Ihde (Instrumental) – Filosofia da Ciência

I do not wish to go over the same ground already well trod since the publication of The Structure of Scientific Revolution (1962). The arguments and counterattacks, the extensions and revisions, have been many. But I shall take a different approach. I shall not address the mainline reaction, which accused Kuhn of both reducing science to a sociology of science and of exhibiting a presumed irrationalism, which arose from his shift of emphasis on discovery from its previously “purely” rational basis in forms of reasoning. Rather, what I see happening in Kuhn is the hint at a different model of interpreting science, a model which includes at least perceptual and, insofar as Kuhn is historically sensitive, praxical features often left out of standard accounts.

At the same time, I want to resituate Kuhn with respect to his [12] proximity, probably unknowingly on his part, to phenomenology. My use of perception is closest to Merleau-Ponty’s in the sense that sensory, or bodily, perception is always understood to be situated within a kind of cultural or contextual perception. Thus, while Kuhn, in a more Wittgensteinian sense, may often be using perception metaphorically as a kind of “intellectual” perception, here I am noting that what is sometimes taken as metaphorical is more than metaphorical.

Kuhn does not stand alone in what I shall describe as the praxis-perception model implicit in the new philosophy of science. Until recently, beyond the gaze of many philosophers, there was a parallel development of an amazingly similar impact made upon the human sciences by the work of the late French intellectual historian-philosopher Michel Foucault. His tutor, usually unmentioned but all-too-clearly visible in his very invisibility, was Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the philosopher of perception par excellence. In turn, Merleau-Ponty draws from an even older development of a praxis-perception model of interpretation outlined in the work of the later Husserl. I shall examine this parallelism.

This examination will take the shape of a chronologically discontinuous exposition which, while beginning with Kuhn, then reverts to an earlier period beginning with Husserl and leading back up to Kuhn’s contemporary, Michel Foucault. I do this first with respect to philosophy of science but with deliberate focus upon the often indirect roles of technology in these contexts.

First the Kuhnian revolution: The critical, or negative, thrust of Kuhn’s reinterpretation of scientific development was immediately felt. It could easily be construed as a direct attack upon the analytic-positivistic-nomological model of science. For Kuhn, the laws of science, the rules of operation, the system of induction and deduction — while in no way ignored or rejected — were undercut as foundational. More basic to the operation of science was a paradigm. In effect, what Kuhn’s negative attack accomplished was an inversion of priorities, making the nomological model of science derivative.

Kuhn first described his notion of paradigm in a highly general form, stating that “a paradigm is an accepted model or pattern” which guides the development of normal science. At first, it might be thought that such a model was merely the particular arrangement of parts of a theory, itself a kind of higher order, but perhaps an implicit “rule.”

In this standard example, the paradigm functions by permitting the replication of examples any one of which could in principle serve to replace it. In a science… a paradigm is rarely an object for replication. Instead, like the accepted judicial decision in common law, it is an object for further articulation and specification under new or more stringent conditions.

[13] But a paradigm is presupposed by the operations of normal science, which is to say that what constitutes the paradigm is also more basic as a condition of the possibility for normal science. Laws, rules, the nomological model become not founding, but founded. “Perhaps it is not apparent that a paradigm is prerequisite to the discovery of laws …, “ but the relation is soon made explicit. “Rules, I suggest, derive from paradigms, but paradigms can guide research even in the absence of rules.” Rules become twice secondary. Paradigms are the very means by which theory can operate: “Paradigms provide all phenomena except anomalies with a theory-determined place in the scientist’s field of vision.’’ They are ultimately the ground of normal science itself: “Without commitment to a paradigm there could be no normal science.”

And while recognizing that normal science is also the dominant way in which science operates, it too is inverted with respect to its grounds. Revolutionary science, which occurs through a paradigm shift, is more basic to scientific development or advancement. Normal science, such as that portrayed in the textbooks — or equivalently, by the nomological model — is sedimented science. It is carrying out the refinements and extensions of some previously adapted paradigm.

One can immediately see why, in its critical dimension, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions became controversial. In a subtle sense, however, the book became its own revolutionary fulfillment, itself a paradigm shift in the interpretation of science — so much so that today its perspective is itself virtually “normal.” In fact, the response within large segments of the scientific community was such that the very language of Kuhn began to be used by scientists in their self-interpretations.

However, the established philosophy of science community was less enthusiastic. Kuhn was frequently dismissed as a mere “sociologist of knowledge,” or worse, an irrationalist, since his model of scientific change clearly included factors other than sheer rational calculations or logical connections. Thus, even though adapted by a now sizeable younger generation of both historians and philosophers of science, the persistence of the old philosophy of science remains. Philosophies, in my estimation, rarely die, even if refuted or undercut. More likely, they either go underground — reluctantly yielding even the smallest terrain — or, more frequently, resuscitate themselves in a new guise. I even suspect that the enduring, institutional aspects of philosophy are not that different from what happens in other forms of human industry. The historian Edward Constant once observed that in the transition from piston-engined to turbojet aircraft:

Old communities and traditions virtually never give birth to radically new technologies. No manufacturer of piston aircraft engines invented or [14] independently developed a turbo-jet. No designer of conventional reciprocating steam engines invented a steam turbine, no manufacturer of steam locomotives independently developed diesel engines. In the case of both firms and individuals, community practice defines a cognitive universe that inhibits recognition of radical alternatives to conventional practice.

This observation on industry appears to me to apply equally well to philosophical establishments where the development of new fields or approaches is concerned!

The critique, however, is only the negative side of the new philosophy of science. Its positive side is the emergence of what I shall call a perceptual model of interpretation. Kuhn himself makes this point repeatedly:

Examining the record of past research from the vantage of contemporary historiography, the historian of science may be tempted to exclaim that when paradigms change, the world itself changes with them. Led by a new paradigm, scientists adopt new instruments and look in new places. Even more important, during revolutions scientists see new and different things when looking with familiar instruments in places they have looked before.

Kuhn characterizes this specifically as a way of seeing. It is what I shall call, in this case, an example of structured macroperception. Kuhn astutely recognized that phenomena may be seen with different selectivities — selectivities which call into question whether the thing seen is similar in any way to that which was previously seen. His specific metaphor for such changes was the gestalt shift, such as occurs with ambiguous pictures (as with Wittgenstein’s duck/rabbit; indeed, Wittgenstein is an important figure in Kuhn’s background).

Kuhn repeatedly gives examples of such shifts, emphasizing radical discontinuities implied in such gestalt shifts. For example, a minor shift concerning stars and planets occurred between 1690 and 1781. Uranus was first identified as a star; then, after a switch of interpretation, as a planet. There followed the identification of numerous astronomical phenomena as planets rather than stars, to the extent that twenty were identified! But much more telling as a shift of vision is the following case:

During the seventeenth century, when their research was guided by one or another effluvium theory, electricians repeatedly saw chaff particles rebound from, or fall off, the electrified bodies that had attracted them. At least that is what seventeenth-century observers said they saw, and we have no more reason to doubt their reports of perception than our own. Placed before the same apparatus, a modern observer would see electrostatic repulsion (rather than mechanical or gravitational rebounding), but historically… electrostatic repulsion was not seen as [15] such until Hauksbee’s large-scale apparatus had greatly magnified its effects.

Note, anticipatorily, that there is a relation here between perception and instrumentation (technology). Kuhn suggests that the use of the same instrumentation can give rise to differing perceptions, but historically the shift did not occur until the instrumentation itself changed. This is not without import, but it remained only an underdeveloped background phenomenon within Kuhn’s approach.

For Kuhn, gestalt shifts are shifts in seeing as (Wittgenstein). What is explicit in his interpretation are such things as changes in what counts, selectivities within the phenomenon: “for example… when Aristotle and Galileo looked at swinging stones, the first saw constrained fall, the second a pendulum.” Indeed, only through a shift could pendulums be perceived: “Pendulums were brought into existence by something very like a paradigm-induced gestalt shift.” A shift of perception radically reorganizes not some particular element, but a whole field. “Paradigms determine large areas of experience at the same time.” This analysis of scientific perception, once understood, makes it easy to see why the nomological model must take a different role within the interpretation of science. Only after there is some paradigm or other, some structure macroperception or other, does what counts as a fact become a fact. Similarly, only after there is a gestalt can its laws be determined and refined. The same can even be said for predictions — only after there is some formed whole (gestalt) can there be anything like a rational prediction. As such, a perception is a kind of precursor to a phenomenon, which then can be made ever more explicit in its detail and implication. Kuhn’s strategy is thus a “top down” one.