentally different insight is achieved that appears to resolve the problems left unsolved by the conflicting interpretations of the empirical data. These new insights constitute paradigm shifts (Kuhn, 1970), which involve fundamental reorganization of how people think about an entire field of science. They parallel, in certain ways, the momentous cognitive shifts a child undergoes in gaining an adult understanding of the nature of the world, a process well described in the work of Jean Piaget (Carson, Butcher and Coleman, 1988).

Hence, unless we change our paradigms, alter our frameworks of enquiry, raise new sets of questions, there cannot be real breakthrough in scientific knowledge.


*To that extent, science approximates life itself. And self-correction is seen in other fields of human endeavour as well, including spirituality, even though the spiritualists may claim otherwise.

Mens Sana Monographs [MSM]: A Mens Sana Research Foundation Publication




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