The Constructivist Nature of Science

Blue bloodor…why we think blood is blue and dragons are real.

As a collective mind of science, we construct our universal understanding of reality as Piaget would say learners construct personal knowledge.  The nature of science is constructivist in the sense that our scientific corpus doesn’t merely wax by accumulation; it’s forged and malleated via assimilation and accommodation.  

 Science, like knowledge, is dynamically malleable, not statically summative. Our collective scientific cognition is not a treasure chest with a finite volume that we are working to fill.  We do not continually load it with facts, expecting that someday we will have all the answers and we can close the chest.  Like human cognition, our science cognition is perpetual.

In the constructivist theory of knowledge we learn first by assimilating new information.  We stretch it, bend it, and melt it into understanding.  If we like it, not only do we keep it as our own knowledge, we make accommodations to our existing knowledge to insure our understanding of our world makes sense.  We throw out, confirm or adjust what we thought to be true in relation to our new conceptions.  Our Collective science mind assimilates new information in the same manner.  Scientists theorize, validate, and measure scientific concepts in relation to what we believe to be true.  Collectively, we debate and eventually make accommodations to our extant knowledge as we collaboratively weave new understandings with old.

Chinese DragonAs Kante would say, we enter science with our human schemata of how the world works; our interpretations and expressions of reality  are contingent upon our preconceived interpretations and expressions of reality.  We adopt persistent misconceptions as truth, until faced with cognitive conflict.    Dinosaur femurs plowed up in fields confirm our collective misconceived belief in dragons, just like blue veins on our wrists confirm our misconceived belief that our blood is blue.  Einstien challenged Newtonian physics, Copernicus challenged the geocentric theory, Rorty is challenging Putnam.  Still we assimilate, we accommodate; still, we learn.

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