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Why computer simulations are not inferences, and in what sense they are experiments

  • Florian J. BogeEmail author
Paper in Philosophy of Technology and Information

Abstract

The question of where, between theory and experiment, computer simulations (CSs) locate on the methodological map is one of the central questions in the epistemology of simulation (cf. Saam Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 48, 293–309, 2017). The two extremes on the map have them either be a kind of experiment in their own right (e.g. Barberousse et al. Synthese, 169, 557–574, 2009; Morgan 2002, 2003, Journal of Economic Methodology, 12(2), 317–329, 2005; Morrison Philosophical Studies, 143, 33–57, 2009; Morrison 2015; Massimi and Bhimji Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 51, 71–81, 2015; Parker Synthese, 169, 483–496, 2009) or just an argument executed with the aid of a computer (e.g. Beisbart European Journal for Philosophy of Science, 2, 395–434, 2012; Beisbart and Norton International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 26, 403–422, 2012). There exist multiple versions of the first kind of position, whereas the latter is rather unified. I will argue that, while many claims about the ‘experimental’ status of CSs seem unjustified, there is a variant of the first position that seems preferable. In particular I will argue that while CSs respect the logic of (deductively valid) arguments, they neither agree with their pragmatics nor their epistemology. I will then lay out in what sense CSs can fruitfully be seen as experiments, and what features set them apart from traditional experiments nonetheless. I conclude that they should be seen as surrogate experiments, i.e. experiments executed consciously on the wrong kind of system, but with an exploitable connection to the system of interest. Finally, I contrast my view with that of Beisbart (European Journal for Philosophy of Science, 8, 171–204, 2018), according to which CSs are surrogates for experiments, arguing that this introduces an arbitrary split between CSs and other kinds of simulations.

Keywords

Epistemology of simulation Argument view Causal interaction claim 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The research for this paper was conducted as part of the research unit The Epistemology of the Large Hadron Collider, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG; grant FOR 2063). I thank Domninc Hirschbühl for help with the physics parts, Rafaela Hillerbrand, Gregor Schiemann, Christian Zeitnitz, Michael Krämer, and Paul Grünke for helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper, and Claus Beisbart for exchange on some details of his joint paper with John D. Norton and discussions at MS8. I would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers for detailed and helpful suggestions on improvements of the original manuscript, and one of them in particular for pushing me on certain issues the discussion of which has clearly improved the overall structure of the paper.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Interdisciplinary Centre for Science and Technology Studies (IZWT)Bergische Universität WuppertalWuppertalGermany
  2. 2.Institute for Theoretical Particle Physics and CosmologyRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany

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