Pathway discovery is a generic task in science. Analogous instances of it can be drawn from the domains of chemistry, cognitive psychology, cellular biology, and genealogy, despite the apparent dissimilarity of these domains. Except for genealogy, computer systems have been built to automate partially each of these pathway-discovery tasks. The MECHEM system dealing with chemical reaction pathways is a current instance.

We are working on a general account of pathway discovery in science that provides a conceptual base for systematic analyses of suitable search algorithms. This paper identifies the pathway-discovery task, contributes a definition of pathway and a hierarchical analysis of pathway processes, shows how search proceeds across hierarchical levels in different domains, and examines how domain knowledge constrains plausibility. The four domains above are discussed in some detail.

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