Inference Belief and Interpretation in Science

Kolkata India,: Avijit Lahiri (forthcoming)
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This monograph is an in-depth and engaging discourse on the deeply cognitive roots of human scientific quest. The process of making scientific inferences is continuous with the day-to-day inferential activity of individuals, and is predominantly inductive in nature. Inductive inference, which is fallible, exploratory, and open-ended, is of essential relevance in our incessant efforts at making sense of a complex and uncertain world around us, and covers a vast range of cognitive activities, among which scientific exploration constitutes the pinnacle. Inductive inference has a personal aspect to it, being rooted in the cognitive unconscious of individuals, which has recently been found to be of paramount importance in a wide range of complex cognitive processes. One other major aspect of the process of inference making, including the making of scientific inferences, is the role of a vast web of beliefs lodged in the human mind, as also of a huge repertoire of heuristics, that constitute an important component of ‘unconscious intelligence’. Finally, human cognitive activity is dependent in a large measure on emotions and affects, that operate mostly at an unconscious level. Of special importance in scientific inferential activity is the process of hypothesis making, which is examined in this book, along with the above aspects of inductive inference, at considerable depth. The book focuses on the inadequacy of the viewpoint of naive realism in understanding the contextual nature of scientific theories, where a cumulative progress towards an ultimate truth about Nature appears to be too simplistic a generalization. It poses a critique to the commonly perceived image of science which is seen as the last word in logic and objectivity, the latter in the double sense of being independent of individual psychological propensities and, at the same time, approaching a correct understanding of the workings of a mind-independent nature. Adopting the naturalist point of view, it examines the essential tension between the cognitive endeavours of individuals and scientific communities, immersed in belief systems and cultures, on the one hand, and the engagement with a mind-independent reality on the other. In the end, science emerges as an interpretation of nature, which is perceived by us only contextually, as successively emerging cross-sections of limited scope and extent. Successive waves of theory building in science appear as episodic and kaleidoscopic changes in perspective as certain in-built borders are crossed, rather than as a cumulative progress towards some ultimate truth. While written in an informal and conversational style, the book raises a number of deep and intriguing questions located at the interface of cognitive psychology and philosophy of science, meant for both the general lay reader and the specialist. Of particular interest is the way it explores the role of belief (aided by emotions and affects) in making the process of inductive inference possible since belief is a subtle though all-pervasive cognitive factor not adequately investigated in the current literature.
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