The hermeneutics of ecological simulation

Biology and Philosophy 23 (3):383-402 (2008)
Abstract
Computer simulation has become important in ecological modeling, but there have been few assessments on how complex simulation models differ from more traditional analytic models. In Part I of this paper, I review the challenges faced in complex ecological modeling and how models have been used to gain theoretical purchase for understanding natural systems. I compare the use of traditional analytic simulation models and point how that the two methods require different kinds of practical engagement. I examine a case study of three models from the insect resistance literature in transgenic crops to illustrate and explore differences in analytic and computer simulation models. I argue that analyzing simulation models has been often inappropriately managed with expectations derived from handling analytic models. In Part II, I look at simulation as a hermeneutic practice. I argue that simulation models are a practice or techné. I the explore five aspects of philosophical hermeneutics that may be useful in complex ecological simulation: (1) an openness to multiple perspectives allowing multiple levels of scientific pluralism, (2) the hermeneutic circle, a back and forth in active communication among both modelers and ecologists; (3) the recognition of human factors and the nature of human practices as such, including recognizing the role of judgments and choices in the modeling enterprise; (4) the importance of play in modeling; (5) the non-closed nature of hermeneutic engagement, continued dialogue, and recognizing the situatedness, incompleteness, and tentative nature of simulation models.
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