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Science's First Mistake: delusions in pursuit of theory

Ian Angell and Dionysios Demetis
Bloomsbury (August 2010)

The purpose of the book is to deconstruct the process of knowledge discovery and theory construction on the basis of the four concepts mentioned below, and thereby to discuss the circumstances under which all scientific premises come to be constructed. The implications for theory and method are discussed against four primary and intrinsically interrelated concepts that should be of immediate interest to all scientific disciplines: namely observation, paradox, delusion, and most importantly self-reference.

The book then reflects on various modes of theory-construction and -utilization. Grounded in the tradition of second-order cybernetics, the concept of self-reference is used in the context of systems theory in order to examine the mode in which observation, paradox and delusion become 'structurally coupled' with cognition. This has wide-ranging implications for not only the discovery of knowledge in itself, but also various expressions of knowledge, be they framed by reductionism or causality, and even those grandiosely claiming to approach a form of Grand Unification (as in Physics).

It eventually concludes that so-called 'rigour' is merely reinforced self-reference, imposed by the power that comes with the utility delivered by the self-reference. Rooted in information systems analysis this fresh and audacious examination of knowledge discover and theory construction makes an important contribution to the understanding of how we employ scientific method.

  • Ian Angell is Professor of Information Systems at LSE.
  • Dionysios Demetis is an associate staff member at LSE’s Information Systems and Innovation Group.

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