Changing Minds: A Psychodynamic Interpretation of Kuhnian Paradigm Change

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Abstract

Thomas Kuhn's model of the structure of scientific revolutions is, to this day, one of the most influential attempts to understand central processes in the history of science. While Kuhn coached his theory in historical and sociological terms, this article argues that modern existential psychology can be used to add a psychodynamic dimension to Kuhn's model. Specifically, while Kuhn famously claimed that scientific paradigms are worldviews held by scientists and described their pattern of change, terror management theory (TMT) emphasizes the existential importance of worldviews and specifies the conditions under which individuals will either radicalize or abandon their worldviews when they are faced with threat or negative evidence. This article shows that the stages Kuhn describes in the history of science can fruitfully be elucidated by central TMT concepts, and exemplifies their applicability through two examples in the history of psychology. The resulting psychological interpretation of scientists' existential attachment to their worldview might prove fruitful in understanding crucial dynamics in the history of science.

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