We’ve all heard about scientific revolutions, such as the change from the Ptolemaic geocentric universe to the Copernican heliocentric one. Such drastic changes are the meat-and-potatoes of historians of science and philosophers of science. But another perspective on them is from the point of view of cognition. For example, how do scientists come up with breakthroughs? What happens when a scientist confronts a new theory that conflicts with an established one? In what ways does her belief system change, and what factors can impede her acceptance of the new theory?
In his latest book, The Cognitive Science of Science (MIT Press, 2012), Paul Thagard considers the nature of science from this cognitive science perspective. Thagard, who is a professor of philosophy at the University of Waterloo, presents a comprehensive view of such aspects of scientific thinking as the process of discovery and creativity, the nature of change in scientific beliefs, and the role of emotions and values in these processes. He defends an explanatory coherence model of belief revision, proposes a model for explaining resistance to new scientific ideas, and even suggests why so much creative thinking goes on in the shower.