The Art of Science Learning

January 31, 2011 at 6:54 am 5 comments

Do you buy this claim, that reasoning is the same cognitive activity as imagining?  I don’t.  There’s clearly an intersection (e.g., as in manipulating visual imagery, as described in the quote), but it seems to me that reasoning involves a critical component, a requirement to apply discipline, that imagining does not.  In fact, exercising imagination (as in brainstorming) might be hindered by too much criticism.  But I want my students to be critical reasoners when they are working through their code — I want them to say, “That doesn’t make sense” and “Why should that happen?”

For many years we’ve advocated the notion of teaching as an art (The Art of Teaching Science), and this new NSF initiative offers teachers and researchers an opportunity to look at science teaching through the lens of the arts. In our book, we connected with the views of Jacob Bronowski, in his writings, and his video program (The Ascent of Man), suggesting that artistry in teaching is related to human imagination and creativity, and one’s willingness to expriment and play. Throughout his professional life, Bronowski drew similarities between art and science, and used examples from the history of science to help us understand this. Here, Bronowski offers this pedagogical suggestion:

Many people believe that reasoning, and therefore science, is a different activity from imagining. But this is a fallacy, and you must root it out of your mind. The child that discovers, sometime before the age of ten, that he can make images and move them around in his head has entered a gateway to imagination and to reason. Reasoning is constructed with movable images just as certainly as poetry is. You may have been told, you may still have the feeling that E = mc2 is not an imaginative statement. If so, you are mistaken.

via The Art of Science Learning | The Art of Teaching Science Blog – Humanistic & Experiential Science Education.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alan Kay  |  January 31, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Hi Mark

    Bronowski doesn’t equate the two. There are several important ideas lurking here. The first is that the epistemological framework that science is built on treats everything that is going on in our heads and media as representations which may have hermetic relations but no necessary connections to processes in the universe.

    So everything we do de facto uses imagination. Reasoning has to do with various kinds of entailments between representations. So it can be consistent, but it still has no necessary connections to processes in the universe.

    Science is the attempt to relate our representations (inside head and out) to “what’s out there?”. It is hugely different from mere reason, and even more different from mere story telling.

    With a little thought we can see that these two (reasoning especially) is really dangerous without science, since they can appear to supply foundations for conclusions and actions that have no real foundation.

    Science’s effort to deal with human representations and what’s out there makes it extremely important in all aspects of human life because it has to find better ways to think than normal human thinking, and thus has some real “noise removal” process characteristics.

    Bronowski was trying to get people to understand that science is not about old style “facts and dogma” but was about imagination supported by both reason and investigation.

    I worked with Jacob and Frank Oppenheimer for a while in the 70s (on a bicentennial exhibit about science which was cut short by Jacob’s sudden death). That exhibit (as was Frank’s Exploratorium) was all about these issues.



  • 2. H. Chad Lane  |  January 31, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    I’ve really enjoyed your recent posts, Mark. I’ve been attending SIGCSE for years, but have always thought it could use a larger dose of research from the learning sciences, cog psych, cog sci, etc. Seeing the two come together in your blogs is very welcomed.

    Anyway, Dan Schacter’s group at Harvard has shown that remembering and imagining use the same “neural machinery” in the brain, suggesting that the two activities are similar.

    I realize that “memory” may seem different from reasoning at first glance, but they may be more closely related than we think. Near the end of the article, they say “Memory can be thought of as a tool used by the prospective brain to generate simulations of possible future events.” Those simulations are reasoning and may involve things remembered, or things imagined. So I think the work in Schacter’s lab seems to support a murky line between reasoning and imagining.

  • 3. bobtherriault  |  January 31, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    Science seems to me like a partially discovered frontier of facts and patterns that may correspond to reality.

    My imagination suggests the places where the most important patterns might be found.

    Reasoning is the bicycle that gets me there and back most efficiently.

    Reasoning and imagination certainly feel different to me when I am using them.

    cheers, bob

  • 4. Reasoning versus Imagination? |  |  October 19, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    […] Tech’s Mark Guzdial, in his Computing Education blog, takes exception to this: reasoning, he says is not the same cognitive activity as imagining: […]

  • 5. Reasoning versus Imagination? | | BrilliantEDBrilliantED  |  February 21, 2012 at 4:36 am

    […] Tech’s Mark Guzdial, in his Computing Education blog, takes exception to this: reasoning, he says is not the same cognitive activity as imagining: […]


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