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Theory formation by abduction : initial results of a case study based on the chemical revolution


Abduction is the process of constructing explanations. This chapter suggests that automated abduction is a key to advancing beyond the "routine theory revision" methods developed in early AI research towards automated reasoning systems capable of "world model revision" — dramatic changes in systems of beliefs such as occur in children's cognitive development and in scientific revolutions. The chapter describes a general approach to automating theory revision based upon computational methods for theory formation by abduction. The approach is based on the idea that, when an anomaly is encountered, the best course is often simply to suppress parts of the original theory thrown into question by the contradiction and to derive an explanation of the anomalous observation based on relatively solid, basic principles. This process of looking for explanations of unexpected new phenomena can lead by abductive inference to new hypotheses that can form crucial parts of a revised theory. As an illustration, the chapter shows how some of Lavoisier's key insights during the Chemical Revolution can be viewed as examples of theory formation by abduction.

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