Thursday, September 1, 2011

Week 3: Analogies & Heuristics

As I mentioned, class on Tuesday will be run by my “academic brother” [i.e., we had the same Ph.D. advisor], Professor Gary Hardcastle. I will be at a conference in Spain. (Don’t hate me, please.) At the end of class, Professor Hardcastle will give you approximately 20 minutes to sort yourselves into groups to work on the box project. You’ll spend Thursday working with your group to formulate an initial plan for the project. The academic assistant for Philosophy, Jane Baker will provide you with further instructions when you come in on Thursday. If you want to go off and meet elsewhere (like 7th St. or some such), that’s fine, but I would like everyone to show up, sign in, and actually use the time to meet — it shouldn’t take longer than the usual class time to do what I’ll ask you to do.

So far, we’ve seen two models of how science gets done: the overly mysterious and romantic view that puts genius and creativity on an unassailable pedestal and the meticulous inductivist view. And we’ve seen a few reasons for being worried about those models, at least in their simple formulations (we’ll actually encounter the inductivist view in a more sophisticated incarnation in Week 5). French presents the heuristics approach as a third model. But there are worries here too. First, we humans tend to be pretty easily seduced by fallacies (recall the fallacy of affirming the consequent that Hempel mentioned in his article from last week). Second (and relatedly), we suffer from all manner of cognitive biases. Nevertheless, we can identify all manner of cases of scientists apparently employing “heuristic” moves to press their research further. The chapter outlines and discusses some of these moves in the context of brief case studies. You might think as you read about why such heuristic moves were made in the first place and how they came to be.

Tuesday (9/6): Heuristics and Analogies
French, Ch. 4.

Questions: (respond to two)  Please CC Professor Hardcastle <ghardcas at> on your responses.
  1. Think about why concerns about fallacies and cognitive biases are arising in this context. Why should they not equally be a problem for the Romantic or inductivist models?
  2. How seriously do you think we should take the sorts of concerns French raises in the first part of the chapter for his discussion of particular heuristic moves in the remainder?
  3. Not surprisingly, French chooses cases where the heuristics (by and large) worked out. Can you think of cases where a particular heuristic move did not?
  4. How do you think that the heuristics picture fares in comparison to the others we’ve looked at so far? 

Thursday (9/8): Project Work Day
No required reading. Please show up in our usual room with your group already formed. Jane will deliver instructions for how to begin the box project.

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