The Best Books On The Cognitive Foundations Of Science

Andrew Shtulman Author Of Scienceblind: Why Our Intuitive Theories about the World Are So Often Wrong
By Andrew Shtulman

The Books I Picked & Why

The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science

By Michael Strevens

The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science

Why this book?

Science has revolutionized the way we live and the way we understand reality, but what accounts for its success? What method sets science apart from other forms of inquiry and ensures that it yields ever-more accurate theories of the world? Strevens argues that the scientific method is not a special kind of logic, like deriving hypotheses from first principles or narrowing hypotheses through falsification, but a simple commitment to arguing with evidence. Strevens shows, with historical case studies, how this commitment is seemingly irrational, as it provides no constraints on what counts as evidence or how evidence should be interpreted, but also incredibly powerful, fostering ingenuity and discovery.


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The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us about the Mind

By Alison Gopnik, Patricia K. Kuhl, Andrew N. Meltzoff

The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us about the Mind

Why this book?

This book provides an accessible overview of the developmental origins of scientific reasoning. The hallmarks of inquiry—constructing hypotheses, conducting experiments, interpreting observations, revising theories—can be observed early in development, and the authors explain how infants and children use these skills to develop a rich understanding of the physical and social world. This book introduces the metaphor of “child as scientist,” which has shaped much recent research on cognitive development. This metaphor is motivated not just by empirical studies but also by historical and philosophical considerations about the origins of science, which the authors intermix with charming anecdotes and personal stories.


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The Origin of Concepts

By Susan Carey

The Origin of Concepts

Why this book?

Scientific concepts, like genes and germs, elude observation and intuition. So where do they come from? Carey charts the development of such concepts, from innate perceptual biases to abstract symbolic representations. She presents research investigating the evolved foundations of human knowledge (core knowledge), as well as methods for revising and reorganizing that knowledge, yielding new concepts and theories (conceptual change). This book integrates insights from developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, and comparative psychology to address longstanding philosophical questions about humans’ ability to transcend the small repertoire of concepts we are born with and grasp ideas that no other species can.


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Education for Thinking

By Deanna Kuhn

Education for Thinking

Why this book?

Two skills fundamental to scientific reasoning are inquiry and argument. Inquiry is generating new information, and argument is using that information to justify and evaluate knowledge claims. Kuhn presents a framework for understanding these processes, as well as methods for teaching them. Her insights are grounded in science-education research demonstrating not only why inquiry and argument are challenging but also how they can be improved. Kuhn’s book fundamentally changed how I teach science to others. It provided me a way of organizing and motivating the various research methods I cover in my courses, as tools for building a collective body of knowledge.


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Science Denial: Why It Happens and What to Do about It

By Gale Sinatra, Barbara Hofer

Science Denial: Why It Happens and What to Do about It

Why this book?

If you value science, then you’ve probably puzzled over why other people don’t. Why won’t other people wear masks during a pandemic? Or buy genetically modified foods? Or vaccinate their children. Sinatra and Hofer provide answers by delving deep into the psychology of science denial. They explain the shortcuts we take when searching for scientific information, the misconceptions we hold about scientific knowledge, and the obstacles we face when changing our beliefs and attitudes about scientific topics. From their synthesis of empirical research to their consideration of real-life dilemmas, Sinatra and Hofer provide a compelling account of the public’s fraught relationship with science, as well as practical advice for improving it.


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