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Nersessian, Nancy, , . Creating Scientific Concepts
2008, MIT Press.
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Publisher’s Note: How do novel scientific concepts arise? In Creating Scientific Concepts, Nancy Nersessian seeks to answer this central but virtually unasked question in the problem of conceptual change. She argues that the popular image of novel concepts and profound insight bursting forth in a blinding flash of inspiration is mistaken. Instead, novel concepts are shown to arise out of the interplay of three factors: an attempt to solve specific problems; the use of conceptual, analytical, and material resources provided by the cognitive-social-cultural context of the problem; and dynamic processes of reasoning that extend ordinary cognition. Focusing on the third factor, Nersessian draws on cognitive science research and historical accounts of scientific practices to show how scientific and ordinary cognition lie on a continuum, and how problem-solving practices in one illuminate practices in the other.

Comment: Nersessian’s book has a two-fold foundation, first, the empirical analysis of two cases of scientific thinking (one from Maxwell and one from a verbal protocol of a scientist); second, philosophical and cognitive analysis of the overall picture of meaning change in science that is the result of her work. The book presents her argument via an introductory chapter, followed by five chapters that develop the argument. Chapter 4 is particularly interesting for the cognitive-scientist: in this chapter Nersessian develops her account of the basic cognitive processes that underlie model-based reasoning. The new approach to mental modeling and analogy, together with Nersessian’s cognitive-historical approach, make Creating Scientific Concepts equally valuable to cognitive science and philosophy of science. The book is accessible and well-written, and should be a relatively quick read for anyone with a previous background in the mentioned fields. It is mainly recommended for postgraduate courses.

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