Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 383–402 | Cite as

The hermeneutics of ecological simulation

  • Steven L. Peck


Computer simulation has become important in ecological modeling, but there have been few assessments on how complex simulation models differ from more traditional analytic models. In Part I of this paper, I review the challenges faced in complex ecological modeling and how models have been used to gain theoretical purchase for understanding natural systems. I compare the use of traditional analytic simulation models and point how that the two methods require different kinds of practical engagement. I examine a case study of three models from the insect resistance literature in transgenic crops to illustrate and explore differences in analytic and computer simulation models. I argue that analyzing simulation models has been often inappropriately managed with expectations derived from handling analytic models. In Part II, I look at simulation as a hermeneutic practice. I argue that simulation models are a practice or techné. I the explore five aspects of philosophical hermeneutics that may be useful in complex ecological simulation: (1) an openness to multiple perspectives allowing multiple levels of scientific pluralism, (2) the hermeneutic circle, a back and forth in active communication among both modelers and ecologists; (3) the recognition of human factors and the nature of human practices as such, including recognizing the role of judgments and choices in the modeling enterprise; (4) the importance of play in modeling; (5) the non-closed nature of hermeneutic engagement, continued dialogue, and recognizing the situatedness, incompleteness, and tentative nature of simulation models.


Mathematical modeling Ecological modeling Computer simulation Hermeneutics Scientific pluralism Modeling theory 



I would like to thank Jim Faulkner, David Grandy, Steven Hawks, Wendy Parker, Anya Plutynski, and an anonymous reviewer for invaluable critiques of this paper. This was funded in part by EPA-ARS Interagency Agreement 60-3625-4-0574, and ARS Specific Cooperative Agreement 58-3625-4-100.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA

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