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Siebe, H.

Department of Theoretical Philosophy

A model of history-dependent epistemic lock-in

Recently, philosophers of science have developed models and simulations to describe the development of science as a social endeavour. An important theme in this literature concerns the trade-off between the exploitation of existing theories and the exploration of novel theories. This trade-off can cause ‘epistemic lock-in’, i.e. all scientists end up exploiting the same theory, without exploring novel alternatives.

In this thesis I build up a new decision-theoretical model to target the phenomenon of epistemic lock-in. However, unlike previous contributors, I explore a model where epistemic lock-in does not result from a trade-off between exploitation and exploration. Instead, I target the same idea of epistemic lock-in from the perspective of history-dependence, i.e. the idea that certain temporal orders of discoveries exclude particular scientific outcomes.

My model accomplishes several important things. It develops a novel application of the notion of history-dependence to scientific decision-making. Further, compared to previous models, it offers an increase in the granularity of analysis, by modeling decisions at the level of scientific contributions rather than at the level of full-fledged theories. As a result, it allows scientific contributions to function as resources for both justification and discovery, illuminating the relations between the ‘context of discovery’ and the ‘context of justification’, which have been emphasised in earlier social and historical studies of scientific knowledge.

Last modified:02 September 2016 5.18 p.m.