Our models guide our actions.
attention) and yet we have an accident or make
a mistake, the cause may be some defect in our
models. That is, our models suggested one outcome, but we have found another. The difference
between expectation and outcome creates an
opportunity for learning.
Learning involves forming models and reforming
them based on feedback. We observe some behavior
in our environment; it suggests models, which we
use to predict future behavior and guide our actions.
Additional observations provide feedback, which
helps us revise and refine our models. We learn.
When outcomes do not match our predictions, we
have two choices:
1. Reject the data
• Were measurements inaccurate?
• Was the test procedure flawed?
• Was the reporter biased?
2. Accept the data
• Is it relevant to our model?
• Is it a special case? Meaning our model is less useful at the extremes or our model needs refinement or
• Was previous data inaccurate or insufficient?
Meaning we need to revise our model.
Under this frame, we modify our models based
on the results of our predictions—we subject them
to feedback. Learning is inextricably linked with
models and involves:
• Creating new models.
• Revising existing models.
– Extending a model so that it corresponds to
more observations (broadening).
For example, Ptolemy introduced cycles
within cycles to account for the retrograde
motion of Mars.
– Refining a model so that it more closely cor-
responds to observation (deepening).
For example, Kepler found that Brahe’s observations showed that the planets follow an elliptical
(not circular) path around the sun.
• Generalizing models—reframing a model of a
specific event as a model of a more general set
For example, the shift from the Ptolemaic to
Copernican model is an example of a general
case that recurs throughout the history of science as one important model gives way to
another. Kuhn named this a “paradigm shift.”
• Identifying model primitives—finding patterns
that recur across many models, often based on
fundamental rules of geometry or topology.
For example, the earth orbiting the sun is a
special case of a more general model of satellites
orbiting primary bodies, which describes other
cases such as the moon orbiting the earth or
observations new models
May + June 2009
frame + filter