Considering this week’s discussion on the role of bias and dogma within science, I figured it would be best for me to write my post on the importance of philosophy and hypotheticals in science, especially in a field such as origin of life. This is a subject matter I somewhat understand and hopefully something the rest of might find a tad interesting.
The most prominent thinker is this subject matter, as far as I am concerned, would be Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn was a physicist and philosopher in the mid-twentieth century whose philosophy was chiefly concerned progress of science and how we reshape our thoughts. He argued that scientific thought does not progress gradually but rather through large “paradigm shifts”. This may seem obvious now, reflecting upon historical examples such as the idea of the cell and heliocentric solar system certainly lend credence to this being the case, but Kuhn was among the first to solidify this phenomenon into a theory. In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he wrote about the three stages that science goes through in order to achieve an accepted paradigm. First there is “Prescience” in which scientists search to find the paradigm under which their work will be conducted. This is where I feel the origin of life research currently is, but I will discuss that later. Next comes what he called “normal science”, in which research is done in order to expand the paradigm and research that does not conform with it is rejected as error by the scientist and not a problem with the paradigm. Eventually, as more and more research contradicts the current paradigm, a new paradigm is defined in what is called “revolutionary science”. Kuhn argued that once a paradigm had been agreed upon "the profession will have solved problems that its members could scarcely have imagined and would never have undertaken without commitment to the paradigm" (24).
These concepts have been vital in social science fields, where the presence paradigms can often seem less apparent than in normal science due to their nature being rooted in our humanity. I feel as though the origin of life field should be evaluated by Kuhn’s terms as it too can be biased by our humanity. Frequently when considering the origin of life it can become easy to pigeonhole one’s thinking into narrow corridors by only considering life as we know it. It is hard to imagine evaluating life that is not like the life we see every day, but considering concepts like the shadow biosphere and the vast size of the universe, it is very likely that there is life that goes beyond our simple comprehension of life. I believe it is vital for us first to have an explicitly defined paradigm of what is life before we ask how is life. This ties into another concept Kuhn wrote on, the role of dogma within scientific research. Kuhn argued that dogma could create issues in nearly every step of the scientific process, even when it it came to experimental design as researchers will create tools which search to prove their hypothesis, but this can narrow the scope of information to be found. Our lack of knowledge on all of what life can be could prevent us from understanding the ancient life that existed when life first came about. A true paradigm on what is life is a monumental task and one which would require extensive amounts of time and research to figure out, but is something which appears essential to understanding the origin of life question.