Title:

Dual processes in mathematics : reasoning about conditionals

This thesis studies the reasoning behaviour of successful mathematicians. It is based on the philosophy that, if the goal of an advanced education in mathematics is to develop talented mathematicians, it is important to have a thorough understanding of their reasoning behaviour. In particular, one needs to know the processes which mathematicians use to accomplish mathematical tasks. However, Rav (1999) has noted that there is currently no adequate theory of the role that logic plays in informal mathematical reasoning. The goal of this thesis is to begin to answer this specific criticism of the literature by developing a model of how conditional “if…then” statements are evaluated by successful mathematics students. Two stages of empirical work are reported. In the first the various theories of reasoning are empirically evaluated to see how they account for mathematicians’ responses to the Wason Selection Task, an apparently straightforward logic problem (Wason, 1968). Mathematics undergraduates are shown to have a different range of responses to the task than the general welleducated population. This finding is followed up by an evetracker inspection time experiment which measured which parts of the task participants attended to. It is argued that Evans’s (1984, 1989, 1996, 2006) heuristicanalytic theory provides the best account of these data. In the second stage of empirical work an indepth qualitative interview study is reported. Mathematics research students were asked to evaluate and prove (or disprove) a series of conjectures in a realistic mathematical context. It is argued that preconscious heuristics play an important role in determining where participants allocate their attention whilst working with mathematical conditionals. Participants’ arguments are modelled using Toulmin’s (1958) argumentation scheme, and it is suggested that to accurately account for their reasoning it is necessary to use Toulmin’s full scheme, contrary to the practice of earlier researchers. The importance of recognising that arguments may sometimes only reduce uncertainty in the conditional statement’s truth/falsity, rather than remove uncertainty, is emphasised. In the final section of the thesis, these two stages are brought together. A model is developed which attempts to account for how mathematicians evaluate conditional statements. The model proposes that when encountering a mathematical conditional “if P then Q”, the mathematician hypothetically adds P to their stock of knowledge and looks for a warrant with which to conclude Q. The level of belief that the reasoner has in the conditional statement is given by a modal qualifier which they are prepared to pair with their warrant. It is argued that this level of belief is fixed by conducting a modified version of the socalled Ramsey Test (Evans & Over, 2004). Finally the differences between the proposed model and both formal logic and everyday reasoning are discussed.
