Scientific progress
Scientific progress is the idea that science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

  increases its problem solving ability through the application of some scientific method
Scientific method
Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of...


Discontinuous Model of Scientific Progress

Several Philosophers of Science
Philosophy of science
The philosophy of science is concerned with the assumptions, foundations, methods and implications of science. It is also concerned with the use and merit of science and sometimes overlaps metaphysics and epistemology by exploring whether scientific results are actually a study of truth...

 have supported arguments that the progress of science is discontinuous. In that case, progress is not a continuous accumulation, but rather a revolutionary process where brand new ideas are adopted and old ideas become abandoned. Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Samuel Kuhn was an American historian and philosopher of science whose controversial 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was deeply influential in both academic and popular circles, introducing the term "paradigm shift," which has since become an English-language staple.Kuhn...

 was a major proponent of this model of scientific progress, as explained in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions , by Thomas Kuhn, is an analysis of the history of science. Its publication was a landmark event in the history, philosophy, and sociology of scientific knowledge and it triggered an ongoing worldwide assessment and reaction in — and beyond — those scholarly...


This is especially supported by studying the incommensurability
Two concepts or things are commensurable if they are measurable or comparable by a common standard.Commensurability may refer to:* commensurability , the commensurability of scientific theories...

 of theories. For example, consider Newtonian mechanics and relativistic mechanics
Relativistic Mechanics
Relativistic mechanics refers to any form of mechanics compatible with either theories of Special Relativity and General Relativity. It is a non-quantum mechanics of a system of particles or of a fluid in cases where some of the velocities are comparable to the speed of light.Special relativity...

. From a strict vantagepoint, in newtonian mechanics mass and energy are always conserved, where in relativistc mechanics energy and mass are always interchangeable. (Note the difference between the strict vantagepoint, and the layperson's vantagepoint that Newton's theory is applicable at low energies and low velocities relative to the velocity of light.) Because the theories are completely incompatible, scientists using one paradigm
The word paradigm has been used in science to describe distinct concepts. It comes from Greek "παράδειγμα" , "pattern, example, sample" from the verb "παραδείκνυμι" , "exhibit, represent, expose" and that from "παρά" , "beside, beyond" + "δείκνυμι" , "to show, to point out".The original Greek...

 will not be able to discuss meaningfully with scientists from the other paradigm.

A discontinuous model of scientific progress may disagree with a realist's
Philosophical realism
Contemporary philosophical realism is the belief that our reality, or some aspect of it, is ontologically independent of our conceptual schemes, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc....

 construction in the philosophy of science. This is because the intrinsic nature of the objects referred to may change wildly.

History of Science as a Model of Scientific Progress

Another model of Scientific Progress, as put forward by Richard Boyd
Richard Boyd
Richard Newell Boyd is an American philosopher who has spent most of his career at Cornell University, though he also taught briefly at Harvard University, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the University of California, Berkeley...

, and others, is History of Science
History of science
The history of science is the study of the historical development of human understandings of the natural world and the domains of the social sciences....

 as a model of scientific progress. In short, methods in science are produced which are used to produce scientific theories, which then are used to produce more methods, which are then used to produce more theories and so on.

Note that this does not conflict with a continuous or discontinuous model of scientific progress. This model supports realism in that scientists are always working within the same universe; their theories must be referring to real objects, because they create theories that refer to actual objects that are used later in methods to produce new theories.

A good example supporting realism is the case of the electron
The electron is a subatomic particle with a negative elementary electric charge. It has no known components or substructure; in other words, it is generally thought to be an elementary particle. An electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton...

. It is hard to prove the existence of an electron because it is so small. However, any microscopist will tell you that he knows an electron exists, because he uses it in his electron microscope
Electron microscope
An electron microscope is a type of microscope that uses a beam of electrons to illuminate the specimen and produce a magnified image. Electron microscopes have a greater resolving power than a light-powered optical microscope, because electrons have wavelengths about 100,000 times shorter than...


Origins of the concept

Early technological and religious traditions did not concern themselves with gaining knowledge in any systematic way, and thus the concept of scientific progress would have been largely alien to them. Societies deeply invested in tradition were primarily occupied with the verbatim passing of thoughts and practises to the next generation, and did not engage in the scientific method
Scientific method
Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of...


Even if some esoteric traditions may have involved themselves with a rudimentary experimental method
Empirical validation
An empirical validation of a hypothesis is required for it togain acceptance in the scientific community. Normally this validation is achieved by the scientific method of hypothesis commitment, experimental design, peer review, adversarial review, reproduction of results, conference presentation...

 as the nucleus of their initiation, they did not overtly separate exploration from instruction.

Some classical Greeks like Hippocrates
Hippocrates of Cos or Hippokrates of Kos was an ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles , and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine...

 did systematically gather evidence, but as a concept incremental increase of knowledge is first formulated in connection with the art of warfare.

Quotes on Scientific Progress

Dr. Terry Halwes wrote:
"What is required for scientific progress is mainly ordinary curiosity, ordinary awareness, ordinary learning, ordinary reasoning, and fairly ordinary communication. Of course scientists work hard to develop and use precise technical terms for many of the things they talk about, but so do lawyers and golfers and cooks."

Sir Karl Popper
Karl Popper
Sir Karl Raimund Popper, CH FRS FBA was an Austro-British philosopher and a professor at the London School of Economics...

 wrote in The Logic of Scientific Discovery:
The wrong view of science betrays itself in the craving to be right; for it is not his possession of knowledge, of irrefutable truth, that makes the man of science, but his persistent and recklessly critical quest for truth.

See also

  • The Relativity of Wrong
    The Relativity of Wrong
    The Relativity of Wrong is a 1988 essay collection by Isaac Asimov, which takes its title from the most ambitious essay it contains. Like most of the essays Asimov wrote for F&SF Magazine, each one in The Relativity of Wrong begins with an autobiographical anecdote which serves to set the mood...

     essay by Isaac Asimov
    Isaac Asimov
    Isaac Asimov was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000...

    which concerns scientific progress

External links

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