Scientific investigation frequently involves a detailed study of ill-defined events with little preliminary data. Researchers confront this challenge by building real-world models to help them make predictions.
The models are tentative at first, but over time they are revised and refined, and can lead the community to novel problem solutions. Models thus play a big role in the creative thinking processes of scientists.
Cognitive scientists study the cognitive processes that underlie scientific creativity by observing scientists at work in their laboratories.
Dr. Nancy J. Nersessian says, “Solving problems at the frontiers of science involves complex cognitive processes. In reasoning with models, part of the process occurs in the mind and part in the real-world manipulation of the model.
“The problem is not solved by the scientist alone, but by the scientist – model combination. This is a highly creative cognitive process.”
Her research is published in an upcoming issue of Topics in Cognitive Science.
An examination of the working methods of scientists helps in understanding how class and instructional laboratory settings can be improved to foster creativity, and how new teaching methods can be developed based on this understanding.
These methods will allow science students to master model-based reasoning approaches to problem solving and open the field to many more who do not think of themselves as traditional “scientists.”