Scientific Variables

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Despite their centrality to the scientific enterprise, both the nature of scientific variables and their relation to inductive inference remain obscure. I suggest that scientific variables should be viewed as equivalence classes of sets of physical states mapped to representations (often real numbers) in a structure preserving fashion, and argue that most scientific variables introduced to expand the degrees of freedom in terms of which we describe the world can be seen as products of an algorithmic inductive inference first identified by William W. Rozeboom. This inference algorithm depends upon a notion of natural kind previously left unexplicated. By appealing to dynamical kinds—equivalence classes of causal system characterized by the interventions which commute with their time evolution—to fill this gap, we attain a complete algorithm. I demonstrate the efficacy of this algorithm in a series of experiments involving the percolation of water through granular soils that result in the induction of three novel variables. Finally, I argue that variables obtained through this sort of inductive inference are guaranteed to satisfy a variety of norms that in turn suit them for use in further scientific inferences.



variables, natural kinds, logic of discovery, scientific novelty


Jantzen, B.C. Scientific Variables. Philosophies 2021, 6, 103.