As Pearsall, Skipper and Mintzes (1997) noted, "It appears that students who report employing 'active,' 'deep' information processing strategies tend to construct more elaborate, well-differentiated frameworks of knowledge" (p. 213). And the way in which knowledge is structured by an individual determines how it is used (Baxter & Elder, 1996; Chi, Feltovich, & Glaser, 1981; Zajchowski & Martin, 1993).
Assessing Science Understanding: A Human Constructivist View
Joel J Mintzes, James H Wandersee & Joseph D Novak, page 16
Simply put, scientific knowledge has a structure to it, and if we wish to actually do complex things with science (to use it as a tool for reasoning), then we must internalize this inherent structure into the way in which we discuss science.
During his scientific enculturation, the apprentice physicist or biologist learns not only how to explain phenomena within the scope of his science by applying its existing concepts; he learns also what is involved in criticizing those concepts and so improving its current content. Indeed, learning one without the other -- learning how to apply an existing repertory of concepts, without learning what would compel us to qualify or change them -- does nothing to make a man a "scientist" at all.
Human Understanding, Vol 1: The collective use and evolution of concepts
Stephen Toulmin (1972), page 165
The point of visualizing the structure of science will be to attempt to reduce the categorical confusion which naturally follows from unobservables. But, before we engage in any discussion of actually visualizing it, let's review the structure itself. I am amenable to modifying these definitions, and would like to actually encourage others to make suggestions on how to improve this list. But, changes to the definitions should not sacrifice comprehension. The value of this explanation is the fact that it can be easily understood by anybody, and my own focus here is foremost to accurately portray the structure of scientific knowledge.
The Inherent and Generally Ignored Structure of Science
are perceived regularities in events or objects, or records of events or objects, designated by a label" (Novak).
There is no such thing as an isolated concept, because we define concepts according to their relationships with other concepts. These connections are called propositions
When a proposition applies to more than a single instance -- when it is generalizable -- the proposition is called a principle
Not all conceptual creations specify phenomenological events which we can see in the real world. For instance, nobody has actually observed a family with 2.7 children -- and yet, the average number of children is nevertheless a useful idea which exists between a concept and a principle. Constructs
are conceptual placeholders which can connect sets of concepts, and their meaning can change over time.
is a set of interrelated principles that enables explanations or predictions of interactions among objects and events." (Novak)
is theory under construction. "The hypothesis is a statement of what one doesn't know and a strategy for how one is going to find it out" (Stuart Firestein). It is a scientist's "idea about how something works based on past data, perhaps some casual observations observations, and a lot of thinking typically ending in an insightful and potential new explanation for how something works. The best of these, in fact the legitimate ones, suggest experiments that could prove them to be true or false -- the false part of that equation being the most important. There are many experimental results that could be consistent with a hypothesis yet not prove it true. But it only has to be shown to be false once for it to be abandoned." (Stuart Feinstein)
Both theories and hypotheses can contain assumptions
-- which are propositions that are not guided by experiment or observation.
The purpose of scientific research is to supply answers to key questions (Gowan). But, the first step to getting better answers is to frame better questions (Stuart Feinstein).
"Thoroughly conscious ignorance is the prelude to every real advance in science." (James Maxwell)
The purpose of focus questions
is to sharpen and magnify a view by limiting the range of the view. But, since limiting the view can obstruct our perception of the whole, the selection of focus questions is incredibly important (Gowan).
"A question is interesting if it leads somewhere and is connected to other questions." (Stuart Firestein)
Focus questions must necessarily emerge from prior knowledge, interests and a complex host of other human factors.
Scientists are also guided in their choice of focus questions, as well as how to interpret their findings, by a set of views about the nature of knowledge and the structure of the universe. Although this set of views -- commonly referred to as a philosophy
-- is rarely stated in the text of scientific papers, it nevertheless guides the focus questions -- and, hence, the entire intellectual enterprise (Gowan).
But, not all philosophies lead to focus questions. A worldview
is more of a philosophical statement of belief -- the "set of experiences, beliefs and values that affect the way an individual perceives reality." (Wikipedia: paradigm, social science perspective)
. Paradigms drive the elaboration of hypotheses, using experimentation and observation as a guide. It's important to realize that (contrary to Stuart Feinstein's definitive declaration to the contrary), if a hypothesis fails a particular test, the paradigm can supply alternative possibilities which can keep the paradigm alive.
Failure to Understand this Structure Leads to Predictable Confusion in Science
It stands to reason that if a person doesn't recognize what a worldview is in relation to the other constructs of science's structure, then this creates important predictable opportunities for confusion when it comes to talking about the validity of the scientific models discussed by professional scientists.
Traditional scientific training has tended to emphasize the passive recitation of problem-solving instances/examples over both conceptual structure and active formation of strategies for problem-solving/modeling. There are many consequences, but one which tends to dominate discussions of the Electric Universe online is an observable widespread confusion associated with the higher-level structure of science (that portion which layers onto the base of concepts, propositions and models). A case in point is Tom Bridgman's website
, the links of which are commonly passed around as evidence that the Electric Universe is some sort of mistaken idea.
In a general sense, these critics appear to take advantage of this widespread confusion about the role of worldviews, paradigms and focus questions in science. Whether or not it is their intention, the practical effect of their efforts is to undermine support for the elaboration of models which reconsider the role of electricity & magnetism in the cosmos.
My thesis is that people who possess more familiarity with the structure of science will be less susceptible to losing motivation to learn in light of such critiques. That's because it will become apparent that the Electric Universe is a paradigm which motivates attempts to create functional models, and which is based upon the asking of fundamental questions about the role of fundamental forces in the universe
. Yes, we need to have very detailed discussions about the models at the levels of concepts, mathematics and even model algorithms -- and effective critics will turn out to be essential to that process -- but one need only interview the people who read Tom Bridgman's site to observe that they are internalizing the message that the Electric Universe is an ill-conceived bad idea -- a misconception or pseudoscience
Once a person understands this higher-level structure of science, they will come to see that volition plays a key part in the formation of scientific theory. Scientists look, in part, to their worldviews to formulate focus questions and make inferences about observations. The effect of Tom Bridgman's website is to invite people to refuse to ask certain fundamental questions as a matter of practice. But, the fact remains that these are fundamental questions. So, why would we ever choose to ignore them?
If a particular line of investigation refuses to pan out, paradigms can drive many other possibilities. A site which is dedicated to helping people to more effectively think like a scientist should generally devalue the treatment of paradigms based upon fundamental questions in science as if they are misconceptions or pseudoscience. An effective scientific social network would instead deploy specific strategies for encouraging people to ask better questions in science.
And as I will show a bit later, the net effect of this process of dialog will be determined largely by the mindset we have going into the process: Are we learning about this subject matter in order to simply confirm our pre-existing notions? Or, are we learning about the debate in order to personally grow as a thinker? Tom Bridgman's website in practice undermines the growth mindset, and I will show in due time why this makes him such a dangerous critic -- for both the EU and his readers.
It turns out that the growth mindset is absolutely essential to learning and success in life
, more generally.
Divergent worldviews are commonly mis-categorized as pseudoscience online since people have basically prioritized the learning of the conventional textbook content of science over patterns which actual scientists rely upon for questioning that content. Those patterns practiced by successful scientists and theorists are based upon a deep fluency in the parts of science's higher-level structure which exist beyond the lower levels of concepts, propositions and models. Much online scientific discourse fails to recognize that there are simply different levels at which we can talk about science, and that one very important level is that of worldviews. Simply put, many people make the mistake of thinking that there is only one worldview which we call science.
The way to resolve this problem, in my view, is to impose the structure of science -- the levels of discourse -- upon the dialog itself, in ways which do not generate new problems. This turns out to be a fascinating problem to think about which many people have already dedicated a lot of time and effort into. We can learn a lot by reviewing those former efforts. Along the way, I also hope to demonstrate that advances in computing power are opening doors which did not exist for those former thinkers. It's imperative that if the Electric Universe community wants to have a say in the future of scientific discourse, then these trends should be learned, followed and discussed.