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

Eran Tal
McGill University
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
Keywords computer simulation  experiment  physics  evidence  data  phenomena
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-009-9612-y
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References found in this work BETA

Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics.Peter Galison (ed.) - 1997 - University of Chicago Press: Chicago.
Saving the Phenomena.James Bogen & James Woodward - 1988 - Philosophical Review 97 (3):303-352.

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Citations of this work BETA

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 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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