Glossary of Scientific Terms

Definitions of scientific terms used on Rational Realm

The definitions below are arranged in alphabetical order. To suggest additions or corrections to this glossary, please contact us.

a to f g to l m to r s to z



Anthropic Principle
The principle that states that our location in the universe is necessarily privileged to the extent of being compatible with our existence as observers.
Artificial Intelligence
An approach to cognitive science that sees the human mind as a computational machine. See also computationalism.
behavioural ecology
The scientific study of the environmental impact from ecological forces on the evolution of species and social behaviours.
Big Bang theory
The dominant theory in modern cosmology that states that the universe expanded rapidly from an extremely dense and hot state 13.8 billion years ago and continues to expand at a slower rate.
cognitive science
An interdisciplinary scientific approach to understanding the mind and its many processes and drawing upon the fields of psychology, computer science, linguistics, philosophy and neuroscience.
Computational Account of Reasoning
In the philosophy of mind, an account of reasoning that presupposes that intentional mental states involve symbolic representations with both semantic and syntactic properties and posits that the process of reasoning performs operations on the syntactic elements only.
An approach to cognitive science that likens the operations of the human mind to that of a digital computer in which thinking is a serial and algorithmic manipulation of symbols using only syntactical rules. Contrasts with connectionism.
Computational Theory of Mind
The view that the human mind works exactly like a digital computer, manipulating discrete intentional states with a finite number of syntactical rules. The theory combines the Representational Theory of Mind with the Computational Account of Reasoning.
An approach to cognitive science that treats the mind as a network of neurons in which processing is distributed across the network at a sub-symbolic level. Contrasts with computationalism.
A term coined by William Whewell to denote the overwhelming support for a scientific theory from converging lines of independent evidence, such as the support for the theory of evolution from the fields of genetics, geology and comparative anatomy.
control group
In a controlled experiment, the group of subjects that is otherwise identical to the test or experimental group, except for the absence of the factor being tested for efficacy.
controlled experiment
A method for testing empirical hypotheses in which one factor (known as the 'independent variable') is varied while observing its effect on another factor (known as the 'dependent variable') while all other factors are held constant. See control group and experimental group.
cosmic microwave background
The radiation left over from the rapid expansion of the universe at the time of the Big Bang and detectable today as a faint glow using modern radiation detectors.
cosmological constant
A constant universal repulsive force first postulated by Albert Einstein to harmonize the equations of his theory of general relativity with the idea of a static universe.
dark energy
The hypothesised form of cosmic energy that permeates all of space and results in the accelerating expansion of the universe. See also inflation theory.
A type of controlled experiment in which the subjects and the experimenter are both kept unaware of which subjects are in the experimental group and which are in the control group in order to eliminate experimenter bias and cancel out the placebo effect.
dual-inheritance theory
The scientific theory that human evolution is the result of the complex interplay between genetic evolution and cultural evolution.
environment of evolutionary adaptedness
In the field of Evolutionary Psychology, the specific environment that led to a particular human adaption and which was present in the Pleistocene era, some 1.8 million years to 10,000 years ago.
Evolutionary Psychology
A scientific approach to human behaviour that seeks to explain its psychological causes in terms of adaptations that evolved during our stone-age past.
experimental group
In a controlled experiment, the group of subjects that is otherwise identical to the control group, except for the presence of the factor being tested for efficacy.
functional analysis
A six step scientific procedure used by Evolutionary Psychologists to determine whether a current human behaviour trait is the result of evolutionary adaptions from our evolutionary past in the Pleistocene era.
functional magnetic resonance imaging
A common non-invasive technique for measuring brain activity in specific areas of the brain by detecting changes in blood flow.
gene–culture coevolution
general relativity
The theory published in 1915 by Albert Einstein proposing that gravity is the curvature of a single space-time continuum by mass. See also special relativity.
ghost in the machine
The term coined by philosopher Gilbert Ryle to depict the mental substance in the traditional Cartesian dualist view that posits two kinds of substances; mind and matter.
gravitational waves
A type of wave predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity that takes the form of ripples in space-time resulting from the movement of massive objects.
horizon problem
A problem for the Standard Model of cosmology that arises from the uniformity of the cosmic microwave background radiation and the fact that the speed of light is not fast enough to have propagated such uniformity in the early universe.
inflation theory
The cosmological theory that the early universe experienced a brief period of very rapid expansion from the effects of dark energy.
Lambda–CDM model
The mathematical expression of the Standard Model of cosmology in which lambda (Λ) represents the cosmological constant (or the dark energy of empty space) and CDM represents cold dark matter, introduced to explain the gravitational effects around and between galaxies.
massive modularity hypothesis
The theory in cognitive science that the brain consists of a large number of content-specific computing algorithms that developed independently of each other in response to selective pressures in the Pleistocene era.
The unit of cultural transmission in Richard Dawkins theory of memetics.
The theory of cultural evolution, spawned by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, that posits the cultural meme as the corollary to the gene in the field of evolutionary genetics and by which learned behaviours and cultural artefacts are replicated throughout a population.
The set of universes theorized by cosmologists to comprise everything that exists, with each universe arising from quantum fluctuations in the vacuum of space.
natural selection
The central process in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by which nature selects those characteristics of an organism that are better adapted to the organism's environment through differential rates of the survival of its offspring.
A psychological phenomenon where a person perceives a randomly generated sound or image as something familiar and significant to them.
phenotypic plasticity
The ability of an organism to change their phenotype (appearance, physiology and development) in response to changes in their environment, giving them a more flexible and faster repertoire of responses than changes to their genetic constitution (genotype) alone.
placebo effect
The expectancy effect in which patients report an improvement in their medical condition even though the administered agent is known to be inert (placebo).
quantum mechanics
The set of equations within quantum physics that provides a mathematical description of the interactions of particles and electromagnetic waves in terms of quantized packets of energy.
Representational Theory of Mind
In the philosophy of mind, an account of mental states that posits that intentional states, such as beliefs and desires, are relations between a person and symbolic representations of the content of those states.
special relativity
The theory published by Albert Einstein in 1906 that overturned Isaac Newton's Three Laws of Motion by proposing that the laws of physics are identical for all non-accelerating frames of reference and that the speed of light is constant for all frames of reference. See also general relativity.
Standard Model of cosmology
The dominant theory in modern cosmology that postulates that the universe experienced a period of rapid inflation just after the Big Bang, during which elementary particles were formed. Over a period of thousands of years, atoms formed, and over the next billions of years, matter clumped into galaxies. See also Big Bang theory and Lambda–CDM model.
Standard Model of elementary particles
The dominant theory in physics that postulates that (a) all matter comprises of six types of quarks and six types of leptons, and (b) all forces consist of four fundamental types; the strong force, the weak force, the electromagnetic force and the gravitational force.
string theory
A recent theory in particle physics that posits that all of the fundamental particles are just different manifestations of a string vibrating at different frequencies.
test group
theory of general relativity
vacuum energy
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