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In defense of epicycles: Embracing complexity in psychological explanations

Endress, A. (2022). In defense of epicycles: Embracing complexity in psychological explanations. Mind and Language, 38(5), pp. 1208-1237. doi: 10.1111/mila.12450


Analogously to preferences for simpler scientific theories, simplicity might guide learning if formal complexity predicts the difficulty of learning problems. However, results from perception, learning and reasoning suggest that formal complexity is generally unrelated to what humans learn and process easily and depends on assumptions about available representational and processing primitives. Simpler hypotheses are preferred when easier to process; historically, “simpler”, easier-to-process, theories might be preferred if they are transmitted preferentially. Empirical complexity measures must incorporate representational and processing primitives of actual learners even if explanations become complex, analogously to historic preferences for complex scientific theories when this facilitated calculations.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2022 The Author. Mind & Language published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Publisher Keywords: language acquisition, perceptual or memory primitives, induction, learning constraints, simplicity, Occam’s razor, Bayesian learning
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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