“One of the best books I’ve read on how science actually works is Stephen Toulmin’s Human Understanding: The Collective Use and Evolution of Concepts. (It is, of course, long out of print.) The core of it is a set of ideas about how the social mechanisms of working scientific disciplines actually implement the intellectual goals of learning about the world, and rationally changing our minds, through a evolutionary process. (And Toulmin actually understands evolution in a sensible, blind variation plus selection, way, rather than some useless idea about progress or trends.) A lot of the argument is summed up in two of his aphorisms, which he admitted he exaggerated a bit for effect: ‘Every concept is an intellectual micro-institution’ (p. 166), consisting of the people who accept the concept, and the practices by which they use and transmit it; and conversely, ‘Institutions are macro-concepts’ (p. 353).
The natural question is whether one can say which institutions correspond to which concepts, and vice versa. This is a very tricky question, but an excellent beginning has been made by two papers on Camille Roth and Paul Bourgine, which I’ve been meaning to post about for quite a while.”
(Hat tip: Dan Balis)