The Role of Imagination in Social Scientific Discovery: Why Machine Discoverers Will Need Imagination Algorithms

Michael T. Stuart*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Scopus citations


When philosophers discuss the possibility of machines making scientific discoveries, they typically focus on discoveries in physics, biology, chemistry and mathematics. Observing the rapid increase of computer use in science, however, it becomes natural to ask whether there are any scientific domains out of reach for machine discovery. For example, could machines also make discoveries in qualitative social science? Is there something about humans that makes us uniquely suited to studying humans? Is there something about machines that would bar them from such activity? A close look at the methodology of interpretive social science reveals several abilities necessary to make a social scientific discovery (such as cognitive empathy and the ability to assign meaning) and one capacity necessary to possess any of them is imagination. Novel and significant interpretations required by social scientific discovery require imagination. For machines to make discoveries in social science, therefore, they must possess imagination algorithms.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSynthese Library
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media B.V.
Number of pages18
StatePublished - 2019

Publication series

NameSynthese Library
ISSN (Print)0166-6991
ISSN (Electronic)2542-8292


  • Discovery
  • Ethnographic interpretation
  • Ethnographic method
  • Ethnographic novelty
  • Ethnographic significance
  • Imagination algorithm
  • Interpretive science
  • Machine discovery
  • Machine interpretation
  • Philosophy of social science


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