Nancy J. Nersessian

Nancy J. Nersessian is Regents' Professor of Cognitive Science Emerita, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Research Associate in Psychology, Harvard University. She is the author of Creating Scientific Concepts (MIT Press).

  • Interdisciplinarity in the Making

    Models and Methods in Frontier Science

    Nancy J. Nersessian

    A cognitive ethnography of how bioengineering scientists create innovative modeling methods.

    In this first full-scale, long-term cognitive ethnography by a philosopher of science, Nancy J. Nersessian offers an account of how scientists at the interdisciplinary frontiers of bioengineering create novel problem-solving methods. Bioengineering scientists model complex dynamical biological systems using concepts, methods, materials, and other resources drawn primarily from engineering. They aim to understand these systems sufficiently to control or intervene in them. What Nersessian examines here is how cutting-edge bioengineering scientists integrate the cognitive, social, material, and cultural dimensions of practice. Her findings and conclusions have broad implications for researchers in philosophy, science studies, cognitive science, and interdisciplinary studies, as well as scientists, educators, policy makers, and funding agencies.

    In studying the epistemic practices of scientists, Nersessian pushes the boundaries of the philosophy of science and cognitive science into areas not ventured before. She recounts a decades-long, wide-ranging, and richly detailed investigation of the innovative interdisciplinary modeling practices of bioengineering researchers in four university laboratories. She argues and demonstrates that the methods of cognitive ethnography and qualitative data analysis, placed in the framework of distributed cognition, provide the tools for a philosophical analysis of how scientific discoveries arise from complex systems in which the cognitive, social, material, and cultural dimensions of problem-solving are integrated into the epistemic practices of scientists. Specifically, she looks at how interdisciplinary environments shape problem-solving. Although Nersessian's case material is drawn from the bioengineering sciences, her analytic framework and methodological approach are directly applicable to scientific research in a broader, more general sense, as well.

    • Paperback $60.00
  • Creating Scientific Concepts

    Creating Scientific Concepts

    Nancy J. Nersessian

    An account that analyzes the dynamic reasoning processes implicated in a fundamental problem of creativity in science: how does genuine novelty emerge from existing representations?

    How do novel scientific concepts arise? In Creating Scientific Concepts, Nancy Nersessian seeks to answer this central but virtually unasked question in the problem of conceptual change. She argues that the popular image of novel concepts and profound insight bursting forth in a blinding flash of inspiration is mistaken. Instead, novel concepts are shown to arise out of the interplay of three factors: an attempt to solve specific problems; the use of conceptual, analytical, and material resources provided by the cognitive-social-cultural context of the problem; and dynamic processes of reasoning that extend ordinary cognition.

    Focusing on the third factor, Nersessian draws on cognitive science research and historical accounts of scientific practices to show how scientific and ordinary cognition lie on a continuum, and how problem-solving practices in one illuminate practices in the other. Her investigations of scientific practices show conceptual change as deriving from the use of analogies, imagistic representations, and thought experiments, integrated with experimental investigations and mathematical analyses. She presents a view of constructed models as hybrid objects, serving as intermediaries between targets and analogical sources in bootstrapping processes. Extending these results, she argues that these complex cognitive operations and structures are not mere aids to discovery, but that together they constitute a powerful form of reasoning—model-based reasoning—that generates novelty. This new approach to mental modeling and analogy, together with Nersessian's cognitive-historical approach, make Creating Scientific Concepts equally valuable to cognitive science and philosophy of science.

    • Hardcover $34.00
    • Paperback $25.00