Folk science

Annotated references

Ben Wilbrink

In a way, psychology is systematic science of past mistakes. Folk psychology will just repeat them. tweet

In physics education the problem is that pupils already have strong physics conceptions, known as folk physics, that make it difficult for them to appreciate and learn their school physics. There is a strong resemblance between folk physics and Aristotelian physics. School physics, of course, is Newtonian mechanics. Instruction and assessment should deal adequately with this particular situation. The question is: what is adequate, how to do implemen that?
I will use folk physics as the typical case. It is a very strong case, the discipline of physis is an exact one, its history is very well studied and known, being in fact the history of transition from Aristotelian to Newtonian physics.
Physics being called the typical case implies that I expect this kind of problem to exist in almost all disciplines taught in schools or universities. I do. Therefore I need an inventory on what is known about common sense conceptions as being rather different from the scientific ones being taught if the formal curriculum. I will annotate whatever I happen to find on the topic, as well as what I am able to locate by

This particular common sense problem is bigger than education. It is also the problem of the expert having to explain his expertise (and not always succeeding in doing so). The other way round it is the also the problem of the politician and the manager, experts in common sense, and therefore mismanaging the country, firm, school, class, family.

Folk physics is the typical case. However, there are important variants that I want to highlight as well. In the case of physics there is another schism between Newtonian and Einsteinian physics, indicating the fact that scientific theories are just that: scientific. They might be shown to be false, and they will be. Theories that can't be shown to be false - psychoanalytics is an example - are not scientific. It is not the Kuhnian paradigmatic shift itself that is of interest here, read Kuhn to find out about it. There are many scientific disciplines, their domains are overlapping, they are not always on speaking terms with each other, and yet the student might have to study some of them in the same school program. The tradition is to have school programs on a number of different subjects. What is the sense of this traditional sense? Deanna Kuhn does not think there is a good opportunity to develop thinking skills in such school programs. There is a lot of common sense in society that is traditional sense. Traditional sense, just as common sense, might go against the grain of what science has to say about the best way to go about the things we tend to do in a traditional way. Traditional ways have become institutionalized, of course, making it very difficult to get rid of them.
Therefore, next to cases resembling the typical folk science case, there will be many situations characterized by a schism between what is typically done or thought, and what our scientific knowledge about that particular subject or activity is.

a preliminary listing


Achievement testing

related pages


Garth J. O. Fletcher (2013). The Scientific Credibility of Folk Psychology. Taylor & Francis. [KB eBook] [gesignaleerd, nog niet ingezien] abstract

Scott M. Christensen & Dale R. Turner (Eds.) (1993). Folk Psychology and the Philosophy of Mind. Erlbaum.

Frank C. Keil (2010). The Feasibility of Folk Science. Cognitive Science, 34, 826-862. abstract

Christa S. C. Asterhan & Baruch B. Schwarz (2009). Argumentation and explanation in conceptual change: Indications from protocol analyses of peer-to-peer dialog. Cognitive Science, 33, 374-400. abstract

Harold H. Kelley (1992). Common-sense psychology and scientific psychology. Annual Review of Psychology, 43, 1-23. abstract

Sandeep Prasada, Elaine M. Dillingham (2009). Representation of Principled Connections: A Window Onto the Formal Aspect of Common Sense Conception. Cognitive Science, 33 (2009) 401–448

Lilienfeld, S. O. (2011, June 13). Public Skepticism of Psychology: Why Many People Perceive the Study of Human Behavior as Unscientific. American Psychologist. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0023963 abstract

Andrew Shtulman & Joshua Valcarcel (2013). Scientific knowledge suppresses but does not supplant earlier intuitions Cognition, 124, 209-215. pdf


Physics education
Mathematics education
Life sciences education
Humanitieses education
Language education
conceptual change (paradigm shift)

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