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What a problem is

The essence of experimental testing is that there are at least two aparently viable theories known about the issue in question, making conflicting predictions that can be distinguished by the experiment. Just as conflicting predictions are the occasion for experiment and observation, so conflicting ideas in a broader sense are the occasion for all rational thought and inquiry. For example, if we are simply curious about something, it means that we believe that our existing ideas do not adequately capture or explain it. So, we have some criterion that our best existing explanation fails to meet. The criterion and the existing explanation are conflicting ideas. I shall call a situation in which we experience conflicting ideas a problem.

The example of a conjuring trick illustrates how observations provide problems for science – dependent, as always, on prior explanatory theories. For a conjuring trick is a trick only if it makes us think that something happened that cannot happen. Both halves of that proposition depend on our bringing quite a rich set of explanatory theories to the experi­ence. That is why a trick that mystifies an adult may be uninteresting to a young child who has not yet learned to have the expectations on which the trick relies. Even those members of the audience who are incurious about how the trick works can detect that it is a trick only because of the explanatory theories that they brought with them into the audi­torium. Solving a problem means creating an explanation that does not have the conflict. [16-17]

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