Tim van Gelder

Epistemology is everywhere


Much of my work has revolved around research in cognitive science, whether in a standard academic setting or in the private sector (Austhink).  There have been five main phases to this research:

  1. Identifying collective wisdom (2011- )
  2. Software and methods for improving thinking (2005-2011)
  3. Critical thinking skills (1998-2004)
  4. Dynamics and cognition, and mind-body problem (1989-1998)
  5. Knowledge representation (1984-9)
Identifying Collective Wisdom
Most of my recent work, in both consulting and research, has revolved around the problem of determining what groups believe collectively – i.e. the collective wisdom of the group.  The group can range from a small team through to, in the case of the YourView project, the Australian population.
Sample Publications:
See also:
Software and methods for improving thinking (2005-2011) 

Since 2005 I have been involved in applied R&D, in Austhink, aimed at producing practical tools to improve thinking in the workplace and in the classroom.  This work has resulted in two commercial software packages, as well as the conception and/or ongoing development of structured argumentation methodologies for reasoning, business decision making, and hypothesis investigation.

This research was supported by an AusIndustry Commercial Ready grant, private investment, and sales revenues.

Principal achievements of this phase were

  • The Rationale and bCisive software packages; note however that these packages were team efforts, with R&D input particularly from Andy Bulka, Dan Prager, Peter Sbarski, Kim Marriott, and Fiona Patterson.
  • Formulation of the Business Decision Mapping and Hypothesis Mapping methods

Sample publications:

Critical thinking skills (1998-2004)

Reseach in this phase was aimed primarily at developing a demonstrably effective and affordable method for improving critical thinking skills in undergraduate students.

In the Reason! Project collaboration at the University of Melbourne we developed the Reason! Method for developing critical thinking skills over one undergraduate semester.  The method was supported by custom-built argument mapping software, developed through three iterations.   The Reason! Method was deployed in teaching, and each semester we measured the students’ skills before and after (and sometimes a year down the road).  The data showed that students were making very substantial gains in critical thinking skills, as compared with normal university students.

This work formed the theoretical foundation for subsequent applied R&D at Austhink (see above).

Collaborators in this research included Neil Thomason, Geoff Cumming, Melanie Bissett, Angela Donoghue, Andy Bulka and Charles Twardy.  The research was supported by the Australian Research Council, the University of Melbourne, and Hong Kong University.

Achievements of this phase included:

  • Articulation and finding empirical support for the Deliberate Practice Hypothesis regarding the development of reasoning skills
  • Development of The Reason! Method, a teaching method based on the Deliberate Practice Hypothesis
  • A meta-analysis of gains in critical thinking skills in undergraduate students, containing
  • Definitive proof that there is at least one way to produce substantial gains in critical thinking skills in undergraduate students
  • The Reason!, Reason 2 and Reason!Able software packages
  • 2001 Eureka Prize for Critical Thinking

Sample publications:

Dynamics and cognition, and mind-body problem (1989-1998)

[to be completed]

Knowledge representation (1984-9)

[to be completed]