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The Cognitive Lunch talks will be on Wednesdays from 12:10 pm - 1:25 pm in the Psychology conference room (PY 128) located behind the main office.
Sep 2, 2015: Prof. Colin Allen
Psychology Rm. 128, 12:10pm
Title: Darwin’s Semantic Voyage: Exploration and Exploitation of Victorian Science in the Reading Notebooks
Abstract: During the 23 years between his voyage on the Beagle and publication of The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin meticulously documented the books he read. His Reading Notebooks thus enable the study of inputs to his creative process between 1837 and 1860. We located digitized full texts of 670 of his nonfiction readings (390 of which he classified as work-related reading) and applied topic modeling to them. We then used the semantic space of the topic models in a novel way to measure the distances that Darwin traveled between books. These measurements permitted us to investigate the trade-off he made between reading within a given domain and switching to new domains. Our analysis shows that Darwin's behavior shifts from exploitation to exploration on multiple timescales. Furthermore, contrasting his reading order with the publication order of the same texts, we find Darwin's consumption of the texts is more exploratory than the culture's production of them. The specific research in this talk will be framed in terms of the objectives of digital history & philosophy of science and the potential for using historical records to build cognitive models of individual scientists.