Project

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Imagination in Science: What is it, how do we learn from it, and how can we improve it?

Applicant Stuart Michael
Number 179986
Funding scheme Ambizione
Research institution Département de Philosophie Faculté des Lettres Université de Genève
Institution of higher education University of Geneva - GE
Main discipline Philosophy
Start/End 01.10.2018 - 30.09.2023
Approved amount 526'106.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Philosophy
Sociology

Keywords (5)

Scientific imagination; Cognitive science of science; Epistemology of science; Philosophy of science; Sociology of science

Lay Summary (French)

Lead
Scientists imagine when inventing and exploring hypotheses, designing experiments, interpreting data, and justifying theoretical conclusions. Interview and observation-based research will be carried out in two laboratories (biology, Geneva; climate science, Bern) to identify the roles played by imagination, the attitudes scientists have to imagination, how imagination is taught, and what different kinds of imagination are used. The data gathered will be used to produce a more general account of how imagination contributes to new scientific understanding.
Lay summary

Personne n'a jamais étudié comment les scientifiques utilisent leur faculté d'imagination dans leur travail quotidien. Mon projet cherche à répondre aux questions suivantes : quels rôles l'imagination joue-t-elle dans la science, qu'est-ce que les scientifiques pensent au sujet de l'imagination, comment est-elle enseignée, quand peut-on lui faire confiance et comment les scientifiques en tirent-ils de nouvelles connaissances ? En général, l’objectif est de parvenir à une compréhension de l’imagination scientifique comparable au niveau de compréhension dont nous disposons déjà pour l’expérience, la représentation et la mesure scientifiques.

Le projet a des aspects à la fois empiriques et théoriques. Du côté empirique, une étude ethnographique des scientifiques travaillant dans des institutions suisses sera réalisée pour répondre aux questions susmentionnées. L'aspect théorique créera le cadre conceptuel de l'étude empirique et applique ensuite ce que cette étude découvrira aux problèmes épistémologiques normatifs.

Le travail comblera de grandes lacunes dans notre compréhension actuelle du fonctionnement de la science, de l’apprentissage des méthodes scientifiques, et du fonctionnement de l’imagination en science. Ces questions ont une importance générale dans les domaines de l'histoire, de la philosophie et de la sociologie des sciences, ainsi que dans l'épistémologie et des sciences cognitives. En outre, elle renforcera l'imagination en tant que sujet légitime pour la recherche scientifique et philosophique et introduira de nouvelles possibilités méthodologiques et collaboratives en montrant comment la recherche empirique sur les routines quotidiennes des scientifiques peut jouer un rôle dans les arguments philosophiques.

 
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 27.11.2018

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
The material theory of induction and the epistemology of thought experiments
Stuart Michael T. (2020), The material theory of induction and the epistemology of thought experiments, in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A.
The Palgrave Encyclopedia of the Possible
Stuart Michael T. (2020), The Palgrave Encyclopedia of the Possible, Springer International Publishing, Cham.
P-curving x-phi: Does experimental philosophy have evidential value?
Stuart Michael T, Colaço David, Machery Edouard (2019), P-curving x-phi: Does experimental philosophy have evidential value?, in Analysis, 79(4), 669-684.
Everyday Scientific ImaginationA Qualitative Study of the Uses, Norms, and Pedagogy of Imagination in Science
Stuart Michael T. (2019), Everyday Scientific ImaginationA Qualitative Study of the Uses, Norms, and Pedagogy of Imagination in Science, in Science & Education, 28(6-7), 711-730.
Peeking Inside the Black Box: A New Kind of Scientific Visualization
Stuart Michael T., Nersessian Nancy J. (2019), Peeking Inside the Black Box: A New Kind of Scientific Visualization, in Minds and Machines, 29(1), 87-107.
Towards a dual process epistemology of imagination
Stuart Michael T. (2019), Towards a dual process epistemology of imagination, in Synthese.
Telling Stories in Science: Feyerabend and Thought Experiments
StuartMichael, Telling Stories in Science: Feyerabend and Thought Experiments, in HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science, 10(2).
The Productive Anarchy of Scientific Imagination
StuartMichael, The Productive Anarchy of Scientific Imagination, in Philosophy of Science.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
University of Zurich Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Harvard University United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
First Annual Online Imagination Conference Talk given at a conference Knowing by Imagining: Commentary on Deb Marber 20.05.2020 Online, United States of America Stuart Michael;
Quadrennial HPS Fellows Conference Talk given at a conference Could a Robot Do Value-Free Science? 18.05.2020 Shanghai , China Stuart Michael;
Higher Seminar Series Talk Individual talk A Practice-Based Study of Scientific Understanding 06.05.2020 Linköping University, Sweden Stuart Michael;
Conference on Thought Experiments Talk given at a conference The Role of Imagination in Scientific Thought Experiments 29.04.2020 Archives Henri-Poincaré, France Stuart Michael;
Philosophy of Science Annual Conference Talk given at a conference Is the Turn toward Understanding a Feminist Turn? 20.04.2020 Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik, Croatia Stuart Michael;
Scientific and Epistemic Tools: Models, Thought Experiments and Analogical Reasoning Talk given at a conference Meta-Epistemology of Cognitive Tools 06.03.2020 University of Salzburg, Austria Stuart Michael;
MetaMetaPhysical Club Workshop on Thought Experiments Talk given at a conference The Rise of Chemical Thought Experiments 13.12.2019 Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands Stuart Michael;
Faculty Colloquium of the Erasmus School of Philosophy Individual talk Metaphor and Understanding 11.12.2019 Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands Stuart Michael;
Quodlibeta Faculty Colloquium of the Philosophy Department Individual talk Competing Epistemologies of Scientific Imagination 23.10.2019 University of Geneva, Switzerland Stuart Michael;
Open Epistemologies: Mach, Bachelard, Feyerabend Talk given at a conference Telling Stories in Science: Feyerabend and Thought Experiments 21.09.2019 University of Lisbon, Portugal Stuart Michael;
British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference Talk given at a conference In Favour of a Joint Epistemology of Philosophical and Scientific Thought Experiments 17.07.2019 Durham University, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Stuart Michael;
Workshop on Imagination in Scientific Modelling Talk given at a conference The Role of Imagination in the DEKI Account of Modelling 03.06.2019 University of York, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Stuart Michael;
Creativity Across the Arts and Sciences Talk given at a conference What Can the Study of Imagination Tell Us about Creativity? 16.04.2019 University of Bristol, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Stuart Michael;
Philosophy of Science Annual Conference Talk given at a conference Philosophy of Imagination: Anarchy Style 15.04.2019 Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik, Croatia Stuart Michael;
Digital Society Initiative Fellows Exchange Individual talk The Epistemic States Required for AI Responsibility 10.04.2019 Digital Society Initiative, Switzerland Stuart Michael;
Lake Geneva Biological Interest Group Meeting Individual talk Epistemic Pluralism about Thought Experiments 04.04.2019 University of Geneva, Switzerland Stuart Michael;
Workshop on Fiction, Understanding, and Thought Experiments Talk given at a conference Scientific Understanding through Chaos: Imagination as a Productive Source of Randomness 22.02.2019 École Normale Supérieure, France Stuart Michael;
National Research University Higher School of Economics Faculty Colloquium Individual talk What is Epistemology of Imagination? 15.02.2019 National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russia Stuart Michael;
Philosophy of Science Association Biennial Conference Talk given at a conference Mental Models, Scientific Imagination and Epistemological Anarchy 01.11.2018 Seattle, United States of America Stuart Michael;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Symposium for Jim Davie's Book "Imagination" Blogpost: junkyardofthemind.com International 2020
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Ethics of Scientific Imagination: Who Gets to Use Imagination in Science? Blogpost: junkyardofthemind.com International 2019
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) How Does Experimental Philosophy Fare under the P-Curve? Blogpost: the New Experimental Philosophy Blog International 2019
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Is X-Phi P-Hacked? Blogpost: Dailynous.com International 2019
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) From Paintings to Pig-Human Hybrids: Imagination and Our Interaction with Art and Science Blogpost: junkyardofthemind.com International 2018

Awards

Title Year
Abilitazione Scientifica Nazionale (Italian National Scientific Qualification) in Logic, History and Philosophy of Science (Professore Associato level) 2020

Abstract

No one is now, or has ever, studied how scientists imagine in their daily work. Perhaps this is because imagination does not play a large role in science. After all, science is supposed to “stick to the facts.” But a moment’s reflection reveals how important imagination is for the scientific enterprise. To obtain a hypothesis we must imagine that there are several different ways the world might be. We evaluate these by imagining what else would be true if they were. To test the hypothesis, we take the real world system we are interested in and recreate it inside our minds, laboratories, or computers by imagining analogous systems that can be investigated practically. Finally, even though our idealized experiment removes confounding real world factors, we imagine that the natural world also instantiates the regularities observed in the model in order to develop or refine our theory. Each of these uses of the imagination demands a mental departure from reality, and each appears necessary for scientific progress.I want to answer at least some of the following questions: what roles does imagination play in science, how do scientists think of imagination, how is it taught, when is it trusted, and how do we learn from it? The proposed project has two overlapping aspects: one empirical and theoretical. Empirically, an ethnographic study of scientists working in Swiss institutions will be carried out to address the above-mentioned questions. The results will be both "semantic" and "latent," that is, they will reflect what the scientists themselves say they do, and also what they actually do. The theoretical aspect first creates the conceptual framework for empirical study, and then applies what that study finds to epistemological, normative, and pedagogical issues. The empirical part of the study will employ the methods of qualitative social science, the theoretical part will employ methods of epistemology and philosophy of science. For the empirical part, we begin with participant observations and interviews. Two research laboratories will be studied for at least three terms - roughly one year and a half each. From each lab, several members will be selected to maximize the breadth of our sample size (so we have researchers of different genders, career stages, etc.). Each participant will be interviewed at least 9 times, or three times per term. In addition, lab meetings, conferences, colloquia and other meetings will be attended and observed. These data will be analyzed using both theory-driven thematic analysis and inductive thematic analysis. That is, we derive theoretical questions from the literature on imagination and use these to shape initial interview topics. The data that come from these interviews is then used to create the codes and themes for analysis, which focus follow-up interviews. For the theoretical part of the study, the empirical results are used to draw epistemological conclusions about the aspects of science that contain imagination use. For example, we want to know how crucial imagination is to these processes: is imagination necessary, important, or incidental? We want to know how the use of imagination affects the outcome of methods that rely on imagination: do certain uses of imagination make those methods better or worse, and if so, how and why? Questions like these can only be answered by careful argument drawing on previous work in epistemology. Their answers depend on how we conceive of important notions such as knowledge, justification, understanding, reliability, and evidence.A number of papers will be written, individually and jointly with the project partners (and perhaps scientific collaborators from the studied laboratories). These will be published in the fields of philosophy of science, sociology (of science), cognitive science, epistemology, metaphilosophy, or general philosophy. In addition, the results will be useful for scientists and teachers of science.
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