Tuesday, March 10, 2009

DO NOT PLAGIARIZE!!! This is my original work so don't try to take credit for it. I am just posting it because I actually like to post papers I write in the hopes that someone will give me constructive criticism.

This is a paper I wrote for my 12pm class Scientific Controversies. I made a grade of 16/20 on it.

HIST 4810
Assignment 1
February 26, 2009

Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions introduced to the history of science community a way of examining past scientific thought from a historical perspective. His ideas were so versatile that they have been used within other disciplines. Kuhn states that paradigms are the basic ideas of a discipline. They comprise the general knowledge known and accepted by the community as a whole.

A paradigm can be broad or narrow depending on the amount of information available. The paradigm gives the starting block from which science is practiced by assisting scientists to make useful and vital observations. It guides the research done by setting distinct rules to solve the “puzzle.” Kuhn calls these observations and researches the practice of “normal science.”

Normal science is the everyday activities of a scientist. It may include the data collected, observations, the application of theory to a system, or any other everyday procedures. When scientists encounter a situation or data that does not fit into the current paradigm, it is called an “anomaly.”

An anomaly is often unexpected and unwanted. When scientists encounter more than one anomaly or an anomaly that is repeated, a crisis happens. If a crisis should occur, scientists must reanalyze their paradigm. They often question whether the anomalies are just a glitch in the data or if they reveal something major for the discipline. The end result of a crisis is often the formation of a new paradigm that fits with the newly accrued data and the anomalies.

This new paradigm then replaces the old paradigm. Scientists never abandon an old paradigm unless they have a new paradigm to replace it. So the paradigm guides normal science. And if normal science finds one or more anomalies, there comes to pass a crisis. Should the crisis become so bad that it threatens the paradigm; a new paradigm is formed to replace the previous paradigm.

The rotation of new paradigms replacing old paradigms shows that science is progressing. Successful theories are based on paradigms and as these paradigms are replaced with new paradigms, the theories begin to change as well. The paradigms insure that the goal of science, to have as few missing pieces as possible, is retained. That is why theories of astronomy changed so much between the time of the Babylonians and Isaac Newton.

The Babylonians were onto something when they began to look at the celestial bodies and wonder how they worked or if there was a pattern to their movement. Around 1000 BCE the Babylonians conducted systematic observations of the heavenly bodies by noting their patterns of movement, position, and the number of heavenly bodies. By 300 BCE, the Babylonians created thousands of tables of accurate representations of planetary motions.

These tables were used by the Greek astronomers to philosophize about the planetary motion and structure of the Universe. The Greeks however found anomalies in the observations of the Babylonians. The planet Mars seemed to back track in its journey across the sky. This created a crisis with the Babylonian paradigm of celestial movement.

Aristotle, a 4th century BCE Greek philosopher, believed observation was the key to understanding motion on Earth and in the heavens. He was the first to put together a working model of planetary motion. He theorized that the Universe was single and eternal with a boundary beyond which nothing else existed. At the center of his model was the Earth. He believed the Earth was immobile and the planets orbited around the Earth.

His Universe consisted of heavenly bodies comprised of Aether with circular movement. These bodies where on crystalline spheres and any abnormality in movement could be explained by slippage due to nesting of the spheres. This system was inaccurate in predicting the movement of the heavenly bodies across the sky yet, philosophers clung to the paradigm for many centuries afterward.

Around 140 CE a new philosophy emerged. This philosophy was created by Ptolemy. Ptolemy yearned for a more accurate and complete system to describe the movement of the planets. He wished to accurately predict the positions of the celestial bodies and explain their irregular movements. His Universe, like that of Aristotle, was based on circular motion.
But unlike Aristotle, he believed the planets do not move on simple orbits. He comprised a model which was very complex but, accurate none the less.

These ideas were accepted and even merged with the ideas of Aristotle until during the 16th century; a problem with the calendar arose. The calendar in use was inaccurate and based on theories that were adequate at predicting planetary movement and position. But the calendar was still in need of more accurate data in order to accurately make predictions.

Philosophers and astronomers needed more accurate information. They had been using the ancient texts of the Greeks but it was believed there were inaccuracies in the translation of the texts. But even after the texts were translated as close as they could possibly get, the problems with Ptolemy’s system still lingered. A new line of thought was taking hold in the intellectual community. This new idea, Neo-Platonism, urged that math was central to the description of nature.

Neo-Platonists believed that God was a self-duplicating deity. One of God’s duplicates was the Sun. Nicholas Copernicus was a follower of Neo-Platonism and developed a heliocentric model of the Universe backed by simple mathematics. Copernicus took the anomaly concerning Mars’ orbit, noticed by the Greeks, and attempted to rationalize its dance across the sky. He stated that the reason Mars looked as if it was reversing its path is because the Earth orbits faster than Mars. He also theorized that the Universe is much larger than previously assumed and consists of seven spheres resting on the Sun.

In Copernicus’ opinion, there is not difference between the motion of objects on Earth and the motion of objects in the heavens. All matter aggregates into spheres. But Copernicus’ system does not provide the accurate information needed by philosophers. The biggest downfall of Copernicus’ ideas, stem from his lack of new data. So once again, the paradigm is found to be lacking and the search for a new system continues.

It was not long until new data became available to the astronomical community. Tycho Brahne was an observational astronomer. He increased the size of the instruments used to observe celestial motion. Besides these modifications of scientific tools, Brahne also noted events that brought forth a new understanding of the Universe.

Brahne observed a nova, an exploding star; this anomaly refutes the previous paradigms that stated the Universe was unchanging. The Universe changes through the creation and destruction of celestial bodies. Next Brahne observes a comet and according to its position, it is within Earth’s planetary realm. So this refutes the idea that the Universe consists of crystalline spheres.

With this new found information, Brahne formulates a new system. This heliocentric system consisted of a central, stationary Earth with other planets orbiting the Sun as well. The only problem with Brahne’s paradigm, it doesn’t use mathematics to prove its findings. Notably, Brahne’s assistant was Johannes Kepler, who would go on to become the next revolutionary philosopher.

Kepler abandons the idea of circular motion after attempting to use them and finding no accuracy. He focuses on the orbit of Mars to mathematically describe planetary motion. Kepler tries to create a model of Mars’ orbit but finds no uniformity. He asks himself why Mars would appear to go faster and then slower. After much contemplation, he substitutes the circular motion for elliptical motion. And Mars fits on this new elliptical orbit. Kepler changed the system, to fit the data.

The final two philosophers of renown are Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton. Galileo was a strong supporter of Copernicus’ theories and published documents explaining how Copernicus’ ideas were right and Ptolemy’s were wrong. He rejects the elliptical orbits proposed by Kepler and applies the theory of Circular Inertia to the planetary system. Newton takes a less controversial approach to astronomy and puts forward a mixture of Copernicus and Kepler. His laws of motion support the ideas of Kepler and his observations support the ideas of Copernicus.

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