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Chuang, Liu, and . Models, fiction and fictional models

2014, In Guichun Guo, Chuang Liu (eds.) Scientific Explanation and Methodology in Science, World Scientific Publishing Co.

Summary: The use of models to scientifically represent and study reality is widely recognized with good reasons as indispensable for the practice of science. Because models, unlikely pure verbal representation, are justifiably regarded as vehicles of representation that are not truth-apt, philosophical questions are natural raised concerning the nature of such vehicles and how they represent. A sizeable literature generated in recent years explores the possibility that ”scientific models are works of fiction”. Idealization and other similar strategies are often taken to be the means by which models are made. Arguing against this last claim, the thesis of this article is that most models in science are not fictional. The author argues against the idea that idealization is the means by which models of typically unobservable systems or mechanisms are made.

Comment: Interesting paper about scientific modeling and scientific representation. Useful for undergraduates and postgraduates courses in philosophy of science.

Hesse, Mary, and . Models and analogies in science

1966, University of Notre dame Press.

Summary: In this book Hesse argues, contra Duhem, that models and analogies are integral to understanding scientific practice in general and scientific advancement in particular, especially how the domain of a scientific theory is extended and how theories generate genuinely novel predictions. Hesse thinks that, in order help us to understand a new system or phenomenon, we will often create an analogical model that compares this new system or phenomenon with a more familiar system or phenomenon. Hesse distinguishes different types of analogies according to the kinds of similarity relations in which two objects enter: Positive analogies, negative analogies, and neutral analogies. The crux of the argument is that the recognition of similarities of meaning between paired terms and the recognition of similar causal relations within two analogies plays an essential role in theoretical explanation and prediction in science.

Comment: This book is an accessible introduction to the topic of scientific modelling. Useful for teaching in undergraduate courses.

Hesse, Mary, and . Models in Physics

1953, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 4(15): 198-214.

Summary: In this article Hesse defends the idea that scientific theories are hypothetico-deductive in form. She examines this hypothetico-deductive method by considering some examples from nineteenth-century mathematical physics. By means of these examples she brings out two points about scientific hypothesis. The first is that mathematical formalisms, when used as hypotheses in the description of physical phenomena, may function like the mechanical models of an earlier stage in physics, without having in themselves any mechanical or other physical interpret. The second point is that most physicists do not regard models as literal descriptions of nature, but as standing in a relation of analogy to nature.

Comment: A really good paper about models in science, mathematical formalism and hypothesis. Highly recomended for postgraduates studying philosophy of physics, although it could also be readable by undergraduates (last years) with previous knowledge of scientific modelling.

Nersessian, Nancy, and . Creating Scientific Concepts

2008, MIT Press.

Publisher’s Note: How do novel scientific concepts arise? In Creating Scientific Concepts, Nancy Nersessian seeks to answer this central but virtually unasked question in the problem of conceptual change. She argues that the popular image of novel concepts and profound insight bursting forth in a blinding flash of inspiration is mistaken. Instead, novel concepts are shown to arise out of the interplay of three factors: an attempt to solve specific problems; the use of conceptual, analytical, and material resources provided by the cognitive-social-cultural context of the problem; and dynamic processes of reasoning that extend ordinary cognition. Focusing on the third factor, Nersessian draws on cognitive science research and historical accounts of scientific practices to show how scientific and ordinary cognition lie on a continuum, and how problem-solving practices in one illuminate practices in the other.

Comment: Nersessian’s book has a two-fold foundation, first, the empirical analysis of two cases of scientific thinking (one from Maxwell and one from a verbal protocol of a scientist); second, philosophical and cognitive analysis of the overall picture of meaning change in science that is the result of her work. The book presents her argument via an introductory chapter, followed by five chapters that develop the argument. Chapter 4 is particularly interesting for the cognitive-scientist: in this chapter Nersessian develops her account of the basic cognitive processes that underlie model-based reasoning. The new approach to mental modeling and analogy, together with Nersessian’s cognitive-historical approach, make Creating Scientific Concepts equally valuable to cognitive science and philosophy of science. The book is accessible and well-written, and should be a relatively quick read for anyone with a previous background in the mentioned fields. It is mainly recommended for postgraduate courses.