Models, Mathematics, and Simulations
Oxford University Press 2015
Almost 400 years ago, Galileo wrote that the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. Today, mathematics is integral to physics and chemistry, and is becoming so in biology, economics, and other sciences, although amid great controversy. The messy reality of biological creatures and their social relations cannot be captured in mathematical models or computer simulations, it is argued. But what is the relation between mathematics and physical reality? Do highly abstract mathematical formalisms and computer simulations yield empirical knowledge? If so, when, and how? In Reconstructing Reality: Models, Mathematics and Simulations (Oxford University Press, 2015), Margaret Morrison, Professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, considers the epistemological status of the results of modeling and simulation as compared, and typically contrasted with, the results of experiment. She argues that no sharp distinction between simulating the world and measuring the world can be drawn in modern science, and that there is no justification for epistemically privileging the results of experiments over the new knowledge we derive from idealizations, abstractions, and fictional models.