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Darwin & The Power of Observation

Charles Darwin is known to be one of the most influential people in science for his contributions to evolutionary biology and the theory of evolution. However, insight into his life led me to discover that scientists preceding him had already begun to coin the basis for his theory. So why is Darwin’s contribution much more prominent than the others?

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Darwin’s Long Lasting Impact

Darwin’s impact shows the impact that science can have on the way that people think. As we look back on history, we look to certain notable thinkers who revolutionized the time period they were living in. Martin Luther inspired the Reformation. Galileo and others brought on the scientific revolution. John Locke contributed to the Enlightenment. All of these people helped to change the way people in their field thought about the subject. Darwin’s theory of evolution, however, sparked a change in all of society. His studies of biology helped to explain the world around us like never before. Continue reading

Deeply Understanding Scientific Paradigms

In 1962,  Thomas Kuhn publishes his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions where he discusses the history of science. He introduces the concept of paradigms in science as 

“practices that define a scientific discipline at certain point in time” (14).1

In other words, paradigms are commonly accepted views or theories about a discipline and the conventions that dictate its research. There are paradigms in all disciplines, like physics with Newton’s Theory of Motion and Mechanics or biology with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. In order to learn what science or technology is, it is becoming increasingly vital to experiment in order to deeply understand how certain paradigms come into existence.

It is also possible that disciplines experience paradigm shifts, which Kuhn considers to be the basis of the scientific revolution. Across time and disciplines, there have been fundamental changes in the underlying assumptions or research approaches. When David Nye, the author of Technology Matters: Questions to Live With explains tools in human history,  it is similar to the concept of a paradigm shift:

“[tools] are part of systems of mean-ing, and they express larger sequences of actions and ideas. Ultimately, the meaning of a tool is inseparable from the stories that surround it” (2-3). 2 

The “stories” and “larger sequence of actions and ideas” alludes to the evolution of meaning and usage of tools over time. Initially, tools were for capturing and domesticating animals, creating fires, and building shelters, but evolved to also become a means of murder and warfare. The history of tools can be thought of as a primitive example of a paradigm shift because there was a shift in how tools were used, from basic survive to warfare. 

In order to deeply understand the paradigms of science and technology, experimentation is key. Experimenting, however, takes various forms depending on the discipline. In physics, for example, it can involve highly specialized scientific instruments in order to derive Earth’s gravitational acceleration. In computer science, it can involve learning Swift, a computer programming language to develop a social networking mobile application. In these experiments, the experimenter does not take paradigms of science at face value, but rather more deeply understand how those concepts or technologies came to be. Gravitational acceleration is not simply 9.8m/s, its value fits within the framework of a universally applicable law known as Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. Any mobile application does not work via magic, there are complex layers of programming languages and unique software architectures that create an working mobile application. In other words, in order to learn about science and technology, there needs to be deep inquiry on the accepted paradigms of science, not just blind acceptance.

Sources:
1 Lijing Jiang, “Understanding S, T & S” (presentation, ST112 Course, Waterville, ME, September 10, 2018).
2 David Nye, Technology Matters: Questions to Live With (The MIT Press, 2007), 1–16.

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