The Monist

Volume 97, Issue 3, July 2014

Models and Simulations

Anouk Barberousse, Cyrille Imbert
Pages 259-279

Recurring Models and Sensitivity to Computational Constraints

Why are some models, like the harmonic oscillator, the Ising model, a few Hamiltonian equations in quantum mechanics, the poisson equation, or the Lokta-Volterra equations, repeatedly used within and across scientific domains, whereas theories allow for many more modeling possibilities? Some historians and philosophers of science have already proposed plausible explanations. For example, Kuhn and Cartwright point to a tendency toward conservatism in science, and Humphreys emphasizes the importance of the intractability of what he calls “templates.” This paper investigates more systematically the reasons for this remarkable interdisciplinary recurrence. To this aim, the authors describe in more detail the phenomenon they focus on and review competing potential explanations. The authors disentangle the various assumptions underlying these explanations based on sensitivity to a computational constraints and assess its relationships with the other analyzed explanatons.