What is a paradigm?
Well, gee, maybe we should have covered this first. This, however, is the academic “shoe” dropping. The first “shoe” , Paradigm Shift I, covered the idea as we experience it. All about “the forest and the trees”, or, in other words, the relationship between abstract generalizations and concrete phenomenon, and, secondarily, the resistance to that perception, especially by people who ought to know better.
It’s part of the deprogramming of our worshipful attitude toward science and especially toward scientists.
Knowledge of what happened historically gives us perspective on how complex the change in paradigm can be. How little understood!
My thesis is that all this oversimplification helps foster the propaganda version of science, as told by scientists who worship science in its institutionalized form, and, themselves, in the process.
The word became popular in the 1970s as philosophers of science and scientists looked back on the enormous changes that had come to fruition over the centuries since what we could call science as we know it today began.
If your interest is rather pronounced because, like me, you sense that something is afoot in the culture wars, the political skirmishes regarding public policy, and, in fact, in how we regard science itself, and you want some real background, there are some books you might like to read.
Thomas Kuhn’s book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, is absolutely required reading. Among other books, I consider Karl Popper’s book, Conjecture and Refutations- The Growth of Scientific Knowledge and Michael Polanyi’s books on science essential.
Karl Popper does a great job in taking apart (and, then, down) the notion that eg Adler’s psychology is “scientific”. Popper really covers the whole “truth as objective reality” versus “opinion”. He’s not perfect, but he’s a great start.
The best book on Sir Isaac Newton is the incomparable biography, Never at Rest. Dr Westfall does an absolutely superb job. Newton was essentially a religious mystic capable of creating just the kind of mathematics (calculus) for Physics to become what it has become. A good introduction to Isaac Newton would be James Gleick’s Isaac Newton.
The Janus Faces of Genius by Dobbs attempts with some success to account for the shift of science out of its “Natural Law” paradigm. Newton actually spent more time on alchemy than chemistry and more time studying the Bible and Biblical prophecy than on Physics and Math. Newton grew quite concerned that Leibniz and the Cartesian postulate of “things-in-themselves” would lead Physics to atheism. Newton apparently “stood on the shoulders of giants” for that insight as well.
I will be recommending other books, as well. Books that cover the pharmaceutical industry, and, even the investigation of sex crimes.
More than within science itself, the unfortunate reality is that the bigger, more complex problem is the relationship of public policy and the law and science. That, in a few words, is what the ContraryWarriorHealthblog is about.
Essentially, modern science began with Sir Isaac Newton.
He was able to throw out what we could call the Aristotelian paradigm. It’s a set of beliefs based on observation that were useful in their day because they could help us predict consequences.
These observations, however, lacked the essential grasp of the forces in play regarding fundamental aspects of the physical world.
Under the old Aristotelian purview, a wagon needed continual force to keep going because, in essence, that’s the way it was. If you want to know how big of a cannonball could be shot by how much gunpowder successfully out of what kind of a cannon, you just experimented, and you came up with the group of values, and then you could say, well, I want to hit that ship over there and I want to rupture its walls.
You would use Pythagoras’ equation to get the distance, but outside of that, it was all trial-and-error. In other words, according to past experimental data I needed a particular size ball with the particular size blast inside a specifically shaped cannon. I needed to shoot at a specific angle and watch it come down.
Not-so-coincidentally, the very first “all-electronic” computer, the Eniac, was designed to solve simultaneous equations to solve that exact problem: firing a projectile from one ship at sea at another.
The moment in which the Newtonian paradigm was born has been more-or-less deliberately misrepresented or misunderstood. But, it is essential. Essential to understand what happened and essential to get some insight into just how bad the commonplace, everyday understanding of science is, even among members of the scientific community.
We all have heard about Newton and an apple falling off a tree. Simply put: that’s the idiot’s version of the story. Truth?
He was looking at the apple fall off the tree when he realized that the Earth pulled on the moon the same way.
He realized that gravity extended out into space as a force, and, therefore, the moon was falling toward the Earth at the same rate as the apple. (Truth!)
What kept the moon in orbit was lateral momentum. Movement to the side. Out of that, Newton wrote the first differential equation ever, the shortened version of which is that force equals mass times acceleration.
That was arguably (as I have said) the biggest paradigm breakthrough of all time, an entirely new point of view. While it was clear that heliocentric planetary systems worked mathematically, there was no explanation as to why planets should stay in orbit around the sun. That was the challenge in understanding Newton stepped up to. That was the challenge to Galileo from his childhood friend, the Pope. Galileo could not answer that question and instead simply mocked the Pope in a pamphlet that he published in which the words of the Pope came out of the character called “Il Sciocco” (the Fool).
The Pope was right, though. Galileo had no explanation as to the how and why of the planets remained in orbit around the sun. Once again, that is why Newton’s insight into the universal presence of gravity, its effects across the solar system, is so important. To do this, Newton abandoned the Cartesian postulates of science, namely that there could be no “occult forces”. Everything had to be material. But, gravity, as Newton said himself, is a force without matter, everywhere present, without explanation. I add, without explanation as to its genesis, its transmission or its effect.
Scientists never point out that Newton himself said that he had not solved the problem of gravity.
He had, however, mapped out how it worked. With his equation regarding just how much force of gravity would be produced between two objects in relationship to their distance and mass, you can “plug in” values and make predictions.
When I first learned this formula, I was disappointed. I understood its value, clearly. But, it did not answer fundamental questions as to what gravity actually was. It was a “how it works” as opposed to a “why it works” answer to the mysteries of gravity.
And, furthermore, the Pope was right that eliminating the Bible as a source of morality and belief, while essentially making the solar system an expression of pure mathematics, would undermine the general sense of morality, the “Mandate from Heaven”, of the West.
There is a remarkable summary of this movement away from “God” to modern materialism in the opening sequence of the film, “Freud’s Secret Passion”.
As John Huston intones….there have been three great blows to Man’s conceit regarding himself. Copernicus, the first one. The end of the geocentric view of the universe. The second. Darwin’s proof that we are not a species unto ourselves, but a product of the same forces that generated all other forms of life. The third one being Freud’s discovery of the Unconscious. We are not really masters in our own house, as it were.
I don’t quite agree with that summary by Huston. But, he was right that scientific paradigm shifts have tremendous consequences outside of the immediate view of the physical world. All to be covered in future blogs here.
One note that needs to be added. The scientists of Galileo’s day looked to see if the angle at which a distant star was observed changed from, let’s say, January to June. In other words, from one side of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun to the other.
Scientists found no change and argued that the Pope was right. The real problem was the lack of sufficiently accurate instrumentation.
Funny, though, how, once again, by leaving out particulars of the conflict, the scientific community can avoid the embarrassment of having to admit to being, not only wrong, but, very wrong. “Wrong-side-of-history” wrong.
After the shift to the Newtonian paradigm, we knew that force equals mass times acceleration (f = ma). We knew that the thing at rest tended to stay at rest and a thing in motion tended to stay in motion. So, we now knew that the reason that a wagon comes to rest when being pulled when you stop pulling it is that there’s no longer a force to overcome the friction in the situation. When we shot a cannonball, it had to go so far at a particular speed in order to complete an arc, after which it would then arrive at the other ship and breakthrough and destroy it. We could then calculate all these things, though you still needed empirical and experimental verification.
Newton was able to then figure out using the data from Tyco Brahe and Copernicus how the planets stayed in orbit around the sun and we knew what the gravitational pull of the sun was and so on and so forth. This is the real “paradigm shift”. This is why Newton said that he stood “on the shoulders of giants”. Without that data, his “gravity” across the solar system paradigm would have required decades more investigation.
Another paradigm shift came about under the aegis of Albert Einstein. Yes, as is commonly understood, Einstein “relativized” space and time, and mass, as well.
Mass is relatively easy to illustrate as a paradigm shift.
We all understand nowadays that we all weigh less on the moon, for example, because it has less gravity than the Earth because the moon is considerably smaller than the Earth. But, mass is seen as “inherent”, that is, a kind of constant outside of a field of gravity.
What happened is that as small particles got accelerated to near the speed of light, the amount of force that had been applied should have resulted in more speed, and, hence, more kinetic energy, than the particles actually had.
Scientists realized that the actual mass itself was relative. As a particle got near the speed of light, the mass increased. Then, the old “force equals mass times acceleration” of Newton was valid again. No one foresaw that change in the fundamental notion of mass.
Then, light also became subject to gravity. First came the Einstein hypothesis. Confirmed as a particular comet orbited the sun, its light rays bent by the force of the sun’s gravity. Then, contrary to popular use of the word, Einstein’s hypothesis validated, it became part of the Theory of Relativity.
I have some annoyance about the present attitude of modern physics that they have somehow solved the problem of gravity. Newton said there is no way to comprehend gravity and he’s completely correct. We don’t know how it’s created; we don’t understand how it is transmitted through space; we don’t know how it acts upon the mass that it affects at the other end. This idea that you warp the space-time continuum and force the planet to move in some kind of space-time rut is not an “explanation” at all even if it may have some degree of validity.
This is all part of the attempt to present science as more than it actually is.
It helps validate scientists’ point of view. It kills off all metaphysical and religious perspective. It really does help push us toward the atheist point of view that Newton feared would take over in Physics.
Next up: the paradigms of science regarding nutrition, medicine and public health. Eventually, we will have to look at the whole of late 19th Century and early 20th Century cultural crises as well.
Hope you stick with me!