Counterfactual Blends as Instruments of Research in the Social and Behavioral Sciences
COUNTERFACTUAL THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS IN WORLD POLITICS, pp. 291-295, Tetlock, Philip & Belkin, Aaron, eds., Princeton University Press, 1996
49 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2011
Date Written: February 20, 1996
The essential cognitive mechanism of counterfactual thinking is conceptual blending. In blending, structure from input mental spaces is projected to a separate, "blended" mental space. The projection is selective. Through completion and elaboration, the blend develops structure not provided by the inputs. Inferences, arguments, and ideas developed in the blend can lead us to modify the initial inputs and to change our view of the corresponding situations. In the social and behavioral sciences, counterfactual blends have two functions — the spotlight and the lab rat. The spotlight picks out interesting structure in the input spaces; it is an instrument for improving conceptual structure and for designing research. The lab rat is modeled on the classic laboratory experiment; it is an instrument for isolating causal factors and causal relations. The spotlight and the lab rat have different criteria. In practice, they work together.
Keywords: conceptual integration, blending, counterfactual, thought experiment
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