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8 - Learning from astronomy

from Part II - Intelligence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2016

James R. Flynn
Affiliation:
University of Otago, New Zealand
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Summary

Questions

(1) Why does astronomy need a meta-theory – which is to say, need heuristics?

(2) How do the heuristics of astronomy differ from its theory-embedded concepts?

Thus far, most of this book has been a contribution to the science of individual differences in intelligence. Previously, I have contributed to the science of how cognitive abilities alter over time. I will now venture into the theory of intelligence, partially for its own sake and partially to put my contributions into context.

I want to show that every science needs something I call a meta-theory just as much as it needs fertile scientific theories and, indeed, that there is a relationship between the two. The latter explain and predict phenomena, whether they pertain to the motions of the planets or to intelligent human behavior. The former consists of one or more heuristics – which is to say, concepts that offer advice to theory builders. This advice can be good or bad in the sense that it can set strictures on scientific theories that limit their explanatory potential. The quality of the meta-theory should be measured in terms of the quality of the scientific theories it engenders. In addition, there must be a body of data that allows both verification and falsification. This last is not passive. Some times new data emerge that signal either a flaw in an existing theory and, therefore, the need for a new theory, or the need for a new meta-theory because it appears that current heuristics are giving bad advice about theory building.

I will begin by demonstrating the need for meta-theory even in the most rigorous of the sciences: astronomy, as inclusive of physics and cosmology. When we review the history of astronomy, we will find that the failure to realize that every science has a meta-theory encourages three kinds of error:

  1. (1) There is a failure to face the fact that new evidence shows that a hitherto successful theory needs to be revised (type-one error). Often this occurs simply because scientists, like anyone else, are reluctant to embrace new ideas. But sometimes, it is because you are under the spell of a heuristic that makes new theories seem “impossible.”

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Chapter
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Does your Family Make You Smarter?
Nature, Nurture, and Human Autonomy
, pp. 97 - 106
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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  • Learning from astronomy
  • James R. Flynn, University of Otago, New Zealand
  • Book: Does your Family Make You Smarter?
  • Online publication: 05 June 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781316576694.008
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  • Learning from astronomy
  • James R. Flynn, University of Otago, New Zealand
  • Book: Does your Family Make You Smarter?
  • Online publication: 05 June 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781316576694.008
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Learning from astronomy
  • James R. Flynn, University of Otago, New Zealand
  • Book: Does your Family Make You Smarter?
  • Online publication: 05 June 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781316576694.008
Available formats
×