The World as a Process: Simulations in the Natural and Social Sciences

Simulation techniques, especially those implemented on a computer, are frequently employed in natural as well as in social sciences with considerable success. There is mounting evidence that the "model-building era" (J. Niehans) that dominated the theoretical activities of the sciences for a long time is about to be succeeded or at least lastingly supplemented by the "simulation era". But what exactly are models? What is a simulation and what is the difference and the relation between a model and a simulation? These are some of the questions addressed in this article. I maintain that the most significant feature of a simulation is that it allows scientists to imitate one process by another process. "Process" here refers solely to a temporal sequence of states of a system. Given the observation that processes are dealt with by all sorts of scientists, it is apparent that simulations prove to be a powerful interdisciplinarily acknowledged tool. Accordingly, simulations are best suited to investigate the various research strategies in different sciences more carefully. To this end, I focus on the function of simulations in the research process. Finally, a somewhat detailed case-study from nuclear physics is presented which, in my view, illustrates elements of a typical simulation in physics.
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Claus Beisbart (2012). How Can Computer Simulations Produce New Knowledge? European Journal for Philosophy of Science 2 (3):395-434.

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