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

Gelfert, Axel (2018) Models in Search of Targets: Exploratory Modelling and the Case of Turing Patterns. Philosophy of Science: Between the Natural Sciences, the Social Sciences, and the Humanities. pp. 245-269.

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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 (and sometimes of whole research agendas). 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 (rather than as a purported representation of an actual target system).


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Gelfert, Axel
Keywords: scientific models; exploratory modeling; pattern formation; Turing patterns; mathematical biology
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Complex Systems
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Depositing User: Axel Gelfert
Date Deposited: 02 Apr 2018 17:19
Last Modified: 02 Apr 2018 17:19
Item ID: 14521
Journal or Publication Title: Philosophy of Science: Between the Natural Sciences, the Social Sciences, and the Humanities
Publisher: Springer
Official URL: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-31...
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-72577-2_14
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Complex Systems
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Date: 27 March 2018
Page Range: pp. 245-269
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/14521

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