Theoretical Innovation. A new look at creativity in the natural sciences

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Theoretical innovation is a form of creativity or scientific discovery. Therefore each innovation has to comply with the demands of novelty and theoretical value. Theoretical innovations, to the surprise of many philosophers of science, take place primarily at the intra-theoretical level, that is, in the context of a theory. The most common way to describe these innovations is as ‘predictions’, although there is a qualitative difference with the normal predictions that occur in the use of a particular theory. For the intra-theoretical innovations involve the incorporation into the theoretical stock of a novelty hitherto unknown. But the innovations or theoretical anticipations also occur at the inter-theoretical level making use of preductive reasoning. Revolutionary discoveries in the field of relativistic quantum mechanics, some of which I will present here briefly, are an excellent example of theoretical innovations via preductive reasoning in theoretical physics. There is also a common element to both types of theoretical innovation: intra-theoretical predictions and inter-theoretical preductions. Both are the result of the application of deductive reasoning to the context of creativity or scientific discovery. In this paper I defend the idea that science not only aims to account for the facts of experience but that it also pursues theoretical innovation, which is an equally important task. Contemporary science, particularly physics, in addition to explaining or saving phenomena, also anticipates innovative theoretical results, sometimes unexpected and always useful for cultural, scientific and human development.