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Is scientific theory change similar to early cognitive development? Gopnik on science and childhood

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I offer a two-part critique of one prominent version of the “theory theory,” advocated by Alison Gopnik, according to which early cognitive development is highly similar to scientific theory change. In the first part, I criticize the “strong” thesis that scientific inference and early cognitive development are subserved by the very same mental mechanisms. I contend that Gopnik has failed to distinguish among several different types of theories of scientific inference—including population-level, normative, competence, and performance theories—and that the strong thesis fails to hold for any of them. In the second part, I argue that even a weaker analogy between childhood cognitive development and scientific inference has severe limitations. In particular, I maintain that scientific inference is subserved by significant levels of cross-domain processing while early cognitive development is not. The hope is that the inadequacies in Gopnik's position are instructive. For one, they suggest a tighter analogy, which I briefly defend, between adult quotidian cognition and scientific theory formation and confirmation.
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Keywords: Cognitive Development; Gopnik; Scientific Inference; Theory Theory

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2013-02-01

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