Library / Spherical Horses and Shared Toothbrushes: Lessons Learned from a Workshop on Scientific and Technological Thinking


A nice write-up covering a workshop on scientific and technological thinking (2001). Interesting speculations on the philosophy of science are mostly based on the metaphors of the spherical horse and the shared toothbrushes.

Reference

Michael E Gorman, Alexandra Kincannon, Matthew M Mehalik “Spherical Horses and Shared Toothbrushes: Lessons Learned from a Workshop on Scientific and Technological Thinking” (2001) // Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Publisher: Springer Berlin Heidelberg. ISBN: 9783540456506. Pp. 74–86. DOI: 10.1007/3-540-45650-3_10

Abstract

We briefly summarize some of the lessons learned in a workshop on cognitive studies of science and technology. Our purpose was to assemble a diverse group of practitioners to discuss the latest research, identify the stumbling blocks to advancement in this field, and brainstorm about directions for the future. Two questions became central themes. First, how can we combine artificial studies involving ‘spherical horses’ with fine-grained case studies of actual practice? Results obtained in the laboratory may have low applicability to real world situations. Second, how can we deal with academics’ attachments to their theoretical frameworks? Academics often like to develop unique ‘toothbrushes‘ and are reluctant to use anyone else’s. The workshop illustrated that toothbrushes can be shared and that spherical horses and fine-grained case studies can complement one another. Theories need to deal rigorously with the distributed character of scientific and technological problem solving. We hope this workshop will suggest directions more sophisticated theories might take.

Bib

@Inbook{gorman2001,
  title = {Spherical Horses and Shared Toothbrushes: Lessons Learned from a Workshop on Scientific and Technological Thinking},
  abstract = {We briefly summarize some of the lessons learned in a workshop on cognitive studies of science and technology. Our purpose was to assemble a diverse group of practitioners to discuss the latest research, identify the stumbling blocks to advancement in this field, and brainstorm about directions for the future. Two questions became central themes. First, how can we combine artificial studies involving ‘spherical horses’ with fine-grained case studies of actual practice? Results obtained in the laboratory may have low applicability to real world situations. Second, how can we deal with academics’ attachments to their theoretical frameworks? Academics often like to develop unique ‘toothbrushes‘ and are reluctant to use anyone else’s. The workshop illustrated that toothbrushes can be shared and that spherical horses and fine-grained case studies can complement one another. Theories need to deal rigorously with the distributed character of scientific and technological problem solving. We hope this workshop will suggest directions more sophisticated theories might take.},
  isbn = {9783540456506},
  issn = {0302-9743},
  url = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/3-540-45650-3_10},
  doi = {10.1007/3-540-45650-3_10},
  booktitle = {Lecture Notes in Computer Science},
  publisher = {Springer Berlin Heidelberg},
  author = {Gorman, Michael E and Kincannon, Alexandra and Mehalik, Matthew M},
  year = {2001},
  pages = {74–86}
}

Quotes (3)

The Toothbrush Problem

Taxonomies and frameworks are like toothbrushes — no one wants to use anyone else’s.

The attribution of this quotation is ambiguous. A nice historical overview of the quote can be found in A useless history of the “Frameworks are Like Toothbrushes” quote. While gorman2001 is one of the first appearances of the quote, this metaphor was especially popularized in The Toothbrush Problem by Walter Mischel. Occasionally, it is used in other works (e.g., see elson2023).

Spherical Horse Moving Through a Vacuum

A multimillionaire offered a prize for predicting the outcome of a horse race to a stockbreeder, a geneticist, and a physicist. The stockbreeder said there were too many variables, the geneticist could not make a prediction about any particular horse, but the physicist claimed the prize, saying he could make the prediction to many decimal places—provided it were a perfectly spherical horse moving through a vacuum.

Page 75

The dipsy-doodle

Schunn and his colleagues were interested in how scientists deal with unexpected results, or anomalies. In one study, he videotaped two astronomers interacting over a new set of data concerning the formation of ring galaxies. Schunn found that these researchers noticed anomalies as much as expected results, but paid more attention to the anomalies. The researchers developed hypotheses about the anomalies and elaborated on them visually, whereas they used theory to elaborate on expected results. When the two astronomers discussed the anomalies, they used terms like ‘the funky thing’ and ‘the dipsy-doodle’, staying at a perceptual rather than a theoretical level. Schunn’s astronomers were working neither in the hypothesis nor experimental space; instead, they were working in a space of possible visualizations dependent on their domain-specific experience.

Page 78

References (2)

  1. "Spherical Horse Moving Through a Vacuum" (2001) by Michael E Gorman et al. 1 Philosophy
  2. "The Toothbrush Problem" (2001) by Michael E Gorman et al. Has notes 2 1 Philosophy
  1. "The Toothbrush Problem" (2001) by Michael E Gorman et al. Has notes 2 1 Philosophy