Strategies of model-building in condensed matter physics: trade-offs as a demarcation criterion between physics and biology?

Synthese 190 (2):253-272 (2013)
Abstract
This paper contrasts and compares strategies of model-building in condensed matter physics and biology, with respect to their alleged unequal susceptibility to trade-offs between different theoretical desiderata. It challenges the view, often expressed in the philosophical literature on trade-offs in population biology, that the existence of systematic trade-offs is a feature that is specific to biological models, since unlike physics, biology studies evolved systems that exhibit considerable natural variability. By contrast, I argue that the development of ever more sophisticated experimental, theoretical, and computational methods in physics is beginning to erode this contrast, since condensed matter physics is now in a position to measure, describe, model, and manipulate sample-specific features of individual systems – for example at the mesoscopic level – in a way that accounts for their contingency and heterogeneity. Model-building in certain areas of physics thus turns out to be more akin to modeling in biology than has been supposed and, indeed, has traditionally been the case.
Keywords trade-offs  model-building  scientific models  complexity
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References found in this work BETA
Robert W. Batterman (2002). Asymptotics and the Role of Minimal Models. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 53 (1):21-38.
S. French & J. Ladyman (1997). Superconductivity and Structures: Revisiting the London Account. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B 28 (3):363-393.

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