Models in Search of Targets: Exploratory Modelling and the Case of Turing Patterns

In A. Christian, David Hommen, N. Retzlaff & Gerhard Schurz (eds.), Philosophy of Science. European Studies in Philosophy of Science, vol 9. Springer International Publishing. pp. 245-269 (2018)

Authors
Axel Gelfert
Technische Universität Berlin
Abstract
Traditional frameworks for evaluating scientific models have tended to downplay their exploratory function; instead they emphasize how models are inherently intended for specific phenomena and are to be judged by their ability to predict, reproduce, or explain empirical observations. By contrast, this paper argues that exploration should stand alongside explanation, prediction, and representation as a core function of scientific models. Thus, models often serve as starting points for future inquiry, as proofs of principle, as sources of potential explanations, and as a tool for reassessing the suitability of the target system. This is illustrated by a case study of the varied career of reaction-diffusion models in the study of biological pattern formation, which was initiated by Alan Turing in a classic 1952 paper. Initially regarded as mathematically elegant, but biologically irrelevant, demonstrations of how, in principle, spontaneous pattern formation could occur in an organism, such Turing models have only recently rebounded, thanks to advances in experimental techniques and computational methods. The long-delayed vindication of Turing’s initial model, it is argued, is best explained by recognizing it as an exploratory tool.
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References found in this work BETA

Who is a Modeler?M. Weisberg - 2007 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 58 (2):207-233.
Understanding (With) Toy Models.Alexander Reutlinger, Dominik Hangleiter & Stephan Hartmann - 2016 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:axx005.

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