“Learning by Thinking” in Science and in Everyday Life


Lombrozo, T. (2019). “Learning by Thinking” in Science and in Everyday Life. In A. Levy & P. Godfrey-Smith (Ed.), The Scientific Imagination (pp. 230-249) . Oxford University Press.


This chapter introduces “learning by thinking” (LbT) as a form of learning distinct from familiar forms of learning through observation. When learning by thinking, the learner gains genuinely new insight in the absence of novel observations “outside the head.” Scientific thought experiments are canonical examples, but the phenomenon is much more widespread, and includes learning by explaining to oneself, through analogical reasoning, or through mental simulation. The chapter argues that episodes of LbT can be re-expressed as explicit arguments or inferences but are neither psychologically nor epistemically reducible to explicit arguments or inferences, and that this partially explains the novelty of the conclusions reached through LbT. It also introduces a new perspective on the epistemic value of LbT processes as practices with potentially beneficial epistemic consequences, even when the commitments they invoke and the conclusions they immediately deliver are not themselves true.

See also: Book Chapter
Last updated on 01/16/2020