Has There Ever Been a Paradigm Shift?|
by Arthur M. Young
Thomas Kuhn gave us an interesting and provocative book in his Nature of Scientific Revolutions, in which he described science, under the stimulus of new discoveries, as making a radical change in its philosophy or basic assumptions.
The idea is appealing and it did seem that there were several such shifts, beginning with the Copernican "revolution," in which, supported by the labors of Tycho Brahe, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, it was realized that the earth revolved around the sun and not the contrary.
But as I've elsewhere shown, this was rather the beginning of Western science, the emphasis on experiment and fact as the basis for theory, instead of authority.
However, it was assumed by Kuhn, and we all agreed, that Planck's discovery of the fact that light is radiated in quanta of action all of the same "size," rather than as energy, created a new paradigm. This discovery was the first clue to the true nature of light, previously thought to be waves in an ether. These waves were thought to spread out in all directions and diminish as the square of the distance. The change was revolutionary, and dispensed with the need for a medium (the ether) to carry the waves (much as sound is carried by waves in the air). It introduced quantum physics, and the quantum was found to account for other enigmas.
One especially was that, according to classical physics, the revolving electron should radiate and thus lose energy and fall into the nucleus. Bohr realized that since to radiate it had to do so in quanta, the electron could not radiate unless it changed to an orbit having different angular momentum. (The quantum is a unit of angular momentum; it can have any amount of energy, always associated with a period of time such that the energy multiplied by the time is a constant.)
This contribution of Bohr was accepted by the scientific community to apply to quantum phenomena, but it did not occur to anyone to question the classical view. This I have done recently in my short essay "Confusion in Science," where I can find no basis, theoretical or empirical, for the concept that an accelerating electron radiates energy. Apparently this concept was based on a confusion between accelerating and causing acceleration. Thus the driver of a vehicle says he "accelerates" it -- a figure of speech that is permissible because the driver does cause the acceleration to occur. But it is the engine that accelerates the car, and a scientific account should distinguish controlling acceleration by starting and stopping from acceleration itself. Acceleration is the second derivative; change of accleration is the third derivative, much as acceleration is change of velocity, and science is based on these distinctions. The scientist might say the control by the driver is a human option and outside of science, but the fact that a guided missile not only controls its acceleration but is guided to do so by the moving target makes it imperative that the third derivative be recognized.
So there is no support for the classical view of radiation, and the fact that the quantum of action made this view obsolete was ignored. Instead it was decided that the laws of classical physics and the laws of quantum physics, since they differed in these two domains, required a division of science into classical and quantum.
There was little justification for this split. Now it is true that thermodynamics -- which, since it deals with billions of molecules, each undergoing random motion, has to be predicted by probabilities, whereas each molecule is subject to exact laws -- does justify a distinction. This is not the case with radiation. All radiation, quantum and classical, originates in quanta.
But the fact that the classical view was retained shows that despite quantum physics there was no paradigm shift. This is borne out by other aspects of quantum physics.
(1) One such is that the nature of light was still not understood. The classical view that it was waves in an ether gave light some objectivity. It was the notion of something at least semi-material, and it did not occur to scientists that since the quantum of action, or photon of light, was without rest mass, without charge or other material properties, outside of time (clocks stop at the speed of light), and indifferent to space because a photon from Sirius retained the same energy it has when leaving Sirius, that the quantum had no objective existence.
The complete confirmation of the non-objectivity is that no two persons can see the same photon. Its detection on a photographic plate annihilates the photon, so there is nothing left to predict. Even in the photoelectric effect, in which a part of the photon's energy is annihilated, the part that remains is a new photon with its own complete uncertainty.
But all such was ignored. Science retained its basic credo, that the world is exclusively objective. This again shows that there has been no paradigm shift.
(2) Another piece of evidence that is of special interest because it came before quantum physics was the use in relativity of an event to replace the previous notion of a point. An event occurs in time, so it includes the so-called fourth dimension.
The past and the future are the same -- time is symmetrical; nothing happens. Thus the Civil War could be called an event, and relativity would so treat it. But the Civil War was also a change of state. The nation was not the same after it.
Thus relativity had to ignore history, whereas the quantum of action always produces a change of state. It can cause the atom to become an ion and lead to its forming a chemical compound; it may cause a change in the retina of the eye, producing vision. It is like a small spark which can ignite a forest fire.
Science was so impressed by relativity that it preferred to think of time as similar to space and to ignore the asymmetry implied by change of state. The paradigm shift of quantum theory was ignored. Classical science depended on forces between "billiard balls," whereas quantum physics showed that the quantum has more resemblance to a human decision or a message than to billiard balls bumping into one another.
If the reader experiences a shock that I've again introduced an anthropomorphic or human reference, I cannot withdraw it; it is part of the even larger significance of the paradigm shift that should have occurred with quantum physics.
Before leaving relativity I could also add that the measures that science can correctly say are objective, velocity and position, are set aside by relativity as not significant, emphasis being placed on acceleration, which is considered invariant and therefore important. Another invariant, recognized by Einstein, Bridgeman, and Eddington, but not made use of, is rotation -- a very important part of the paradigm shift that should have occurred, which we will get to later.
(3) I now get to the most difficult part of my thesis. The considerations I've described might be admitted by some readers, but they do not convey the magnitude and significance of the paradigm shift I think is overdue, so I will have to resort to a rather crude example.
Suppose I were to present a plate of food to a child to eat, and the child were to turn the plate upside down, spilling the contents about, and proceed to separate it into different ingredients -- to count the peas, etc. We have been given this marvelous world to experience, but science prefers to analyze it -- a worthy undertaking, but it becomes absurd if the food is not eaten. Analysis may be food for science, but this doesn't mean that the eating of the food should not be included in the theory.
So this is my main thesis. Science describes and analyzes the world, finds out the laws of its behavior, but it never occurs to theoretical science that the law of cause and effect can be applied and used for our own benefit -- communication, transportation, all machines -- using the laws of nature to increase our freedom.
This cannot be dismissed as mere application and anthropomorphic, because all life does the same. Plants control their metabolism to achieve growth and reproduction; animals learn mobility and are able to achieve short-term goals (including some long-term goals such as migration). This is not just technology; it is the basis of life.
©1996 Anodos Foundation