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The Extraordinary Ordinary Powersof Abdutive Reasoning

The Extraordinary Ordinary Powersof Abdutive Reasoning

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SPECIAL ISSUE: SEMIOTICS AND PSYCHOLOGYGuest Edited by RENÉ JORNA AND WILLIAM E. SMYTHETheory & Psychology 1998 Vol. 8 (6): 841-860The Extraordinary Ordinary Powers of Abductive ReasoningGary ShankDepartment of Foundations and LeadershipDuquesne UniversityPittsburgh, PA, USA
Abstract. The psychology of cognition has been influenced by semiotic models of representation, but little work has been done relating semiotics and the process of cognition proper. In this paper, I argue that the semiotically relevant concept of abduction is crucial for this effort. Abduction is identified as the ground-state, or default, mode of cognition. As such, it deals with the issue of reasoning towardmeaning and away from what Peirce called 'genuine doubt'. In this fashion,abduction is shifted from being solely a logical and semiotic concept to apsychological concept. Abduction is first examined historically, and then further compared to the more traditional reasoning modes of deduction and induction toshow how all three are necessary for any complete model of cognition andresearch into cognition. Different modes of abduction, including detection,diagnosis and divination, and different directions of abductive research inpsychology are detailed.Key words: abduction, abductive reasoning, cognition, logic.
Monster Movies, Mad Scientists and Meaning: An Introduction
I grew up watching and loving old horror movies on late night TV. When I was a preteen inCharleston, Channel 3 out of Huntington, West Virginia, presented a double feature every Saturdaynight after the late news. DJ, the weather lady, went straight from her perky weather wardrobe to acheesy black cape and heavy black mascara, since she had the dubious honor of being a rather lackluster mistress of ceremonies for the horror movies. Some of these movies were recent (for thetime) American International clinkers such as The Monolith Monsters and The Brain That Wouldn'tDie to the older classics such as The Wolf Man, The Black Cat and Donovan's Brain.There were also a variety of standard venues for these films: dark and ominous cemeteries,creepy bayous, haunted houses, desolate moors, decrepit castles, and the like. One of my favoritelocales was the Laboratory of the Mad Scientist. In these labs, various demented geniusesattempted to[ p. 841] push back the veil of the Ordinary, in order to expose and gain access tothose Extraordinary Powers that only a few people have been privileged to possess. And in the end,the poor scientists would fall prey to the results of their efforts, since all Mad Scientist moviesseemed to have the same theme: there are things that humans are not Meant To Know, and there isa horrendous price to pay if we try to pursue Forbidden Knowledge. But the Mad Scientists werepropelled nonetheless toward their doom because the lure of gaining such Extraordinary Powerswas just too strong. And as an impressionable child, I felt that lure as well. I wanted thoseExtraordinary Powers myself, regardless perhaps even of the Price Too Horrible To Pay.Now that I am an official adult and no longer an impressionable child, I look at the world muchdifferently. I have come to learn that Extraordinary Powers and Marvelous Circumstances are notnearly as interesting as the Extraordinary Ordinary Powers that we have, and the Marvelous
 
Ordinary Circumstances we find around ourselves. This paper is based on one of the most basicExtraordinary Ordinary Powers we possess—the ability to think abductively.The work I have pursued in abduction and abductive reasoning over the last two decades or so ismotivated by a desire to be able to craft new tools for understanding how human beings learn inordinary settings, and to apply those tools to research in my area of educational psychology (Shank,1994, 1996; Shank, Ross, Covalt, Terry, & Weiss, 1994). When I began to look at issues likeordinary meaning and day-to-day learning, I eventually realized that I needed to turn away from thesorts of models of information processing which continue to dominate cognitive psychology to thisday (see Bransford, 1979, and Driscoll, 1994, for reviews of these models). Why did I need to makesuch a drastic move? Simply put, information-processing models were dedicated to the notion thatsuch complex phenomena as ordinary meaning and day-to-day learning could only be understoodwhen broken down into their more abstract, and context-free, factors and studied at that level. Evensuch apparent advances and changes as connectionism (Bereiter, 1991), situated cognition (Brown,Collins, & Duguid, 1989) and constructivism (Bruner, 1986) nevertheless are best understood asapplied developments of basic insights generated by the original information processing model,rather than being qualitatively distinct departures from the ontological assumptions of the moreabstract earlier models. In other words, these later advances changed the thrust and content, butnot the foundational assumptions, of the cognitive psychological world. They looked at morecomplex phenomena, but ultimately only by breaking them down in similar fashion to the earlier methods derived from earlier more abstract models.I came to the conclusion that, instead of 'fixing' the basic model with constructivist, connectionistor situated cognitional ideas, we needed to turn in a fundamentally new direction. As an outgrowthin my lifelong interest in[ p. 842] language and its use, I made the choice of looking at semiotictheory as a possible replacement for information processing as a foundation for a new approach toempirical inquiry in educational psychology (Shank, in press; Shank & Cunningham, 1996; Skaggs& Shank, 1998). While I am certainly no philosopher, I did have an intuitive sense that such a shiftwould lead us into different ontological assumptions about the workings and practice of the humanmind. Rather than talking about those assumptions directly, I would instead like to illustrate howthey function implicitly in a semiotic model for the study of human cognition and learning. Just as abrief marker to this point, though, I would like to go on record as stating that a semiotic model of research in the human sciences, grounded in Peircean thought, represents a shift from nominalistmodels to semiotic realist models (see Fisch, 1986, for an extended discussion of this developmentin Peirce himself). My work is very much in process, and much of what I detail here is nothing more than notes onissues that need much fuller development. I can, however, bring to the table an idea that I havedeveloped and fostered over the last 10 years or so. It concerns a radical departure in our practiceof studying how the human mind works. Its message is a simple one: Human learning is first of allmuch more a matter of reconciling (or 'fixing') meaning (cf. Peirce, 1955, pp. 5ff.) than it is an effortto learn verifiable meaning. In other words, the pursuit of learning begins, and is driven by, ordinarymeaning rather than theory testing. We need to rethink our methods of fostering and implementinglearning, based on the fact that we have not understood the dynamics of ordinary meaning.What I propose is a new perspective of learning based on ordinary meaning, and what I call ground-state (or default) thinking. Ground-state thinking, which leads to ordinary unreflective meaning, isthe base on which all sound learning is built. It provides the immediate and strongly felt 'known' thatserves as the foundation point for creating the reflective and highly inferential process that we calllearning. In order to understand this process, though, we need to go back and briefly review thehistory of the development of inquiry.
 
A Brief Non-scholarly History of Empirical Inquiry
When we look at the history of empirical research, regardless of the field, we are actually looking ata history of inquiry (see Haack, 1993, for an overview of the various manifestations of the logic of empirical inquiry; also see Crosby, 1997, for a picture of the historical implications of moderninquiry). The earliest task for empirical research was to sort out what is true from what is false. Todo this, researchers such as Aristotle (Adler, 1978; Parry & Hacker, 1991) developed modes of inquiry to build new truths from existing truths. These existing truths were based either on whatanyone could[ p. 843] obviously see was true, such as the fact that the sun was shining or thatgrass is green (cf. Adler, 1978), or else on facts that were logically self-evident (Maritain, 1937). Byself-evident, it was meant that the fact had to be true, or else our whole way of looking at the worldbecomes inconsistent or even incoherent. For example, one self-evident truth is the fact that twoobjects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. This is self-evidently true,because if it were not true, then we have no coherent way to talk about what we mean by objectsoccupying space (Parry & Hacker, 1991).Once the questions of truth were settled using this method, there remained a need to find asystematic way to draw further truths from these initial, non-problematic truths. From this proceduralneed was derived the principle of deductive inference (Tarski, 1941). One of the basic tools of deductive reasoning is the Aristotelian categorical syllogism (Parry & Hacker, 1991). By using thecategorical syllogism, the inquirer could take any claim that was certainly true, either by virtue of experience or self-evidence, apply it to another claim that was also certain, and derive a conclusionthat, by its nature, most certainly had to be true (Longley, 1981). The initial growth and developmentof western philosophy is based, in part, on the methodological acquisition of the deductivecategorical syllogism. So far as empirical inquiry is concerned, such a tool helped allow for thedevelopment of natural history as an empirical look at how the world of experience operates, andthe self-evident foundations of such a world. Starting with Aristotle himself and his empirical workson, for example, the nature and parts of animals, natural history continued well into the medievalworld as the basic strategy for understanding the empirical nature of the world of experience.For centuries, all empirical reasoning in the western world was ruled by deduction. That is, thedomain of reasoning was divided into deductive reasoning or invalid reasoning (Broadie, 1993). Butthe act of limiting inquiry to procedures of deductive reasoning had the further impact of limitinginquiry to the examination of those instances where truth could be rendered non-problematic at theoutset. This had the effect of rendering all questions that we know now as empirical questions intonaive observational or self-evident questions. The growth of scientific inquiry, which we consider tobe the settling of the truth of empirical questions and claims, had to await the development of other logical tools (Boehner, 1952; Broadie, 1993; Holland, Holyoak, Nisbett, & Thagard, 1986; Leonard,1957).One can legitimately argue that the real beginning of the scientific revolution came from the 13thto the 14th centuries, when Roger Bacon, Ockham and others first demonstrated the validity andrange of inductive reasoning (Deely, 1992). Of course, inductive reasoning was finally linked moreexplicitly to actual scientific method by such later thinkers as Francis Bacon and John Stuart Mill.However, this later work could not have existed without the foundational work on inductivereasoning proper, which was laid out several centuries earlier. Over time, inductive reasoningeventually [ p. 844] developed into the inference tool that launched scientific inquiry. Specifically,induction allowed for the systematic accumulation of specific information to build probablegeneralizations, which is at the heart of all scientific inquiry (Holland et al., 1986).The legacy of inductive reasoning is much greater than just the field of scientific inquiry. This logicof science has pervaded our ways of understanding at all levels. Our views of culture, humaninstitutions, including schools, and the process of capitalism have all been shaped and imbued withinductively based quantifiable scientific concepts (see Crosby, 1997). This is not as bad as some

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