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Cultural EvolutionSociety, Technology, Language, and Religion$
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Peter J. Richerson and Morton H. Christiansen

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780262019750

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262019750.001.0001

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Scientific Method as Cultural Innovation

Scientific Method as Cultural Innovation

(p.175) 10 Scientific Method as Cultural Innovation
Cultural Evolution

Robert N. McCauley

The MIT Press

Consideration of scientific method as a cultural innovation requires examining the philosophy and sociology of science, anthropology, developmental, cognitive, and social psychology as well as the histories of science and technology. Anarchistic philosophical proposals about science set the stage for subsequent endorsements of quite liberal conceptions of science and scientific thinking that root these pursuits in basic features of human—even animal—cognition or in the intimate connection between science and technology. That every methodological prescription has its limits or that science is not uniform does not entail methodological anarchism. Like any other radial category, science includes more and less central instances and practices. Justifications for such liberality regarding science that are grounded in the acquisition of empirical knowledge by infants and other species downplay the sciences’ systematic approach to criticizing hypotheses and scientists’ mastery of a vast collection of intellectual tools, facts, and theories. Justifications that look to the close ties between science and technology neglect reasons for distinguishing them. Intimate ties are not inextricable ties. Research on scientific cognition suggests that, in some respects, human minds are not well suited to do science and that measures progressively sustaining science’s systematic program of criticism and its ever more counterintuitive representations both depend on cultural achievements and are themselves cultural achievements involving what have proven to be comparatively extraordinary social conditions. This richer, epistemologically unsurpassed form of science is both rare and fragile, having arisen no more than a few times in human history. Published in the Strungmann Forum Reports Series.

Keywords:   scientific cognition, scientific method, cultural innovation, philosophy and sociology of science, anthropology, developmental, cognitive, social psychology, histories of science and technology

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