Monday, April 17, 2017 - 4:15pm to 5:30pm
Frank C. Keil is the Charles C. & Dorathea S. Dilley Professor of Psychology, Linguistics, and Cognitive Science at Yale University and Chair of the Department of Psychology
The Curious Role of Mechanistic Explanations in Science and Engineering
Instruction in science and engineering often focuses on the mechanisms that explain how things work or why phenomena occur as they do. This would seem to be a good teaching strategy given that even preschool children are driven to learn about mechanisms over other kinds of information. Yet, a closer look at how individuals remember mechanistic explanations presents a puzzle. The details of such information seem to decay rapidly even in superb learners who at one point may achieve near perfect mastery. Even worse, people are usually blissfully unaware of how little they have retained, assuming they have far deeper explanatory understanding than they actually have when it is measured. So why are even young children so fascinated with mechanism if it evaporates so quickly in memory? Is it a waste of time to teach mechanism and should the focus instead be on such topics as the nature of science and methodology? i argue that, in fact, teaching of mechanistic explanations is absolutely essential to instruction in science and engineering but that we have to reconceptualize what the more enduring cognitive traces of such instruction are. Evidence for these traces is provided and illustrations are offered of how those traces guide effective navigation of the division of cognitive labor that exists in all of science and engineering and supports relearning of content as well as problem solving. This account also explains why illusions of knowing are so pervasive and are likely to get worse.
Yale Institute for Network Science, 17 Hillhouse Avenue, 3rd Floor