I'm a postdoctoral fellow at the London School of Economics, and I'm interested in epistemological uses of the imagination in science. My dissertation focused on one of these: the thought experiment (abstract below, chapter one here). In the thesis, I uncovered some of the ways imagination helps to increase scientific understanding. Last year at the University of Pittsburgh, I worked on the role of the imagination in scientific inference-making more generally, using the tools of social science and experimental philosophy. This work continues at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Sciences at the London School of Economics, where I take up a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral grant. My CV is here. Please feel free to download my papers from the links below. All correspondence is welcome!
SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science
Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Science
2010-2015: University of Toronto
Doctor of Philosophy from the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology
2012: University of Bielefeld
Visiting Scholar, Department of Philosophy
2009-2010: University of Toronto
Master of Arts from the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology
2007-2008: York University
Master of Arts from the Department of Philosophy
2003-2007: York University
Honours Specialized Bachelors of Arts from the Department of Philosophy
Forthcoming. “The Content-Dependence of Imaginative Resistance.” In F. Cova and S. Rénhault (eds.), Advances in Experimental Philosophy of Aesthetics (with M. Kneer and H. Kim).
Forthcoming. "Machine Discovery Requires an Imagination Algorithm." In M. Addis et al. (eds.). Scientific Discovery in the Social Sciences. Springer Synthese Library.
2018. "How Thought Experiments Increase Understanding." In M. Stuart et al. (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Thought Experiments.
2018. "Thought Experiments: The State of the Art." In M. Stuart et al. (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Thought Experiments.
2017. “Imagination: A Sine Qua Non of Science.” Croatian Journal of Philosophy Vol. XVII, No. 49: 9-32.
2016. "Taming Theory with Thought Experiments: Understanding and Scientific Progress." Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 58: 24-33. (Highlighted in Nature Physics here)
2015. "Philosophical Conceptual Analysis as an Experimental Method." In Gamerschlag et al. (eds.), Meaning, Frames and Conceptual Representation. Düsseldorf: Düsseldorf University Press.
2014. "Cognitive Science and Thought Experiments: A Refutation of Paul Thagard." Perspectives on Science 22:2.
2014. "On the Origins of the Philosophy of Thought Experiments: The Forerun." Perspectives on Science 22:2 (with Yiftach Fehige).
2013. "Review: Ierodiakonou, K. and Roux, S. (eds.), Thought Experiments in Methodological and Historical Contexts." HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 3: 154-57 (with James R. Brown).
2012. "Review: James R. Brown, Laboratory of the Mind." Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science 6: 237-241.
Stuart, M. "A Framework for Epistemology of the Imagination."
Colaço, D., Stuart, M. and Machery, E. "Selective Reporting and False Positives in Experimental Philosophy."
Stuart, M., and Kneer, M. "Empirically Disambiguating Imagination and Supposition."
Stuart, M., and Nersessian, N. "Scientific Imagination in the Laboratory: An Ethnography."
Conference Presentations and Colloquia
2018. TBA. Leeds HPS seminar. March 7.
2018. How Scientists Use Imagination to Learn about the World. Royal Institute of Philosophy Lecture. February 27.
2017. "A Different Use for Scientific Thought Experiments." Aarhus philosophy colloquium. November 8.
2017. "Epistemology in Two Minds: Should we Bother with a Dual Systems Account of Imagination?" Imagination and Knowledge Workshop. University of Konstanz, September 28-29.
2017. "Desiderata for Epistemic Representations: Results from an Ethnographic Study of a Computational Systems Biology Lab." UK Integrated HPS workshop, Nottingham, June 22.
2017. "Thought Experiments and Computer Simulations are Metaphorical Experiments." Unviersity of Geneva, June 8-9.
2017. “'A Diagram Is a [Computer] Model': Imagination as a Mediator between Visual and Formal." Imagination in Science Conference. University of Leeds, June 6.
2017. "Intentionality in Thought Experimentation." Philosophy of Science Conference. Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik, April 24-28.
2017. "A Framework for Epistemology of the Imagination." Nordic Network for Philosophy of Science, Copenhagen, April 20-21.
2017. "Imagining Our Way to Three Kinds of Understanding." University of Iceland, March 8.
2017. "A Dual Systems Account of Scientific Imagination." Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, London School of Economics, February 6.
2016. "Empirical Philosophy of Imagination." Evidence and Imagination. Graz, November 3-5.
2016. "To Formal Models and Back Again." University of Macerata, October 18.
2016. "Imagination in the Lab." Quadrennial Fellows Conference of the Center for Philosophy of Science. Lund University, Lund, July 11-13.
2016. "Scientific Understanding and the Role of Imagination." Summer Seminar on Understanding, part of the Capstone Conference for the Varieties of the Understanding Project. Fordham University, June 20.
2016. "An Ethnography of Scientific Imagination." Society for the Philosophy of Science in Practice (SPSP). Rowan University, Glasboro, June 17-19.
2016. "New Empirical Results Concerning Imaginative Reasoning." Mind and Brain Conference. New College of the Humanities, London, March 25-26.
2016. "Empirically Disambiguating Imagination from Supposition." Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology. Louisville, KY, March 10-12.
2015. "The Epistemology of the Imagination." University of Pittsburgh, September 29.
2015. "Subjective Elements of Scientific Representation: Empathizing with Black Holes." Philosophy of Science Conference. Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik, April 13-17.
2015. "Empathy in the Scientific Method." University of Waterloo, March 4.
2015. "Imagination in Scientific Discovery." Conference on Scientific Discovery in the Social Sciences. London School of Economics and Political Science, Jan 30-31.
2014. "Elliot Sober and the Case of Guided Mutation." University of Toronto, April 22.
2014. "Imagination: A Sine Qua Non of Science." Conference on Philosophy of Science. Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik, April 14-18.
2013. "A New Role for Thought Experiments." Konstanz University, June 14.
2013. "Thought Experiments, Kant, and Theory Proliferation." University of Bielefeld, June 11.
2013. "A Solution to the Problem of Coordination." University of Bonn, May 28.
2013. "Thought Experiments and the Connection Between Theory and Experience." University of Macerata, May 8.
2012. "The Cognitive Science of Thought Experiments: Paul Thagard's Skepticism." The Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science. University of Waterloo, May 26-29.
2012. "Paul Thagard: A Refutation." Thought Experiments in Science: Four Blind Spots - An International Workshop. University of Toronto, March 23.
2011. "Can Bayesian Network Modeling Solve Problems in the Philosophy of Science?" 14th Congress of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science. Nancy University, July 19-26.
2011. "What Can Philosophy Learn from the Clock-in-the-Box Thought Experiment?" The Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science. University of New Brunswick, May 29-31.
2011. "The Notion of a 'Very Generalized Logic' in Thought Experiments." Philosophy of Science Colloquium. University of Johannesburg, January 18.
2010. "Thought Experiments: Arguing with John Norton." Australasian Association of Philosophy Conference. University of Waikato, December 5-9.
2010. "The Role of Henri Poincaré and Pierre Duhem in the Establishment of Conventionalism in Modern Philosophy of Science." History of the Philosophy of Science Conference at the Central European University, Budapest, June 24-27.
2010. "The Role of Henri Poincaré and Pierre Duhem in the Establishment of Conventionalism in Modern Philosophy of Science." The Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science. Concordia University, May 28-31.
2009. "Philosophical Conceptual Analysis: The Move from Use to Meaning," Second Conference on Concept Types and Frames in Language, Cognition, and Science at Heinrich Heine University, August 24-26.
2009. "Charity as a Bridge from Use to Meaning," University of Western Interdisciplinary Student Symposium on Language Research, University of Western Ontario, March 6-7.
Honours and Awards
Aristotelian Society Conference Grant ($530)
Mind Association Major Conference Grant ($2 305)
British Society of Aesthetics small conference grant ($2 595)
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellowship, to be taken up at the London School of Economics, 2016 ($81 000, 2016-2018)
Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of Pittsburgh ($54 830)
University of Toronto Doctoral Completion Award (2014, $13,718)
IHPST Travel Award (2014, $1,500)
Ontario Graduate Scholarship (2013-2014, $15,000)
IHPST Travel Award (2013, $1,300)
School of Graduate Studies Research Travel Grant (2013, $3,250)
Faculty of Arts and Science Student Award: Germany/Europe Research Fund (2013, $2,760)
Ontario Graduate Scholarship (2012-13, $15,000)
University of Toronto Fellowship (2009-2013, $112,400)
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Travel Grant, provided by the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science (2011, $112)
School of Graduate Studies Conference Grant (2011, $270)
University of Toronto Travel Grant (2010, $1,200; 2010, $752)
York University Professional Development Grant (2010, $500)
Elizabeth Bentham Prize for highest mark in Theoretical Philosophy Exam, York University (2008, $500)
York University Graduate Scholarships (2009, $1,334; 2009, $1,333; 2008, $1,334)
York University Undergraduate Bursaries (2007, $1,510; 2006, $360; 2006, $175; 2005, $355)
York University Continuing Student Scholarship (2005, $884)
As Course Instructor
2014-2015: Science and Values (HPS324), University of Toronto
2013-2014: Scientific Revolutions I (HPS210), University of Toronto
As Teaching Assistant
2014-2015: Science and Values (HPS324), University of Toronto
2014-2015: History of Evolutionary Biology (JHE353), University of Toronto
2014-2015: Modern Symbolic Logic (PHL245), University of Toronto
2014-2015: Reason and Truth (PHLA10H3F), University of Toronto
2012-2013: Scientific Revolutions II (HPS211), University of Toronto
2012-2013: Introduction to Philosophy (PHL100), University of Toronto
2012-2013: Modern Symbolic Logic (PHL245), University of Toronto
2011-2012: Introductory Philosophy of Science (HPS250), University of Toronto
2011-2012: Introduction to Philosophy (PHL100), University of Toronto
2011-2012: Modern Symbolic Logic (PHL245), University of Toronto
2010-2011: Scientific Revolutions I (HPS210), University of Toronto
2008-2009: Introduction to Philosophy (PHIL1000), York University
Referee: Philosophy of Science, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, European Journal for Philosophy of Science, Synthese, Dialectica, Canadian Philosophical Association, TOPOI, Epistemologia, Axiomathes
Conference organizer (with Fiora Salis): “Bridging the gap: Scientific Imagination meets Aesthetic Imagination,” to be held in October 2017 at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, London School of Economics.
Contributor to The Junkyard, a blog on the imagination curated by Amy Kind of Claremont McKenna College.
Contributor to Auxiliary Hypotheses, a blog by the British Journal for Philosophy of Science.
One of 18 chosen from 160 to participate, and one of two chosen to present their work at the Capstone Conference of the Varieties of the Understanding Project, June 2016.
Co-organizer: "(Re)Engineering Biology: The Emerging Engineering Paradigm in Biomedical Engineering, Systems Biology, and Synthetic Biology," a conference at the Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh, April 15-16, 2016.
Member of the experimental philosophy lab, University of Pittsburgh, 2015-2016.
Lab member: ongoing work with Susan Carey on thought experiments 2015-2016.
Organizer of "Better Science Policy in Canada," workshop at the University of Toronto, Jan. 23 2015. Write up here.
Co-organizer of weekly philosophy of science workshop, Sept. - Dec. 2013, University of Toronto.
Invited participant for Science without Data: The Role of Thought Experiments in Empirical Investigations, a conference at Dalhousie University, Halifax, 2010.
Organizer of the 2010 Consortium for the History and Philosophy of Biology at the Université de Montréal.
Copyeditor for Spontaneous Generations, a peer-reviewed journal in the History and Philosophy of Science.
Committee member and session chair for "150 Years After Origin: Biological, Historical and Philosophical Perspectives," University of Toronto Conference, November 21-24, 2009.
University of Toronto Museum of Scientific Instruments exhibit, November 21-24, 2009.
Committee member for Second Annual Graduate Philosophy Conference, "Acceptance," June 4-5, 2009, York University.
Canadian Philosophical Association (CPA)
American Philosophical Association (APA)
Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science (CSHPS)
History of Philosophy of Science (HOPOS)
English (native), Spanish (fluent), French (reading and writing), German (reading)
Thought Experiments in Science
Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto, 2015
Thought experiments are a means of imaginative reasoning with an employment record longer than two and a half thousand years. Used by Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Maxwell, and Einstein, they form part of the education of every scientist alive today.
While most scientific instruments aim to increase the precision of our interaction with empirical data, thought experiments leave the empirical realm behind. They spin buckets in an empty universe, summon demons to play with particles, and challenge us to throw spears at the edge of space. If tools of the imagination like thought experiments are important in science, what role are they playing?
Using the methods of history, philosophy and cognitive science, I argue that while thought experiments do not always discover or justify new facts, they do usually increase the empirical content of theoretical structures (laws, models, concepts, etc.) for an agent. Empirical content is increased when the agent connects a theoretical structure to existing concepts, experiences, values and abilities. Through these connections, thought experiments increase scientific understanding. Knowledge can be produced when understanding is applied, but this is a separate achievement. I argue that the understanding produced by thought experiments is fallible but necessary for scientific progress, in the same way that intuitions about what a speaker means are fallible but necessary for linguistic interpretation.
Chapter 1 introduces the philosophical literature on thought experiments. Chapters 2-4 reject two important accounts of thought experiments. Chapter 5 examines historical cases to focus on the role of thought experiments in science. Chapter 6 considers results in cognitive and social science. Chapter 7 presents a transcendental argument that grounds our ability to increase empirical content through thought experiments in human imagination, and explores some implications of this argument for the relationships among imagination, understanding, explanation, knowledge, representation and objectivity.
(Read first chapter here)
The Junkyard of the Mind: A scholarly blog devoted to the study of imagination maintained by Amy Kind
Thought Experiments. SEP entry maintained by Jim Brown and Yiftach Fehige
Imagination. SEP entry maintained by Tamar Gendler
Science of Imagination. Webpage of a lab run by Jim Davies
What if...? On the Meaning, Relevance, and Epistemology of Counterfactual Claims and Thought Experiments. The webpage of a research group running out of Konstanz University
Copyright Michael T. Stuart