A Nobel’s eye view of scientific intuition: Discussions with the Nobel prize‐winners in physics, chemistry and medicine (1970‐86)

Ference Marton, Peter Fensham, Seth Chaiklin

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Each year, a few days after the Nobel prize ceremony is held in Stockholm, Sweden, a discussion with the laureates in physics, chemistry and medicine is recorded for subsequent television broadcast. A question about scientific intuition recurs from year to year and is discussed on average for five minutes. Transcripts of 14 years of these parts of the discussions were analysed to illuminate the laureates’ views of scientific intuition. Practically all laureates consider scientific intuition to be distinctly different from conscious, logical reasoning processes, and to concern the direction of research, more often the finding of a path than reaching the goal. The experience of intuition is frequently characterized as having a certitude based on a feeling or a perception of almost aesthetic or quasi‐sensory nature. Scientific intuition seems to develop through extended and varied experiences of the object of research and is apparently based on an initially vague, global, not fully conscious, anticipatory perception of the solution searched for; a simultaneous grasp of the whole, well in advances of knowing its parts in detail.Scientific intuition seems to be a special case of intuitive thinking in general, which can be found also among very young children, in their dealing with simple arithmetic problems, for instance. It is suggested that one possible reason for the relative absence of intuitive understanding resulting from science education in schools is the lack of free and varied exploration of the phenomena dealt with.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)457-473
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1994

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