Are computer simulations experiments? And if not, how are they related to each other?

European Journal for Philosophy of Science 8 (2):171-204 (2018)
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Computer simulations and experiments share many important features. One way of explaining the similarities is to say that computer simulations just are experiments. This claim is quite popular in the literature. The aim of this paper is to argue against the claim and to develop an alternative explanation of why computer simulations resemble experiments. To this purpose, experiment is characterized in terms of an intervention on a system and of the observation of the reaction. Thus, if computer simulations are experiments, either the computer hardware or the target system must be intervened on and observed. I argue against the first option using the non-observation argument, among others. The second option is excluded by e.g. the over-control argument, which stresses epistemological differences between experiments and simulations. To account for the similarities between experiments and computer simulations, I propose to say that computer simulations can model possible experiments and do in fact often do so.

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Claus Beisbart
University of Bern

References found in this work

The View From Nowhere.Thomas Nagel - 1986 - New York: Oxford University Press.
The aim and structure of physical theory.Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem - 1954 - Princeton,: Princeton University Press.
Critique of Pure Reason.I. Kant - 1787/1998 - Philosophy 59 (230):555-557.
On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem.Alan Turing - 1936 - Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society 42 (1):230-265.

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