How digital computer simulations explain real-world processes

Scientists of many disciplines use theoretical models to explain and predict the dynamics of the world. They often have to rely on digital computer simulations to draw predictions fromthe model. But to deliver phenomenologically adequate results, simulations deviate from the assumptions of the theoretical model. Therefore the role of simulations in scientific explanation demands itself an explanation. This paper analyzes the relation between real-world system, theoretical model, and simulation. It is argued that simulations do not explain processes in the real world directly. The way in which simulations help explaining real-world processes is conceived as indirect, mediated by the theoretical model. Simulacra are characterized further, and turn out to be a priori measurable. This gives a clue to a better understanding of the epistemic role of computer simulations in scientific research.
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DOI 10.1080/02698590802567324
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Stuart Glennan (2002). Rethinking Mechanistic Explanation. Proceedings of the Philosophy of Science Association 2002 (3):S342-353.

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