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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,


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: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Endress, A. (2022). In defense of epicycles: Embracing complexity in psychological explanations. Mind and Language, which will be published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions. This article may not be enhanced, enriched or otherwise transformed into a derivative work, without express permission from Wiley or by statutory rights under applicable legislation. Copyright notices must not be removed, obscured or modified. The article must be linked to Wiley’s version of record on Wiley Online Library and any embedding, framing or otherwise making available the article or pages thereof by third parties from platforms, services and websites other than Wiley Online Library must be prohibited.
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
[img] Text - Accepted Version
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