Dynamic Robustness and Design in Nature and Artifact

  • Thomas NicklesEmail author
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 292)


A goal of this volume is to build on the pathbreaking work by experts such as Bill Wimsatt and Andy Pickering in order to develop a more robust account of robustness. However, the idea may be so multifaceted that no single account will do. I shall canvass a few basic ideas of robustness, popular and technical, and then address such questions as: What is the relation of robustness to fragility or brittleness? Can a system be completely robust? Are decentralized, distributed systems potentially more robust than centralized ones? Which network topologies are more robust than others? What, if anything, do power laws have to do with robustness and with Wimsatt’s “generative entrenchment”? Is there an interesting connection between robustness and design? Robustness and innovation? Robustness and scientific revolutions? Robustness, heuristics, experimental design, and novel prediction? Robustness and realism? My central claim, supported by a diverse body of literature, is that robustness is deeply related to fragility. Rather than vanquishing fragility, complex robustness shifts its location. More than that, complex robustness can actually generate fragility where none existed before.


Preferential Attachment Scientific Revolution Normal Science Mature Science Scientific Research Program 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Thanks to Léna Soler for organizing the conference on robustness at Nancy 2, to the members of the Poincaré Archives for their hospitality, to the participants, especially Léna, Bill Wimsatt, an anonymous referee, and Gaye McCollum-Nickles, for helpful comments on either my presentation or a previous draft. I am also generally indebted to Andy Pickering for his attention in his publications to what I call heuristic appraisal and to his pragmatic outlook on the sciences generally. For discussion of Kuhn I am indebted to my students, Jared Ress and Jonathan Kanzelmeyer.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of NevadaRenoUSA

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