ICCS2004 Application Submission/Review

Abstract for
"Cognitive Illusions and the Evolution of Science"


If society is thought of as an organism living within an environment, then science can be taken as analogous to the cognitive structures and processes involved in obtaining objective knowledge of that environment. At the same time, science is carried out by individuals and communication between scientists occurs only between individuals. Thus determination of the conditions for obtaining objective knowledge of the world require investigation of both the conditions for unambiguous intersubjective communication, and the internal cognitive operations of individual scientists. Much research has taken place in the psychology of decisions under uncertainty, indicating that people in general do not decide on the basis of logic and probability analysis, but instead on the basis of three general heuristics called representativeness, availability, and anchoring. Each of these is vulnerable to a characteristic class of errors that have come to be called cognitive illusions. At the same time, the three decision heuristics can be seen to be the necessary conditions for any expression of experience in language. Thus the question is not one of finding better heuristics but of learning to use the existing ones without falling into their associated illusions. From this point of view, the history of science can be seen to involve the development of techniques and methods to employ the decision heuristics with greater accuracy. In particular, three crisis periods in this history can be identified, each associated with one of the three decision heuristics. In this paper we discuss the nature of the decision heuristics and the first two crises in the history of science. This provides a picture of the anatomy of a crisis that can be applied to the third crisis which is in process today.