Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

abduction (more on method)

September 18th, 2005

Because part of my funding for the EuroParl interpreter research came from anthropology, there’s been a big push to do ethnography. I’ve really only collected discourse at this stage, which I will look at through a critical discourse lens because I’m interested in language hierarchies and linguistic inequality. There is plenty of evidence of these things in EuroParl interpreters’ talk about their work and working conditions. Rather than deduction (coming up with an hypothesis based on theory) or induction (making what I find fit some theory), abduction is about invention. It requires applying imagination to generate theory, to come up with categories based on the combination of characteristics discovered (the expected and the unexpected). My next task is to distinguish between what Agar calls rich points (the surprises) and those things that meshed with my expectations.


The piece on abduction linked above focuses on the element of surprise in epismetic production. Peirce formulated this into a logic equation:
The surprising fact, C, is observed.
But if A were true, C would be a matter of course.
Hence, there is reason to suspect that A is true.
The inventive, imaginative part of this formulation is coming up with A. What A could be possible that consistently explains C? This is the generation of hypotheses, which can be evaluated for their potential utility on the basis of being “explanatory, testable, and economic.” As a (phenonmenological?) process, abduction occurs “as a flash” and has two elements: intuitive and rational (Anderson 1986; critiqued). It is apparently a big concept in artificial intelligence.
“In Peirce’s epistemology, thought is a dynamic process, essentially an action between two states of mind: doubt and belief.” In this view, “belief is a habit, doubt is its privation” and the term “knowledge” does not come into play. Atocha Aliseda, the author of all these quotes (unless otherwise credited), says Peirce argued that “genuine doubt is necessary to break up a habit” and doubt is generated by the experience of surprise. I’d say surprise doesn’t always lead to doubt (which might be unfortunate), and I wonder what other triggers might instigate doubt? Surprise may be a blanket term for a continuum of bio-emotional responses…nausea, sweating, insecurity, puzzlement, etc. Aliseda discusses Peirce’s two varieties of (what she calls) abductive triggers: novelty and anomaly.

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