One mechanism, many models: a distributed theory of mechanistic explanation

Synthese 193 (5):1387-1407 (2016)
Abstract
There have been recent disagreements in the philosophy of neuroscience regarding which sorts of scientific models provide mechanistic explanations, and which do not. These disagreements often hinge on two commonly adopted, but conflicting, ways of understanding mechanistic explanations: what I call the “representation-as” account, and the “representation-of” account. In this paper, I argue that neither account does justice to neuroscientific practice. In their place, I offer a new alternative that can defuse some of these disagreements. I argue that individual models do not provide mechanistic explanations by themselves. Instead, individual models are always used to complement a huge body of background information and pre-existing models about the target system. With this in mind, I argue that mechanistic explanations are distributed across sets of different, and sometimes contradictory, scientific models. Each of these models contributes limited, but essential, information to the same mechanistic explanation, but none can be considered a mechanistic explanation in isolation of the others
Keywords Mechanistic explanation  Action potential  Computational models  Topological models  Dynamical models  Representation-as  Representation-of
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-015-0844-8
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Thinking About Mechanisms.Peter K. Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Explanation: A Mechanist Alternative.William Bechtel - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biol and Biomed Sci 36 (2):421--441.

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