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What Causes the Downfall of a Kuhnian Paradigm?

Date: May 22 2022

Summary: What causes the collapse of a Kuhnian paradigm and what changes are created in that field.

Keywords: ##outline #kuhn #paradigm #downfall #extraordinary #problem #


T. S. Kuhn and I. Hacking, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Fourth edition. Chicago ; London: The University of Chicago Press, 2012.


What Causes the Downfall of a Paradigm?

Normal science certainly is clear, safe, and predictable. But, what if a scientist finds results that do not fit within a paradigm? What if a result, ruling out all possible errors carried forth by a highly scrupulous researcher, is simply unexplainable - an anomaly against the backdrop of a paradigm? To Kuhn, this marks an important inflection point in adopted paradigms.

Novelty in science only emerges with resistance and difficulty because any, as Kuhn wisely points out, researchers who investigate every anomaly will not get much done. But at some point, these anomalies will continue to accumulate to the point of being unignorable to adherents of a paradigm. A sort of malcontent will arise adherents and to quote Sherlock Holmes, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” And that truth is that an accepted paradigm is no longer sufficient to explain a domain which leads to a period of significant upheaval.

Kuhn characterized the downfall of a paradigm in three generic ways:

  1. Awareness of anomaly
  2. Further recognition of awareness
  3. Contested possible change or challenge to the existing paradigm

What Happens When a Paradigm Is in Crisis?

When the anomalies are fully unconscionable, they are finally acknowledged and, to quote Kuhn:

“Discovery commences with […] awareness of anomaly”

The previous paradigm prepared an adherent on how to detect an anomaly and in a way, set up its own downfall. At this stage of upheaval, many will attempt to explain or address the anomalous behavior. A new era of discovery in the face of a failing paradigm marks this interstitial period of an outdated paradigm where many speculative and unarticulated theories abound - often at odds with one another in some way. The previous paradigm’s rules become hazy and the rules of normal research begin to veer away from its typical, standard process.

Extraordinary Problems

This problem leads normal science into a rather interesting process of science called “extraordinary science.” Extraordinary science is an offshoot of normal science that exists when a paradigm is in crisis and to address the paradigm in crisis. It is the science that either repairs, questions, or proves the deficiency of an existing paradigm. Important to note about extraordinary science is that they are never known at the outset of a paradigm but only after advanced normal research in the context of a given paradigm.



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