In the sciences, we have learned both from work that followed convention and which broke with convention. Scientific knowledge is developed and uses evidence to explain the world and the universe the most accurate way possible. In atomic science, for example, at the start of the 19th Century the theories were developed by following conventions based on Aristotle’s idea of atoms and Dalton’s refinement of this basic idea. Scientists were able to make discoveries about the particles in the atom, their location and charge using new experimental evidence.These scientists followed what is termed by Kuhn as ‘normal science’, i.
e. developing was already known and considered to be true within scientific theories and experiments. JJ Thompson, who investigated electrons produced experiments with electrically charged plates and magnets in a cathode-ray tube and he saw the deflection of certain particles which he said were “bodies much smaller than atoms”.Later on, by doing further calculations he discovered these particles had a very large value for the charge to mass ratio and said that atoms were a sphere of positive matter in which electrons were positioned by electrostatic forces3.Following J. J. Thompson, Ernest Rutherford said that the atom had a central positive nucleus surrounded by negative orbiting electrons.
He reached this conclusion ‘the gold foil experiment’, which showed that by firing radioactive particles through thin metal foils and detecting them using a screen coated with zinc sulfide, the majority of particles passed straight through the foil and a very small percentage of them deflected. This led him to his theory that most of the atom was made up of just empty space4.Of course there are numerous other more recent developments in atomic theory, but the important thing is that most of the theories developed from an existing theory, in other words the scientist followed existing theory to discover new particles without breaking with previous conventions.
As Thomas Kuhn said on his outline and study guide, prepared by Professor Frank Pajares, called `The Structure of Scientific Revolutions`, the normal science “is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like”.On the other hand, when a paradigm shift takes place “a scientist’s world is qualitatively transformed [and] quantitatively enriched by fundamental novelties of either fact or theory”5. Kuhn already said that in science people frequently assume that they know what the world is like and when new discoveries are made, which contradict their previous theories, the world, in the scientific point of view, is changed.
Here we can see that this concept of breaking or following conventions are intertwined, as you have to follow the scientific method in order to break old ones. It is also important to keep in mind that these theories affected and passed on knowledge and discoveries not only to scientist, but also to the whole population and society as everyone is affected by these news on what atoms and particles are made of e. g. television. This is exemplified by the wave-particle duality theory in physics.
Sir Isaac Newton6, in 1704, stated that when you shine ultraviolet light on a piece of metal you can see electrons shooting off. The only way the mathematics works out, for this to be able to happen, is if light is a particle (because then it would have enough energy for the electrons to shoot off). Before this experiment, the accepted theory was Christian Huygen’s7 wave phenomenon (1690). In other words, he was saying that light is in the form of a wave. So, Newton provoked a paradigm shift from light being in the form of a wave to light being a particle.This theory completely broke with accepted conventions because before this theory was thought of, people knew and accepted the fact that light was a wave and when Newton’s experiment was made light couldn’t be a wave, because then it wouldn’t work out. This is contradictory and people today still don’t know if light is, in fact, really a wave or a particle.
Scientist are still trying to figure out a concept where light can be both, or another theory which works out in all cases.This is an example where science broke with conventions, as opposed to develop existing conventions like the atomic theories, and brings with it a huge amount of knowledge to the knower even if it is contradictory. In this example, everyone can gain knowledge from it: a specific person, a teacher, scientists, society, etc. This is useful to all of us because when scientists discover knew things, such as this wave-particle theory, we can understand more the universe, as well as develop new technologies which we wouldn’t be able to do before these discoveries.