Kuhn versus Popper

Computer Art and the Question of Authenticity: Applying a Research Method


In the following entry I intend to analyse whether the information discovered further to the lecture covering Popper and Kuhn are relevant to my developing research plan. The assessment of the philosophers statements can be divided in to 3 broad areas: Firstly, whether Poppers theory of Scientific Falsification is a useful tool in my future research plan, and will it enable me to test a theory of authenticity as it applies to Computer Art; Secondly, can Kuhn’s Paradigm Shift be applied to scientifically measure authenticity; and finally, can multiple theories such as those belonging to Marxism, Feminism or Constructivism for example, be used to discuss authenticity in Computer Art.

Karl Popper’s notion of Falsifiability differentiates scientific statements from non-scientific statements. Popper argued that pseudo-sciences like Freudian psychoanalysis could not generate conjectures that can be falsified by experiment or experience. If conceptions of authenticity can be successfully falsified, then erroneous theories can be ruled out, and better conjectures can be proposed. Some theories may not falsified, suggesting that the theory has a lot of explanatory power and that we should ‘stick with it’ for a while. Popper nevertheless claims we can never describe a theory as true, or proven, only what he calls, ‘corroborated’. However it may be that statements of Computer Art’s authenticity are in fact unfalsifiable. In this unlikely case of there being nothing to observe, these statements would belong to the pseudo-sciences and indicate the use of a different research method.

Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996), the American philosopher, published his famous work The Structure of Scientific revolutions in 1962. His book has been incredibly influential and had an enormous impact in a number of fields including philosophy, education, history, psychology, the arts and social sciences. Unlike Popper, Kuhn believes that researchers, and in particular scientists, do not rigorously test their theories in an effort to falsify them. In his book, Kuhn claims that scientists often resist such attempts and try to preserve the accepted set of assumptions and beliefs that they have been taught during their scientific education. Khun argues that most scientists actually spend the bulk of their time vigorously defending their fundamental views from any rival theory. Kuhn calls this set of fundamental beliefs a paradigm. His theory of scientific progress centers on his account of how paradigms are eventually overthrown to make way for new ones. He calls this a Paradigm Shift.

To help examine the progress of authenticity in art, it may help to assess it with Kuhn’s theory of paradigmatic shift, and to acknowledge that measurements of authenticity should, or have, undergone a change or shift.  To examine this shift is to see the question as a collection of facts. We may observe these facts, and add new observations to those already made. A theory of authenticity may therefore be progressed by a process of addition. Kuhn however argued that observations are not made in a vacuum. They are contained within a theory. The theory of authenticity is a story, which explains the meaning or significance of the observations. The dominant theory in any discipline is the current paradigm, and the observations are placed within that paradigm.

Using an interpretative approach in questioning authenticity may not be a matter of simply applying stale or exhausted experiences with which to understand its meaning. Indeed, phenomenologically, we can look at the paradigm of authenticity with suspicion; rejecting cultural hand-me-downs to expose a more correct, up to date meaning that reflects new experiences – in this case, computer art. If the observed new meanings do not fit into the traditional, staid paradigm, a new theory can then be proposed.  Furthermore, if the new theory accommodates the current observations better than the old theory, then there is a paradigm shift, and the old theory is destroyed to make way for the new. Khun believes that progress is as much about destruction, as it is about the addition of new observations. The new paradigm will only last as long as it is not superseded by a new paradigm.

Of course authenticity can be argued as an entitlement of acceptance – an aesthetic ‘judgment call’. Perhaps computer art lacks the qualities needed to qualify it as authentic; it lacks emotion or expression, perhaps computer art lacks harmony and proportion in its drawing. In cases such as these a researcher may justifiably hypothesise that, ‘no computer art generated in that particular way will be entitled to acceptance. But “that particular way” must, of course, be specified’. (Boden: 2006) This is because applying another theory to authenticity may avoid the weakness in question. Indeed, to assess computer art’s authenticity as a neo-representational form, or as an art of imitation will certainly yield different results from say, a structural analysis. In this case, Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shift holds little water in examining computer arts authenticity, as several paradigms may exist simultaneously, and many may well be legitimate.

In conclusion, it may appear that both Popper and Kuhn’s theories are most appropriate for scientific research. One could point out that methods of falsification, and of paradigm shift suit hypothesis outside the humanities, as the humanities can present a number of incommensurate and often competing solutions to research problems that can adopt an assortment of perspectives.


Boden, M. A. (2006), ‘Authenticity and Computer Art’ (England: University of Sussex)

Collins, H. (2010), ‘Creative Research’ (Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA)

Lopes, D. M. (2010), ‘A Philosophy of Computer Art’ (London: Routledge)

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