pp 1–14 | Cite as

Alien Reasoning: Is a Major Change in Scientific Research Underway?

  • Thomas NicklesEmail author


Are we entering a major new phase of modern science, one in which our standard, human modes of reasoning and understanding, including heuristics, have decreasing value? The new methods challenge human intelligibility. The digital revolution (deep connectionist machine learning, big data, cloud computing, simulation, etc.) inspires such claims, but they are not new. During several historical periods, scientific progress has challenged traditional concepts of reasoning and rationality, intelligence and intelligibility, explanation and knowledge. The increasing intelligence of machine learning and networking is a deliberately sought, somewhat alien intelligence. As such, it challenges the traditional, heuristic foresight of expert researchers. Nonetheless, science remains human-centered in important ways—and yet many of our ordinary human epistemic activities are alien to ourselves. This fact has always been the source of “the discovery problem”. It generalizes to the problem of understanding expert scientific practice. Ironically, scientific progress plunges us ever deeper into complexities beyond our grasp. But how is progress possible without traditional realism and the intelligibility realism requires? Pragmatic flexibility offers an answer.


The end of traditional science Scientific reasoning Heuristics Big data Deep neural networks Alien intelligence Intelligibility Scientific realism Scientific progress Expertise 



Thanks to Emiliano Ippoliti for helpful suggestions.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Authors declare that he has no conflict of interest to declare.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy EmeritusUniversity of Nevada, RenoRenoUSA

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