Fourteen subjects were tape‐recorded while they undertook to find a law to summarize numerical data they were given. The source of the data was not identified, nor were the variables labeled semantically. Unknown to the subjects, the data were measurements of the distances of the planets from the sun and the periods of their revolutions about it—equivalent to the data used by Johannes Kepler to discover his third law of planetary motion. Four of the 14 subjects discovered the same law as Kepler did (the period varies as the 3/2 power of the distance), and a fifth came very close to the answer. The subiects' protocols provide a detailed picture of the problem‐solving searches they engaged in, which were mainly, but not exclusively, in the space of possible functions for fitting the data, and provide explanations as to why some succeeded and the others failed. The search heuristics used by the subjects are similar to those embodied in the BACON program, computer simulation of certain scientific discovery processes. The experiment demonstrates the feasibility of examining some of the processes of scientific discovery by recreating, in the laboratory, discovery situations of substantial historical relevance. It demonstrates also, that under conditions rather similar to those of the original discoverer, a law can be rediscovered by persons of ordinary intelligence (i.e., the intelligence needed for academic success in a good university). The data for the successful subjects reveal no “creative” processes in this kind of a discovery situation different from those that are regularly observed in all kinds of problem‐solving settings.
Cognitive Science - A Multidisciplinary Journal – Wiley
Published: Mar 1, 1990
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