The Value of Surprise in Science

Erkenntnis:1-20 (forthcoming)


Scientific results are often presented as ‘surprising’ as if that is a good thing. Is it? And if so, why? What is the value of surprise in science? Discussions of surprise in science have been limited, but surprise has been used as a way of defending the epistemic privilege of experiments over simulations. The argument is that while experiments can ‘confound’, simulations can merely surprise (Morgan 2005). Our aim in this paper is to show that the discussion of surprise can be usefully extended to thought experiments and theoretical derivations. We argue that in focusing on these features of scientific practice, we can see that the surprise-confoundment distinction does not fully capture surprise in science. We set out how thought experiments and theoretical derivations can bring about surprises that can be disruptive in a productive way, and we end by exploring how this links with their future fertility.

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Author Profiles

Steven French
University of Leeds
Alice Murphy
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München

References found in this work

Representing and Intervening.Ian Hacking - 1984 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 35 (4):381-390.
Against Method.P. Feyerabend - 1975 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 26 (4):331-342.
Representing and Intervening.Ian Hacking - 1987 - Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 92 (2):279-279.
Thought Experiments.Roy A. Sorensen - 1992 - Oxford and New York: Oup Usa.

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Citations of this work

Imagination in Science.Alice Murphy - 2022 - Philosophy Compass 17 (6):e12836.
The Aesthetics of Scientific Experiments.Milena Ivanova - 2021 - Philosophy Compass 16 (3):e12730.
What is a Beautiful Experiment?Milena Ivanova - forthcoming - Erkenntnis:1-19.
Imaginative Resistance in Science.Valentina Savojardo - forthcoming - Foundations of Science:1-19.

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