Articles Section on “Commonsense and Scientific Reasoning”

Mind & Society

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 33-48

First online:

Models in science and mental models in scientists and nonscientists

  • William F. BrewerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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This paper examines the form of mental representation of scientific theories in scientists and nonscientists. It concludes that images and schemas are not the appropriate form of mental representation for scientific theories but that mental models and perceptual symbols do seem appropriate for representing physical/mechanical phenomena. These forms of mental representation are postulated to have an analogical relation with the world and it is this relationship that gives them strong explanatory power. It is argued that the construct of naïve theories as used in developmental psychology may be the appropriate form of mental representation for non physical/mechanical domains. The paper adopts a strong form of psychologism in the philosophy of science and argues that model-based approaches to scientific theories are more appropriate forms of representation for scientific theories than the formalist approaches that dominate current philosophy of science.


Mental models scientific theories representation model-based theories perceptual symbols naïve theories formal models images schemas explanation