Thomas Nickles

Thomas Nickles
University of Nevada, Reno | UNR · Department of Philosophy Emeritus

BS Math, BA Philosophy, PhD Philosophy (HPS)

About

118
Publications
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1,525
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July 1976 - present
University of Nevada, Reno
Position
  • Foundation Professor
Description
  • email: nickles@unr.edu

Publications

Publications (118)
Preprint
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Abstract Can recent developments in deep, artificial neural networks (ANNs), machine speed, and Big Data revolutionize scientific discovery across many fields? §§1 and 2 investigate the claim that deep learning fueled by Big Data is providing a methodological revolution across the sciences, one that overturns traditional methodologies. §§3 and 4 ad...
Preprint
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Gigerenzer and coauthors have described a remarkably fast and direct way of generating new theories that they term the tools-to-theories heuristic. Call it the TTT heuristic or simply TTT. TTT links established methods to new theories in an intimate way that challenges the traditional distinction of context of discovery and context of justification...
Preprint
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ABSTRACT: There is a rough, long-term tradeoff between rate of innovation and degree of strong realism in scientific practice, a point reflected in historically changing conceptions of method as they retreat from epistemological foundationism to a highly fallibilistic, modeling perspective. The successively more liberal, innovation-stimulating meth...
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The paper explores the topics of scientific progress and rate of progress from both internal, technical and wider, social points of view.
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In STRUCTURE OF SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS, Kuhn attempted to resurrect the topic of "scientific discovery" (as against the traditional focus on logic of justification) by showing how innovation of various kinds can arise within ongoing scientific research practice, i.e., endogenously rather than as a product of merely exogenously injected inspiration....
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The paper describes how intellectual and political conservatism can obstruct scientific and technological innovation. For the published version, see “Innovation versus Intellectual and Political Conservatism: Science and Technology as Pluralistic, Evolutionary Complex Systems.” Bollettino della Società Italiana, Nuova Serie n. 216 (settembre/dicemb...
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Abstract. How can we speed up both basic and translational scientific research without major new financial investment? One way is to speed up the process by which good proposals are funded. Another is to do a better job of identifying research that is potentially transformative. There are internal institutional barriers as well as sluggish and cons...
Preprint
Full-text available
How should we model scientific decision-making at the frontiers of research? I explore the applicability of Gerd Gigerenzer's "fast and frugal" heuristics to frontier contexts, i.e., to so-called context of discovery. Such heuristics require only one or a very few steps to a decision and only a little information. While the approach is somewhat pro...
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Affirming-the-consequent is a well-known fallacy that leads naïve people to believe that a correct prediction shows that they are "on the right track," the track of truth. Here I outline fifteen subtler forms of deception that I term 'cognitive illusions', intellectual perceptions that make strong realism seem more plausible than it is. Like affirm...
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The paper is a discussion of some ins and outs of bounded rationality in relation to models and to Simon's work on heuristics. I regard Simon as one of the great "American pragmatists." For the published version, see MIND & SOCIETY (March 2019): 1-12.
Preprint
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I adopt an agnostic position concerning scientific realism, partly for historical reasons. In work more fully developed elsewhere, I suggest that cognitive illusions, often involving insensitivity to past and future history, make realism look more plausible than it is. Most of this paper is devoted to answering selected objections to the agnostic p...
Article
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Are we entering a major new phase of modern science, one in which our standard, human modes of reasoning and understanding, including heuristics, have decreasing value? The new methods challenge human intelligibility. The digital revolution (deep connectionist machine learning, big data, cloud computing, simulation, etc.) inspires such claims, but...
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Scientific realism plays a central role in the philosophico-methodological discussions on research. Two are the main directions in the contributions made to scientific realism: the “internal” line and the “external” path. Following the first line, there are new visions of realism focused on central aspects of science: semantic, logic, epistemologic...
Article
There is a rough, long-term tradeoff between rate of innovation and degree of strong realism in scientific practice, a point reflected in historically changing conceptions of method as they retreat from epistemological foundationism to a highly fallibilistic, modeling perspective. The successively more liberal, innovation-stimulating methods open u...
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Full-text available
Guest editors' introduction to "Innovation in/through science".
Article
The paper locates, appreciates, and extends several dimensions of Simon’s work in the direction of more recent contributions by people such as Gigerenzer and Dennett. The author’s “crowbar model of method” is compared to Simon’s scissors metaphor. Against an evolutionary background, both support a pragmatic rather than strong realist approach to th...
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For comments and discussions, we are grateful to all contributors to this special issue and to the anonymous referees that helped in improving the contributions. Thomas Sturm's work was supported by the Spanish Ministry for the Economy, Industry and Competitiveness (MINECO) through the research project Naturalism and the sciences of rationality: an...
Chapter
Gigerenzer and coauthors have described a remarkably fast and direct way of generating new theories that they term the tools-to-theories heuristic. Call it the TTT heuristic or simply TTT. TTT links established methods to new theories in an intimate way that challenges the traditional distinction of context of discovery and context of justification...
Preprint
Full-text available
The scientism question is basically whether science overreaches its legitimate boundaries—and, if so, where and how it does so. This “hubris” question presupposes that there are legitimate boundaries, whence the controversy over how to establish them. I shall make some remarks about limits and then look at the hubris question in a way that may surp...
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Imre Lakatos (9 November 1922–2 February 1974) is the most important philosopher of mathematics and one of the most influential philosophers of science since the mid‐twentieth century. A Hungarian, Lakatos changed his name from Lipschitz to Molnar during the Nazi era and then to Lakatos (“locksmith”). After the war he remained politically active, a...
Chapter
We begin with some questions. What constitutes a scientific discovery? How do we tell when a discovery has been made and whom to credit? Is making a discovery (always) the same as solving a problem? Is it an individual psychological event (an ahal experience), or something more articulated such as a logical argument or a mathematical derivation? Ma...
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I adopt an agnostic position concerning scientific realism, partly for historicist reasons. In work more fully developed elsewhere, I suggest that cognitive illusions (e.g., the flat future or end-of-history illusion, the maturity illusion, the fish-in-water illusion), often involving insensitivity to past and future history, make realism look more...
Preprint
Full-text available
This is a positive review of Robert Richards and Lorraine Daston (eds.), KUHN'S STRUCTURE OF SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS AT FIFTY. For the published version, see Metascience, 26(1)(2017): 75-78.
Article
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I discuss changes of perspective of four kinds in science and about science. Section 2 defends a perspectival nonrealism—something akin to Giere’s perspectival realism but not a realism—against the idea of complete, “Copernican” objectivity. Section 3 contends that there is an inverse relationship between epistemological conservatism and scientific...
Chapter
How should we model scientific decision-making at the frontiers of research? This chapter explores the applicability of Gerd Gigerenzer’s “fast and frugal” heuristics to frontier contexts, i.e., to so-called context of discovery. Such heuristics require only one or a very few steps to a decision and only a little information. While the approach is...
Chapter
Science continually contributes new models and rethinks old ones. The way inferences are made is constantly being re-evaluated. The practice and achievements of science are both shaped by this process, so it is important to understand how models and inferences are made. But, despite the relevance of models and inference in scientific practice, thes...
Book
The book answers long-standing questions on scientific modeling and inference across multiple perspectives and disciplines, including logic, mathematics, physics and medicine. The different chapters cover a variety of issues, such as the role models play in scientific practice; the way science shapes our concept of models; ways of modeling the purs...
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Full-text available
How can we speed up both basic and translational scientific research without major new financial investment? One way is to speed up the process by which good proposals are funded. Another is to do a better job of identifying research that is potentially transformative. There are internal institutional barriers as well as sluggish and conservative p...
Chapter
I begin with an appreciation of several pragmatic aspects of Diderik Batens’ research program, then turn to the apparent conflict with Donald Campbell’s evolutionary epistemology, with its generalized Darwinian account of creative problem solving via mechanisms of blind variation plus selective retention (BVSR). While there are significant differen...
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A goal of this volume is to build on the pathbreaking work by experts such as Bill Wimsatt and Andy Pickering in order to develop a more robust account of robustness. However, the idea may be so multifaceted that no single account will do. I shall canvass a few basic ideas of robustness, popular and technical, and then address such questions as: Wh...
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A paradigm shift occurs when a professional community or institution switches allegiance from one paradigm to another. This displacement of commitment usually produces a sharp change in the experience of the affected individuals, since it redefines what counts as a legitimate practice. It constitutes a change in institutional culture. For Kuhn a pa...
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My topic is the role of questions, problems, and problem solving in epistemology. I shall survey some philosophical differences between problem-solving and directly truth-seeking epistemologies and/or methodologies, without being able to go into much detail. I limit the topic by confining myself to philosophy of science and related areas of epistem...
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Economic competitive advantage depends on innovation, which in turn requires pushing back the frontiers of various kinds of knowledge. Although understanding how knowledge grows ought to be a central topic of epistemology, epistemologists and philosophers of science have given it insufficient attention, even deliberately shunning the topic. Traditi...
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Let’s begin with a story—not the full strange story of my title but an early part of it. One day some philosophers decided to take a walk down through history. They had passed through ancient Greece and Rome, continued on through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and had come to the 16th and 17th centuries, where they stumbled upon the Scientifi...
Book
Preface Unexpected discoveries, Graded Structures, and the Difference between Acceptance and Neglect Hanne Andersen Conceptual Comparison and Conceptual Innovation Harold I. Brown Discovering Mechanisms in Molecular Biology Finding and Fixing Incompleteness and Incorrectness Lindley Darden On the Role of Thought-Experiments in Mathematical Discover...
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Much of the philosophical treatment of incommensurability is an artifactual response to internally generated philosophical problems rather than to the difficulties faced by scientists themselves. As a result, incommensurability and rupture have been mislocated at the level of scientists’ differing beliefs and their disagreements about symbolic repr...
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Many have noted the irony of the English title, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, of Karl Popper’s expanded translation of his Logik der Forschung (1934). Given Popper’s use of the distinction between context of discovery and context of justification (the DJ distinction), there is no such thing as a logic (or method or even rationality) of discove...
Article
Reduction was once a central topic in philosophy of science. I claim that it remains important, especially when applied to problems and problem-solutions rather than only to large theory-complexes. Without attempting a comprehensive classification, I discuss various kinds of problem reductions and similar relations, illustrating them, inter alia, i...
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In recent years several philosophers and other science studies experts have adopted a somewhat more Ptolemaic than Copernican view of theories, models, and scientific research, namely, the “semantic” conception of theories and their applications. On the old, “Copernican” view, theories are deductively integrated, interpreted logical calculi, in sta...
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In the late nineteenth century, the successes of blind, mechanistic, deterministic science severely challenged the traditional view that human beings possess moral worth deriving from our ability to act as free, responsible, creative agents. For many this freedom included the power to respond to a deeper, spiritual reality. No one experienced this...
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Looking at Thomas Kuhn's work from a cognitive science perspective helps to articulate and to legitimize, to some degree, his rejection of traditional views of concepts, categorization, theory structure, and rule-based problem solving. Whereas my colleagues focus on the later Kuhn of the MIT years, I study the early Kuhn as an anticipation of case-...
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Configurations 6.1 (1998) 51-85 Thomas Kuhn So reads the well-known opening sentence of Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). Thirty-five years later, his prediction has certainly come true -- in ways he helped initiate but could not have predicted, and even came to reject. Of course, we should add sociology, anthropology, psych...
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According to Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and brought it to humankind, for whom it was a blessing, as the forge of human civilization. But fire also turned out to be a curse, because it was dangerous and could be used to destroy. The "fire in the mind" of this book's title refers to the Promethean dilemma in terms of our the...
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It is fashionable these days to speak of combining the work of the science studies or metascience disciplines into a coherent, unified, or “integrated” theory of science. The disciplines I have chiefly in mind are history, philosophy, psychology, and sociology of science.2 Several papers of the present volume speak of integration, especially those...
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Science transforms itself by more or less continuously reworking its previous results and techniques. To miss the dynamical, self-reconstructive nature of scientific work is to miss the extent to which scientific inquiry is a bootstrap affair. I shall call non-reconstructive views of science single-pass or one-pass models of scientific inquiry. Her...
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Pure consequentialists hold that all theoretical justification derives from testing the consequences of hypotheses, while generativists maintain that reasoning (some feature of) the hypothesis from we already know is an important form of justification. The strongest form of justification (they claim) is an idealized discovery argument. In the guise...
Chapter
The discussion of method has a long history. The term ‘method’ is Greek (from meta + odos, meta-way, “following after,” suggesting the idea of order), and already in Plato’s Phaedrus (265D to 277C) Socrates speaks of method in relation to téchnē or art. Socrates refers to the method of Hippocrates, presumably because Hippocrates’s method or art of...
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For years I have urged that there is more to scientific method than meets the philosophical eye. Some highly touted conceptions of method — the hypothetical-deductive (H-D) method, for instance — are remarkably thin when it gets down to details. For when one studies real scientific cases of problem solving and theory construction, the methodologica...
Article
At a recent conference a young, British, science studies researcher asked me when philosophers were going to stop speculating apriori about science and begin studying it empirically. It is not enough to answer that we have been studying it empirically for at least the quarter century since historical approaches to philosophy of science became popul...
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Full-text available
Does the viability of the discovery program depend on showing either (1) that methods of generating new problem solutions, per se, have special probative weight (the per se thesis); or, (2) that the original conception of an idea is logically continuous with its justification (anti-divorce thesis)? Many writers have identified these as the key issu...
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Although seriously defective, 17th-century ideas about discovery, justification, and positive science are not as hopeless, useless, and out of date as many philosophers assume. They appear to underlie modern scientific practice. The generationist view of justification interestingly links justification with discovery issues while employing a concept...
Article
One component of a viable account of scientific inquiry is a defensible conception of scientific problems. This paper specifies some logical and conceptual requirements that an acceptable account of scientific problems must meet as well as indicating some features that a study of scientific inquiry indicates scientific problems have. On the basis o...

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I've just finished drafting an article on historicist theories of scientific rationality for the Stanford Encyclopedia and am now turning back to decision-making at research frontiers and to nonrealist accounts of scientific progress.