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How Scientists Use Imagination to Learn About the World

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How Scientists Use Imagination to Learn About the World

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Part of the Royal Institute of Philosophy public lecture series

Location: G5, St Mary's University

Scientists frequently use the imagination; some even attribute their greatest discoveries to flashes of imaginative insight. But surprisingly, no studies have been done to investigate exactly how imagination sparks scientific progress. In this talk, I present the results of a recent pilot study I performed in a systems biology lab.

I describe what I observed, including the scientists’ attitudes towards imagination, the kinds of problems that they used their imaginations to solve, and the norms that underlie “good” uses of scientific imagination. I then use these results to sketch an account of how scientists gain new knowledge from imagination. Three kinds of imagination are identified, and a different answer is given for each type. The end goal is to understand the strengths and dangers of imagination, which is necessary if we ever want to fully understand how science produces new knowledge about the world.

About the speaker

Dr Mike Stuart, London School of Economics

Mike Stuart is a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for the Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at the London School of Economics and a visiting fellow at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. He works on scientific imagination and scientific understanding


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