Can we accelerate scientific invention using a formalized cognitive rupture model? Maxwell equations as a case study
Cognitive rupture is the most powerful learning process. In a cognitive rupture, an initial representation of the world (= a knowledge), valid but only in a limited application perimeter, is replaced by another representation valid in a much larger perimeter. Classical examples are the replacement of "the Earth is flat" by "the Earth is a spherical", or the remplacement of "the rest state of an object is a null speed" (only valid on Earth) by "the rest state of an object is a constant speed". Many concepts in exact sciences are prone to this process: each time the light of sudden understanding hits you, you've probably just made a cognitive rupture. In this work, we'll concentrate on cognitive ruptures appearing when learning the theory of electricity/electromagnetism.
What makes a cognitive rupture really difficult to achieve for a student, is that the "initial" representation has always been experienced as valid to him before the rupture (because knowledge is commonly perceived as "true" or "false", and not as having a validity range). Hence throwing away something that has always been perceived as "true" in daily experience represents a real obstacle for the brain, which is however mandatory to access the new, more powerful representation.
Considering a formalized model of the knowledge where the validity range of this knowledge is centric, we are now exploring via a PhD running in the BEAMS department (ULB Ecole Polytechnique) the possibility to consciously trigger cognitive ruptures, from teacher's point of view as well as from student's point of view. This means elaborating learning scenarios (labs, exercises, tools, etc), where cognitive rupture is not obtained by chance, but as the result of a consciously elaborated procedure, in a reproducible way.
As a sub-track of this research project, we would like to investigate a "next-step" idea: since scientific invention follows the very same process of the cognitive rupture from the brain's perspective, is it possible to consciously trigger or accelerate scientific invention by seeking for oversized validity range of actual knowledge?
In order to explore this last possibility, this master thesis will investigate if our formalized model of knowledge and cognitive rupture (centered on validity range), may explain the way Maxwell's equations have been progressively discovered (reducing from 20 to 4 equations) in the second half of the XIXth century. Hence we propose a bit of "archeology of electromagnetism" to explore the hypothesis that scientific invention could be consciously accelerated.
Contact: Prof. Frederic ROBERT (Frederic [dot] Robert [at] ulb [dot] ac [dot] be)