Scientific understanding and mathematical abstraction

Philosophia 34 (3):337-353 (2006)
Abstract
This paper argues for two related theses. The first is that mathematical abstraction can play an important role in shaping the way we think about and hence understand certain phenomena, an enterprise that extends well beyond simply representing those phenomena for the purpose of calculating/predicting their behaviour. The second is that much of our contemporary understanding and interpretation of natural selection has resulted from the way it has been described in the context of statistics and mathematics. I argue for these claims by tracing attempts to understand the basis of natural selection from its early formulation as a statistical theory to its later development by R.A. Fisher, one of the founders of modern population genetics. Not only did these developments put natural selection of a firm theoretical foundation but its mathematization changed the way it was understood as a biological process. Instead of simply clarifying its status, mathematical techniques were responsible for redefining or reconceptualising selection. As a corollary I show how a highly idealised mathematical law that seemingly fails to describe any concrete system can nevertheless contain a great deal of accurate information that can enhance our understanding far beyond simply predictive capabilities.
Keywords mathematical abstraction  natural selection  population genetics
Categories (categorize this paper)
Options
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
 
Download options
PhilPapers Archive


Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 11,808
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Citations of this work BETA
Similar books and articles
Analytics

Monthly downloads

Added to index

2009-01-28

Total downloads

54 ( #31,450 of 1,099,789 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

5 ( #66,740 of 1,099,789 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature


Discussion
Start a new thread
Order:
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.