Synchronism vs. Asynchronism of Method Employment
Which factors influence the process of method employment? Do new methods become accepted simultaneously with the acceptance of a theory?
This question is important to the scientonomic community because it aims to describe how a new method comes to be employed by a given community. It seeks to answer whether or not method employment necessarily depends upon theory acceptance and whether or not there exist instances in which the employment of a method might not follow the acceptance of a new theory.
In Scientonomy, the accepted answers to the question can be summarized as follows:
- The employment of new methods can be but is not necessarily a result of the acceptance of new theories.
- A method becomes employed only when it is deducible from some subset of other employed methods and accepted theories of the time.
The prehistory concerning synchronism versus asynchronism of method employment is rooted in a debate between Thomas Kuhn and Larry Laudan, in which the former promoted the idea of synchronism and the latter asynchronism. For Kuhn, science changes in phases, the first of which is normal science.1 The Kuhnian normal science is marked by a consensus on the aspects of science that constitute a paradigm: concepts used in communication, the meaningfulness and relevance of some problems to research, and model solutions to research problems. Kuhn’s later formulation of a paradigm, a disciplinary matrix, includes laws, beliefs about the existence of objects/phenomena, values concerning research evaluation, and exemplary problems. Normal science is further characterized by an expectation that solutions will agree with problems previously researched. However, sometimes anomalies emerge with which this agreement does not obtain. When anomalies are serious they can put pressure on the reigning paradigm. Serious anomalies eventually give way to a crisis in the paradigm, which calls for the modification or a revolutionary abandonment of the paradigm. Anomalies that strike at the foundation of the paradigm are often solved by new theories which, if accepted, culminate in a new consensus within the scientific community. This is known as a revolution. The new consensus among the community is not a cumulative progression from the old consensus; rather, the two paradigms are incommensurable with respect to the set of problems, the approaches to those problems, conceptual changes, and the world of the community’s research.
Kuhn’s notion of incommensurability first tabled the discussion of the synchronism or asynchronism of method employment. According to Thomas Nickles, the incommensurability of Kuhnian revolutions involves a wholesale change in goals as well as methodological standards and values.2 Thus, in Kuhn’s system method employment necessarily depends upon theory acceptance, from which it follows that methods and theories change synchronously.3
Laudan challenged this Kuhnian idea of wholesale change.1 For him, research is conducted within the historical tradition of its given domain.4 Traditions are comprised of general assumptions about entities and processes. Problem solving, usually concerning anomalies, drives scientific change. Unlike Kuhn, Laudan holds that anomalies can be addressed by methodological or ontological changes instead of theory modifications.1
Contrary to Kuhn, for whom “change is simultaneous rather than sequential”,5 Laudan regards method employment as separable from theory acceptance. In his view, methodological dicta can change without any new theories being accepted.5 A paradigm shift is not necessary for methods to change.5 Consequently, methods and theories can change be asynchronous.
|Community||Accepted From||Acceptance Indicators||Still Accepted||Accepted Until||Rejection Indicators|
|Scientonomy||2 November 2016||This is when the community accepted its first answer to the question, Asynchronism of Method Employment theorem (Barseghyan-2015), which indicates that the question is itself legitimate.||Yes|
|Asynchronism of Method Employment theorem (Barseghyan-2015)||The employment of new methods can be but is not necessarily a result of the acceptance of new theories.||2015|
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|Community||Theory||Accepted From||Accepted Until|
|Scientonomy||Asynchronism of Method Employment theorem (Barseghyan-2015)||1 January 2016|
Mirka Loiselle challenged the asynchronism of method employment theorem during the seminar of 2016. According to Mirka, the employment of a method is simultaneous to the acceptance of a proposition stating that the method is effective. Whether or not this poses a challenge to the theorem remains an open question.
In Scientonomy, the accepted answers to the question are Asynchronism of Method Employment theorem (Barseghyan-2015) and The Third Law (Sebastien-2016).
Asynchronism of Method Employment theorem (Barseghyan-2015) states: "The employment of new methods can be but is not necessarily a result of the acceptance of new theories."
The theorem states that the employment of a method is not necessarily simultaneous with the acceptance of a new theory. Being a direct logical consequence of the third law, the theorem highlights the fact that some methods are a result of the implementation of some abstract requirements of other methods. In this way, a new method can be devised as a means of resolving a particular creative gap, and subsequently become employed long after the acceptance of the theory that led to the employment of the abstract method.
The Third Law (Sebastien-2016) states: "A method becomes employed only when it is deducible from some subset of other employed methods and accepted theories of the time."
The initial formulation of the law, proposed by Barseghyan in The Laws of Scientific Change, stated that a method becomes employed only when it is deducible from other employed methods and accepted theories of the time.3 In that formulation, it wasn't clear whether employed methods follow from all or only some of the accepted theories and employed methods of the time. This led to a logical paradox which this reformulation attempts to solve.6
This reformulation of the law makes explicit that an employed method need not necessarily follow from all other employed methods and accepted theories but only from some of them. This made it possible for an employed method to be logically inconsistent and yet compatible with openly accepted methodological dicta.
In all other respects, this formulation preserves the gist of Barseghyan's original formulation. According to the third law, a method becomes employed when:
- it strictly follows from some subset of other employed methods and accepted theories, or
- it implements some abstract requirements of other employed methods.
This restates Barseghyan's original suggestion that accepted theories shape the set of implicit criteria employed in theory assessment. When a new theory is accepted, this often leads to the employment of an abstract requirement to take that new theory into account when testing relevant contender theories. This abstract requirement is then specified by a new employed method.
The evolution of the drug trial methods is an example of the third law in action. For example, the discovery of the placebo effect in drug testing demonstrates that fake treatment can cause improvement in patient symptoms. As a result of its discovery the abstract requirement of “when assessing a drug’s efficacy, the possible placebo effect must be taken into account” was generated. This abstract requirement is, by definition, an accepted theory which stipulates that, if ignored, substantial doubt would be cast on any trial. As a result of this new theory, the Single-Blind Trial method was devised. The currently employed method in drug testing is the Double-Blind Trial, a method which specifies all of the abstract requirements of its predecessors. It is an apt illustration of how new methods are generated through the acceptance of new theories, as well as how new methods employ the abstract requirements of their predecessors.3
In Barseghyan’s explication of the Aristotelian-Medieval method, he illustrates how Aristotelian natural philosophy impacted the method of the time. One of the key features of the Aristotelian-scholastic method was the requirement of intuition schooled by experience, i.e. that a proposition is acceptable if it grasps the nature of a thing though intuition schooled by experience. The requirement itself was a deductive consequence of several assumptions accepted at the time. One of the assumptions underlying this requirement was the idea that every natural thing has a nature, a substantial quality that makes a thing what it is (e.g. a human's nature is their capacity of reason). Another assumption underlying the requirement was the idea that nature of a thing can be grasped intuitively by those who are most experienced with the things of that type. The requirements of the intuitive truth followed from these assumptions. The scholastic-Aristotelians scholars wouldn’t require intuitive truths grasped by an experienced person if they didn’t believe that things have natures that could be grasped intuitively by experts.
The third law has also proven useful in explicating such requirements as Confirmed Novel Predictions (CNP). According to the hypothetico-deductive method, a theory which challenges our accepted ontology must provide CNP in order to become accepted. However, the history of CNP has been a point of confusion for some time. By the Third Law, one can show that the requirement of CNP has not always been expected of new theories. When Newton published his Principia, CNP were not a requirement of his professed method, yet they were still provided. On the other hand, Clark’s law of diminishing returns had no such predictions. This is because Newton’s proposal of unobservable entities, such as gravity and absolute space, challenged the accepted ontology of the time, while Clark’s simply accounted for the data already available. Thus, in utilizing the Third Law, one can discover both when certain criteria become an implicit rule and under what conditions they are necessary.
This question is a subquestion of Mechanism of Method Employment.
- Andersen, Hanne and Hepburn, Brian. (2015) Scientific Method. In Zalta (Ed.) (2016). Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-method/.
- Nickles, Thomas. (2017) Scientific Revolutions. In Zalta (Ed.) (2017). Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2017/entries/srevolutions/.
- Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.
- Laudan, Larry. (1977) Progress and Its Problems. University of California Press.
- Laudan, Larry. (1984) Science and Values. University of California Press.
- Sebastien, Zoe. (2016) The Status of Normative Propositions in the Theory of Scientific Change. Scientonomy 1, 1-9. Retrieved from https://www.scientojournal.com/index.php/scientonomy/article/view/26947.