The Psychology of Science and the Origins of the Scientific Mind

The Psychology of Science and the Origins of the Scientific Mind PDF

Author: Gregory J. Feist

Publisher: Yale University Press


Publish Date: September 9, 2008

ISBN-10: 9780300143270

Pages: 336

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

Scientific thinking is a hallmark intellectual achievement of the human species. Science involves myriad cognitive and intellectual processes, including abstract and symbolic thought; reasoning and logic; pattern recognition; planning; problem solving; creativity; hypothesis testing; mathematical, analytical, and spatial reasoning; intuitive hunches; chance associations; and the art of coherent and cogent verbal expression and persuasion, to mention but a few of its qualities. Science is first and foremost a cognitive activity of the highest order. Scientists also think and behave in social contexts; have particular talents and aptitudes; grow up in specific households with particular family structures and influences; have unique personalities that make scientific thought and behavior more rather than less likely; and are motivated by curiosity, intrinsic pleasure of discovery, and the triumph of figuring out how things work. That is, scientific behavior, interest, talent, and achievement stem from basic topics of focus in the field of psychology. Psychological principles are at work with all scientific thought and behavior. Simply put, there is a psychology behind science.

The chief objective of this book is to justify the need for a fully developed discipline of the psychology of science and to lay the foundations for such a field. To this end, I have two related yet distinct ambitions. One is to organize and codify the nascent discipline of the psychology of science and thereby demonstrate the field’s potential for joining the ranks of the major science studies disciplines (history, philosophy, and sociology). The second is to examine the evolutionary and historical origins of the scientific mind. If we wish to understand something as complex as scientific thinking and behavior, a basic understanding of how the human mind evolved is in order. The book is divided according to these two goals, with part  focusing on the development of scientific interest and talent within certain groups of individuals, and part on the development of science within our species.

The guiding assumption behind the psychology of science is that a complete understanding of scientific thought and behavior requires a psychological perspective. As one prominent psychologist of science, Dean Keith Simonton, wrote in Scientific Genius: “Without the addition of a psychological dimension, I believe, it is impossible to appreciate fully the essence of the scientific imagination. And without this appreciation, the origins of science, the emergence of new ideas about natural phenomena, must escape our grasp. Psychology is mandatory if we wish to comprehend the scientific genius as the generator of science.” This is what the psychology of science is all about: to understand scientific thought and behavior we must apply the best theoretical and empirical tools available to psychologists. And what psychology has to offer the studies of science is indeed unique. For instance, only psychologists of science bring the experimental method (that is, random assignment of participants to conditions and manipulation of an independent variable) to the study of scientific thought and behavior. Also, in contrast to the history and philosophy of science and in common with the sociology of science, psychology tests hypotheses by means of statistical analysis of data.

In addition to the experimental technique and hypothesis testing, psychology can borrow from historians and examine case studies and apply principles of behavior gleaned from the laboratory to the analysis of great figures in science. Consider the case history of one of the best-known and most influential scientists of all time, Charles Darwin. In The Descent of Man he wrote: “I have no great quickness of apprehension or wit . . . my power to follow a long and purely abstract train of thought is very limited . . . [but] I am superior to the common run of men in noticing things which easily escape attention, and in observing them carefully.” Darwin’s own self-evaluation of his strengths and weaknesses gives a glimpse into his own self-concept—clearly a psychological concept. Moreover, ability with abstract thought, attention, and focus on details are very much psychological in nature; cognitive psychologists among others have much to say about these aptitudes. What precisely is the association between Darwin’s life and personality and his science? In this book I propose that we can fruitfully apply the methods and theories of modern psychology to shed light on these sorts of questions.

To a psychologist of science it is obvious that scientific thought and behavior are the outcomes of a person’s cognitive style and aptitudes; affective, motivational, and developmental histories and proclivities; and their unique and stable personality traits and social influences. These topics, after all, are the bread and butter of current psychological inquiry and psychological science. And given the importance and uniqueness of scientific thinking and behavior over the course of history, one would think that a large number of psychologists would have long ago systematically applied their theories and empirical methods to understanding science. Surprisingly, until the late there was little accumulated knowledge concerning topics in the psychology of science. As Michael Mahoney wrote in a article in Social Studies of Science, “In terms of behavior patterns, affect, and even some intellectual matters, we know more about alcoholics, Christians, and criminals than we do about the psychology of the scientist.”

Preface, ix
Acknowledgments, xvii
Part One Psychology of Science
– Psychology of Science and the Studies of Science,
– Biological Psychology of Science, –
– Developmental Psychology of Science, –
– Cognitive Psychology of Science, –
– Personality Psychology of Science, –
– Social Psychology of Science, –
– The Applications and Future of Psychology of Science,-
Part Two Origins and Future of the Scientific Mind
– Evolution of the Human Mind, –
– Origins of the Scientific Thinking,-
– Science, Pseudoscience, and Antiscience,-
Notes, –

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