The Theory Ladenness of the Mental Processes Used in the Scientific Enterprise<sup>1</sup>

William F. Brewer

in Psychology of Science

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780199753628
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199950027 | DOI:
The Theory Ladenness of the Mental Processes Used in the Scientific Enterprise1

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This chapter examines the issue of the theory ladenness of observation. Data from laboratory experiments and episodes in the history of science provide convincing evidence that perception is theory-laden. The reviewed material supports a view that perception is constructed from theory-driven top-down information and bottom-up information from the world, the latter of which limits the potentially relativist epistemological consequences of theory ladenness. Theory ladenness seems to occur throughout the scientific process, in perception, attention, thinking, experimentation, memory, and communication. The top-down theory-laden processes tend to operate outside of awareness and can both facilitate and inhibit the the establishment of a correct representation of the world. So, one normative implication of this work is that scientists need to devote some of their methodological efforts to avoiding problems arising from top-down psychological factors. However, the overall normative implications with respect to controlling theory ladenness are for pluralism in science.

Keywords: theory ladenness; experimentation; history of science; perception; top-down processing; bottom-up processing; attention; thinking; awareness; relativism

Chapter.  21105 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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