Refining the Inferential Model of Scientific Understanding

International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 27 (2):173-197 (2013)
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Abstract

In this article, I use a mental models computational account of representation to illustrate some details of my previously presented inferential model of scientific understanding. The hope is to shed some light on possible mechanisms behind the notion of scientific understanding. I argue that if mental models are a plausible approach to modelling cognition, then understanding can best be seen as the coupling of specific rules. I present our beliefs as ?ordinary? conditional rules, and the coupling process as one where the consequent of one ordinary rule (OR) matches and activates the antecedent of the rule to which it is coupled in virtue of the activation of an intermediate ?inference? rule. I argue that on this approach knowledge of an explanation is the activation of ORs in a cognitive hierarchy, while understanding is achieved when those activated ORs are also coupled via correct inference rules. I do not directly address issues regarding the plausibility of mental models themselves. This article should therefore be seen as an exercise in refining the inferential model within an already presupposed computational setting, not one of arguing for the psychological adequacy of computational approaches

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Mark Newman
Arkansas State University