Bootstrapping knowledge about social phenomena using simulation models

Formidable difficulties face anyone trying to model social phenomena using a formal system, such as a computer program. The differences between formal systems and complex, multi-facetted and meaning-laden social systems are so fundamental that many will criticise any attempt to bridge this gap. Despite this, there are those who are so bullish about the project of social simulation that they appear to believe that simple computer models, that are also useful and reliable indicators of how aspects of society works, are not only possible but within our grasp. This paper seeks to pour water on such optimism but, on the other hand, show that useful computational models might be ‘evolved’ In this way it is disagreeing with both naive positivist and relativistic post-modernist positions. However this will require a greater ‘selective pressure’ against models that are not grounded in evidence, ‘floating models’, and will result in a plethora of complex and context-specific models.
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