The Essential Tension


T.S. Kuhn, The Essential Tension

pub. Univ. of Chicago Press 1977, p266


In his 1987 article in Nature, Theocharis attacks both Popper and Kuhn. I am in very close agreement with Kuhn’s remarks, below. I have also found that in his last writings, Popper makes camouflaged, but forceful, criticism on the key Kuhn points.


“…. The importance to scientific development of ‘revolutions’. These are episodes – exemplified in their most extreme and readily recognised form by the advent of Copernicanism, Darwinism, or Einsteinianism – in which a scientific community abandons one time-honoured way of regarding the world and of pursuing science in favor of some other, usually incompatible, approach to its discipline. …. Most new discoveries and theories in the sciences are not merely additions to the existing stockpile of scientific knowledge. To assimilate them the scientist must usually rearrange the intellectual and manipulative equipment he has previously relied on, discarding some elements of his prior belief and practice while finding new significances in and new relationships between many others. Because the old must be revalued and reordered when assimilating the new, discovery and invention in the sciences are usually intrinsically revolutionary.

 …. …. revolutionary shifts of a scientific tradition are relatively rare, and extended periods of convergent research are the necessary preliminary to them. …. Only investigations firmly rooted in the contemporary scientific tradition are likely to break that tradition and give rise to a new one. That is why I speak of an ‘essential tension’ implicit in scientific research. …. Very often the successful scientist must simultaneously display the characteristics of the traditionalist and of the iconoclast. (Strictly speaking, it is the professional group rather than the individual scientist that must display both these characteristics simultaneously.

…. Education, institutional norms, and the nature of the job to be done will inevitably combine to insure that all group members will, to a greater or lesser extent, be pulled in both directions.”

After an excellent analysis, Kuhn’s last 33 words (in my italics) are totally wrong. They are based on the assumption that science will continue to advance. The truth is that it stagnated throughout his century because the reality was the opposite of those 33 words.        Ivor Catt, 18jan02

Kuhn goes on, p288; “The multiple historical examples ….” He would not be able to cite contemporary examples, because since 1927, when science was usurped by a religion called Modern Physics, the pull in the iconoclast characteristic direction has been eliminated. Religion does not tolerate iconoclasm, which it calls heresy.

Within today’s scientific Establishment controlling electromagnetic theory, where is the display of ‘iconoclasm’? Similarly, it is missing in other disciplines; Computer Architecture, AIDS and Global Warming.

Ivor Catt    19jan02