From data to phenomena and back again: computer-simulated signatures

Synthese 182 (1):117-129 (2011)
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Abstract

This paper draws attention to an increasingly common method of using computer simulations to establish evidential standards in physics. By simulating an actual detection procedure on a computer, physicists produce patterns of data (‘signatures’) that are expected to be observed if a sought-after phenomenon is present. Claims to detect the phenomenon are evaluated by comparing such simulated signatures with actual data. Here I provide a justification for this practice by showing how computer simulations establish the reliability of detection procedures. I argue that this use of computer simulation undermines two fundamental tenets of the Bogen–Woodward account of evidential reasoning. Contrary to Bogen and Woodward’s view, computer-simulated signatures rely on ‘downward’ inferences from phenomena to data. Furthermore, these simulations establish the reliability of experimental setups without physically interacting with the apparatus. I illustrate my claims with a study of the recent detection of the superfluid-to-Mott-insulator phase transition in ultracold atomic gases

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Eran Tal
McGill University

Citations of this work

Calibration: Modelling the measurement process.Eran Tal - 2017 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 65:33-45.
What is a Computer Simulation? A Review of a Passionate Debate.Nicole J. Saam - 2017 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 48 (2):293-309.
Hieroglyfické písmo.Tomáš Dvořák - 2017 - Teorie Vědy / Theory of Science 39 (1):83-107.

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