On Being Certain and Normal Science

This morning I went for a run, which is a newer endeavor I started up at the end of April. I mentioned my recent interest in running in a previous blog, but as a recap…about 10 years ago I ran quite a bit, I moved away from it for a variety of reasons (PhD school being one of them), and this:


is what I imagine myself looking like when I go running. So, for about the past five weeks, I’ve run every other day. My goal is to get to a place where I can comfortably run a 5k.

During the time I’ve been running, I’ve increased my distance to the point where I am now running about 2 miles at a time. I use an app (Strava…it is free and is great! :)) to track my route, distance, and time. This morning, however, I ran much further than I have over the past several weeks. I ran 2.7 miles, and it felt good. In fact, if it wasn’t for a few service people coming to our house to fix/build some things, I probably would have continued running (me=turning into Forrest Gump).

I’m quite proud of myself for running 2.7 miles. Mostly because I woke up this morning and did not want to run. I even texted my running accountability partner about it. I just wasn’t “feeling” it, and was pretty much trying to just focus on having the whole experience over for the day.

(This is probably much closer to what I look like when I run.)

So, you might be able to imagine my surprise when Strava told me that I had run 2.7 miles. I’ve actually experienced such surprise two other times this week (that I’m consciously aware of), and both of those have caused me to pause as well. In each of those situations, I also found myself quite certain about what it was that I was talking about and how something was going to be, and in each of those situations I found myself to be wrong. Being wrong to me, however, really isn’t much of a surprise, which is why I’ve noticed myself pausing a bit more and considering how I can own my mistake in front of the other person so that they can see that I recognize my mistake. What it has all led me to consider, though, is Thomas Kuhn and his essays captured in the book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I was finding myself caught up in “normal science”.

“Normal science, the activity in which most scientists inevitably spend most all their time, is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like. Normal science often suppresses fundamental novelties because they are necessarily subversive of its basic commitments. As a puzzle-solving activity, normal science does not aim at novelties of fact or theory and, when successful, finds none.”

In each of the experiences I had, I was quite certain that I knew “what the world was like”, and I went into each experience with that in mind.

I was not going to like my run today. It was going to be painful, and frustrating.

And in each of these experiences I found myself curious as to why I thought I was so certain.

I really enjoyed my run, and could have kept going.

After all, I knew that there was information that I know that I don’t know, yet I found myself wanting so badly to know something, that I turned what I was aware of into the fully story. I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone in this behavior, and I’m quite confident that it will occur many more times despite my efforts for it not to. I don’t say this in an effort to not try…more to acknowledge my own imperfect self. What I can do though is to continue to recognize that there is always going to be information missing and things I don’t see, and to continually strive to be open to hearing more of and about it. I can also continue to own when I have make a mistake, as well reflection on the process of how I got to such a place originally.


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