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October 30, 2015

My Correspondence with Thomas S. Kuhn

In January 1990 I wrote to Thomas S. Kuhn about the nearly-complete manuscript of my book. In his own classic work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Professor Kuhn had made a number of points that led me to think he might find in my work-in-progress some points that coincided with his own views. 

In Cancer Selection (Chapter Twelve) I quoted Kuhn's work where he wrote the following about the people who propose revolutionary ideas in science: 
Almost always [the persons] who achieve these fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have been either very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change.
Since I was already in my late 40s when I began thinking about cancer and evolution and I was writing my letter to him more than a decade after that, Professor Kuhn knew I was not young but, because I had made clear that I had no training in either biology or medicine, he knew I was indeed "very new" to the fields I was attempting to influence.

 As I write further in my book ...  

According to Kuhn, professional scientists are not only not trained to develop new theoretical concepts, they have all been indoctrinated to avoid the one style of thinkingdeductive reasoningthat any revolutionary thinker must employ: 
[Scientific training] is a narrow and rigid education, probably more so than any other except perhaps in orthodox theology... [It] is not well designed to produce the [person] who will easily discover a fresh approach.
Kuhn even suggests that people who devote their lives to particular fields of study are the least likely to make important discoveries in their own field.
Sometimes a normal problem, one that ought to be solvable by known rules and procedures, resists the reiterated onslaught of the ablest members of the group within whose competence it falls.
Perhaps that is why the armies of scientists who investigated cancer failed to see that it had all the characteristics of a powerful evolutionary function.

Although Thomas Kuhn did not see the completed text of Cancer Selection and did not read my references in it to his own work, my letter to him did include a summary of my book and he had read my published 1983 Letter, Cancer and Evolution: Synthesis.

Here's a photographic copy (I deleted only my postal address) of Thomas Kuhn's reply to me. Clicking will enlarge the image.


The material  I quote above from Professor Kuhn's book will be found on page 178 of the Second Edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions which is available in this pdf.


I thank Ellen Gehrs for solving a technical problem I encountered in preparing this posting. 

Comments and question are welcomed here.

At this site you will find links to additional material including my original Letters to the Journal of Theoretical Biology and the 1992 Nature review of my book.

Copyright © 2015 by James Graham

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