A computational model of Lakatos-style reasoning

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    Lakatos outlined a theory of mathematical discovery and justification, which suggests ways in which concepts, conjectures and proofs gradually evolve via interaction between mathematicians. Different mathematicians may have different interpretations of a conjecture, examples or counterexamples of it, and beliefs regarding its value or theoremhood. Through discussion, concepts are refined and conjectures and proofs modified. We hypothesise that (i) it is possible to computationally represent Lakatos’s theory, and (ii) it is useful to do so. In order to test our hypotheses we have developed a computational model of his theory.

    Our model is a multiagent dialogue system. Each agent has a copy of a pre-existing theory formation system, which can form concepts and make conjectures which empirically hold for the objects of interest supplied. Distributing the objects of interest between agents means that they form different theories, which they communicate to each other. Agents then find counterexamples and use methods identified by Lakatos to suggest modifications to conjectures, concept definitions and proofs.

    Our main aim is to provide a computational reading of Lakatos’s theory, by interpreting it as a series of algorithms and implementing these algorithms as a computer program.

    This is the first systematic automated realisation of Lakatos’s theory. We contribute to the computational philosophy of science by interpreting, clarifying and extending his theory. We also contribute by evaluating his theory, using our model to test hypotheses about it, and evaluating our extended computational theory on the basis of criteria proposed by several theorists. A further contribution is to automated theory formation and automated theorem proving. The process of refining conjectures, proofs and concept definitions requires a flexibility which is inherently useful in fields which handle ill-specified problems, such as theory formation. Similarly, the ability to automatically modify an open conjecture into one which can be proved, is a valuable contribution to automated theorem proving.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages286
    JournalPhilosophy of Mathematics Education Journal
    Issue number27
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013


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