Understanding the processes scientists use to discover new laws and to test hypotheses has been an active domain of cognitive research and AI modeling for several decades, and was one of Herb Simon's chief areas of research activity. Scientific discovery is an interesting and important task domain because it involves highly ill-structured problems that call on the whole range of human cognitive resources, and thereby provides deep insights into complex and creative human thinking. The chief research approaches are to analyze in depth the evidence (lab logs, published papers) about how historically important scientific discoveries were made, to build computer simulations of these processes, and to conduct laboratory studies of the behavior of subjects confronted with these same tasks and given the same initial knowledge. To accomplish this, it has been necessary to develop new modeling languages (especially list processing languages and production systems), and new techniques for gathering empirical data (e.g., thinking-aloud protocols).
Thus, research on scientific discovery requires one to address fundamental problems in cognitive psychology (the processes of discovery), in the philosophy of science (the relation between the discovery and validation, or disconfirmation, of hypotheses), and in computer science (languages for discovery, heuristic search in discovery environments).
For an introduction to this domain, and examples of the kinds of research that has been carried out at CMU see:
Simon, H.A. (1996). The Sciences of the Artificial (3rd ed.). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Okada, T., & Simon, H.A. (1995). Collaborative discovery in a scientific domain. In J.D. Moore & J.F. Lehman (Eds.), Proceedings of the 17th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 340-345). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Shen, W., & Simon, H.A. (1993). Fitness requirements for scientific theories containing recursive theoretical terms. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 44, 641-652.
Kulkarni, D., & Simon, H.A. (1988). The processes of scientific discovery: The strategy of experimentation. Cognitive Science, 12, 139-176.
Langley, P., Simon, H.A., Bradshaw, G.L., & Zytkow, J.M. (1987). Scientific Discovery: Computational Explorations of the Creative Processes. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Simon, H.A., & Kotovsky, K. (1963). Human acquisition of concepts for sequential patterns. Psychological Review, 70, 534-546.
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