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Thread: When folk theory meets scientific theory?

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    When folk theory meets scientific theory?

    When folk theory meets scientific theory?

    All of us ordinary folks, even those with little or no technical expertise, have theories. These theories are the way that we try to comprehend our world. Some are explicit and some implicit. Cognitive scientists call these folk theories.

    In the West and most likely in all cultures there is a common world view that there is a single correct taxonomy (classification system, taxonomies divide things into kinds) of natural things. These classifications are very important aspects of how human beings make sense of experience. “People have many ways of making sense of things—and taxonomies of all sorts abound. Yet the idea that there is a single right taxonomy of natural things is remarkable persistent.”

    It is natural for humans to seek knowledge. In the “Metaphysics” Aristotle wrote “All men by nature desire to know”.

    The attempt to seek knowledge presupposes that the world unfolds in a systematic pattern and that we can gain knowledge of that unfolding. Cognitive science identifies several ideas that seem to come naturally to us and labels such ideas as “Folk Theories”.

    The Folk Theory of the Intelligibility of the World
    The world makes systematic sense, and we can gain knowledge of it.

    The Folk Theory of General Kinds
    Every particular thing is a kind of thing.

    The Folk Theory of Essences
    Every entity has an “essence” or “nature,” that is, a collection of properties that makes it the kind of thing it is and that is the causal source of its natural behavior.

    The consequences of the two theories:
    The Foundational Assumption of Metaphysics
    Kinds exist and are defined by essences.

    Since scientific theories start with presuppositions they must rely on these folk theories for these presuppositions. Steven Gould provides us with an interesting example of this matter in his What, If Anything, Is a Zebra?.

    There are two types of biologists, cladists and pheneticists: “The pheneticists look at overall similarity in form, function, and biological role, while the cladists are primarily concerned with branching order…Ideally, overall similarity ought to converge with evolutionary branching order and yield the same taxonomy.”

    These two different modes of classification yield two categories of Zebras.

    The details are difficult to follow but the general point is clear. There are at least two kinds of categorizations for Zebra, they should converge but they do not. We have here an example of the rare case when folk theory clashes with the scientific theory.

    “A folk theory defines common sense itself…Biology has conflicting taxonomic models that reflect different aspect of reality. The folk theory that there can be only one correct taxonomy of living things seems to be at least partly behind the conflict between the pheneticists, the cladists, and the evolutionary taxonomists.”

    Quotes from Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind by George Lakoff

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    I'm very interested! I would love to find out more.
    me too, I need more detailed info

    Installing electric radiant floor heating systems - In and under floors heated flooring - Hydronic underfloor heat cost

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    Quote Originally Posted by quiculode View Post
    I'm very interested! I would love to find out more.
    me too, I need more detailed info
    Most of the "essays" that I post include a book reference. I supply this reference in the hope that the reader will be curious and go to the books for further information. My hope is that the reader will become a self-actualizing self-learner.

    I have a "Friends of the Library" card from a local college and thus have access to a very well stocked library. I suspect most colleges have such things. For a yearly fee of $25 I have access to a vast library.

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    Around Town
    That essay was very thought provoking, but it makes a logical fallacy assuming that the zebra can't be properly sorted into two sets (or taxonomies). It may be that the taxonomy of all taxonomies (the list of everything as it were) includes every thing and every idea about a thing. There is only one Zebra, which happens to have both black stripes and white stripes.
    Or i could be a lunatic. 50/50.

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    I think its human nature to try to instill order into the natural world.
    I've noticed that as I delve further and further into my science studies, the world becomes more and more chaotic. The notion of a phylogenetic tree is an old concept and methods of taxonomy are radically changing nowadays.
    The benefit of scientific theory is that we become more aware of a chaotic and radically different world.
    Another example of the difference between folk beliefs and scientific beliefs is our understanding and representation of scientific studies. Laymen people typically will try to instill a right/wrong notion as a result of a study, but many scientists will understand there are numerous variables which must be considered.

  6. #6
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    A person can walk the corridors of any big city hospital and observe the effectiveness of human rationality in action. One can also visit the UN building in NYC or read the morning papers and observe just how ineffective, frustrating and disappointing human rationality can be. Why does human reason perform so well in some matters and so poorly in others?

    We live in two very different worlds; a world of technical and technological order and clarity, and a world of personal and social disorder and confusion. We are increasingly able to solve problems in one domain and increasingly endangered by our inability to solve problems in the other.

    Normal science, as defined by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, is successful primarily because it is a domain of knowledge controlled by paradigms. The paradigm defines the standards, principles and methods of the discipline. It is not apparent to the laity but science moves forward in small incremental steps. Science seldom seeks and almost never produces major novelties.

    Science solves puzzles. The logic of the paradigm insulates the professional group from problems that are unsolvable by that paradigm. One reason that science progresses so rapidly and with such assurance is because the logic of that paradigm allows the practitioners to work on problems that only their lack of ingenuity will keep them from solving.

    Science uses instrumental rationality to solve puzzles. Instrumental rationality is a systematic process for reflecting upon the best action to take to reach an established end. The obvious question becomes ‘what mode of rationality is available for determining ends?’ Instrumental rationality appears to be of little use in determining such matters as “good” and “right”.

    There is a striking difference between the logic of technical problems and that of dialectical problems. The principles, methods and standards for dealing with technical problems and problems of “real life” are as different as night and day. Real life problems cannot be solved only using deductive and inductive reasoning.

    Dialectical reasoning methods require the ability to slip quickly between contradictory lines of reasoning. One needs skill to develop a synthesis of one point of view with another. Where technical matters are generally confined to only one well understood frame of reference real life problems become multi-dimensional totalities.

    When we think dialectically we are guided by principles not by procedures. Real life problems span multiple categories and academic disciplines. We need point-counter-point argumentation; we need emancipatory reasoning to resolve dialectical problems. We need Critical Thinking skills and attitudes to resolve real life problems.

    I conclude that American citizens are not sophisticated enough to make the kind of decisions that are required to prevent the destruction of our civilization. It seems to me that we must put a much greater emphasis upon this weakness. I think that the foundation for such an increase in intellectual sophistication requires that, at a minimum, a much greater proportion of our citizens must develop a comprehension of the fundamentals of Critical Thinking.

    Much more is required of our adult population; but this is a minimum.

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