Discrete state systems, Markov chains, and problems in the theory of scientific explanation and prediction

Philosophy of Science 30 (4):325-345 (1963)
Recent discussions in the philosophy of science have devoted considerable attention to the analysis of conceptual issues relating to the methodology of explanation and prediction in the sciences. Part of this literature has been devoted to clarifying the very ideas of explanation and prediction. But the discussion has also ranged over various related topics, including the status of laws to be used for explanatory and predictive purposes, the logical interrelationships between explanatory and predictive reasonings, the differences in the strategy of explanatory argumentation in different branches of science, the nature and possibility of teleological explanation, etc. The aim of the present article is to examine the issues involved in such questions from the specialized perspective afforded by one particular kind of physical systems--namely, systems, here to be characterized as discrete state systems, whose behavior has been studied extensively in the scientific literature under the general heading of Markov chains. These systems have been chosen as our focus because their behavior over time can be analyzed at once with great ease and with extraordinary precision
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