În textul său, ”Falsificationism and the methodology of Scientific Research Programmes”, Lakatos distinge între trei tipuri de ”falsificaționism”: (1) cel ”dogmatic”-naturalist, (2) cel metodologic sau ”naiv” și (3) cel ”sofisticat”(acestea sunt numite altundeva Popper0, Popper1 și Popper2). Cel dogmatic are impresia că te poți confrunta cu ”fapte brute”, din natură, care vor înclina balanța în cazul unui expriment crucial. Cel ”naiv” își dă seama că probele în favoarea unei teorii nu sunt fapte brute, și că observarea acestor probe e legată de o serie de decizii metodologice (cum rezolvăm problema bazei empirice? Ce anume din teorie este falsificat de observație? problemema cunoașterii de fundal – background knowledge)
Cel sofisticat păstrează atenția pentru problema deciziilor metodologice (dar fără a le rezolva pe toate!), însă discută în termeni de ”schimbări ale modului de a pune problema” (problemshifts). Aceste problemshifts pot fi progresive teoretic sau empiric (și sunt științifice dacă sunt cel puțin teoretic progresive), iar prin aceasta se înțelege că noua teorie asimilează elementele nerefutate din vechea teorie, iar pe lângă acestea produce noi observații empirice (deși, vom vedea la seminar, nu neapărat imediat) – i.e. are un ”exces” de conținut empiric față de vechea teorie – pe care finalmente de ”coroborează” (pentru a păstra un termen popperian). Dacă un problemshift încetează să mai producă conținut empiric, acesta devine ”degenerativ” (însă, după cum vom discuta la seminar, asta nu înseamnă că se retrage de pe scenă).
Pornind de la cel de-al treilea tip de falsificaționism, Lakatos își va construi o metodologie a proiectelor de cercetare (șiruri teoretice care împart același nucleu). Acestea conțin mai multe elemente: euristica negativă (cea care construiește nucleul dur și centura protectoare, formată din ipoteze auxiliare. Partea mai curând neinfirmabilă a unui program de cercetare), euristica pozitivă (omul de știință construiește un model teoretic, adesea făcând abstracție de conținutul empiric sau de ”anomaliile” care sunt puse pe masă. Aceasta definește ”variantele” infirmabile ale programului de cercetare), centura protectoare (ipotezele auxiliare ce protejează nucleul), respectiv nucleul dur (cel ce – în primă înstanță! – nu poate fi ținta unui modus tollens, dar poate fi eliminat pănă la urmă). Aceste elemente vin cu o serie interesantă de consecințe:
Asemeanea ”problemshift”-urilor, programele de cercetare pot fi teoretic progresive (propun noi modele teoretice) sau empiric progresive (conduc la noi observații empirice – sau pun observații mai vechi într-o lumină nouă), sau ambele. Tot asemenea problemshift-urilor, programele de cercetare pot deveni degenerative.
Experimentul crucial este redefinit. Acestea ne apar cel mai adesea drept micro-experimente cruciale, iar un factor decisiv îl are dimensiunea istroică a științei: un experiment ne apare drept crucial numai retrospectiv.
Există o perpetuă competiție între diferite programe de cercetare. Un program ”în cădere” (sau ”degenerativ”) se poate întoarce pe ringul de luptă după o perioadă mai lungă de timp.
În acest seminar, aș vrea să avem în vedere următoarele întrebări de fundal:
1. Mi se pare că uneori Lakatos pare să prefere demersul speculativ (sau de construcție a modelelor teoretice) în pofida muncii experimentale. Însă aștept să mă contraziceți. Ce înțelege Lakatos prin ”model”? Este Lakatos mai degrabă specualtiv sau mai curând apropiat de empiric?
2. Ce sunt euristicile? (O serie de reguli? Țin ele de logica descoperirii? De metodologie? Etc.)
3. Cum poate decurge ”lupta” dintre diferite programe de cercetare (putem identifica niște etape)? Poate nucleul dur fi infirmat în cele din urmă? Cum?
4. Cum redefineșe Lakatos noțiunea de ”raționalitate”? (De discutat cu ce am văzut până acum în Popper, Kuhn, Duhem – pe care, de altfel, îi și discută Lakatos în textul său)
5. Este Lakatos descriptiv sau normativ?
6. (Anticipând seminarul următor) Ce rol joacă istoria științei pentru Lakatos? Ce este o reconstrucție rațională?
 Însă Popper0 este mai curând un om de paie, construit de Ayer. Popper1 este Popper-ul de tinerețe, iar Popper2 este cel de bătrânețe.
În 1666, Newton observă un fenomen pe care l-am putea vedea drept o anomalie pentru teoriile optice ale vremii (pentru care un reprezentant important este Hooke): Newton observă că proiecția unei raze de lumină ce trece printr-un orificiu din fereastră și apoi printr-o prismă nu are forma acelui orificiu (circulară), ci o formă mai alungită, în care lungimea e cam de cinici ori mai mare decât lățimea. Acest fenomen este discutat de Newton într-o scrisoare către Societatea Regală, apărută în Philosophical Transactions.
Newton ia în considerare mai mulți factori care i-ar fi putut altera setup-ul experimental: grosimea lentilelor, forma imperfectă a acestora, sau chiar ipoteza în conformiate cu care lumina s-ar mișca circular. Însă niciunul din acești posibili factori nu par să explice fenomenul. Acest aspect îl încurajează pe Newton să construiască un experiment crucial, care ar trebui să ne elucideze natura luminii: Newton adaugă o a doua prismă și observă că fasciculele colorate de lumină nu se desfac mai departe în alte componente. De aici, Newton conchide că lumina albă e compusă din raze colorate, de refrangibilități diferite (”Light consists of Rays differently refrangible”), și că aceste raze nu sunt proprietăți ale luminii (apărute în urma refracției sau a reflexiei), ci constituenții ultimi ai acesteia (”Colours are not Qualifications of Light, derived from Refractions, or Reflections of natural Bodies […], but Original and connate properties, which in divers Rays are divers”).
Textul lui Newton poate fi împărțit în trei părți: mai întâi, o descriere a anomaliei și a setup-ului experimental ”crucial”. Mai apoi, ”doctrina” culorilor construită pe baza acestui experiment, ce conține 13 propoziții (care ne spun, de pildă, că fiecărui grad de refrangibilitate îi corespunde doar o singură culoare; că razele violet sunt cele mai refrangibile, iar cele roșii sunt cele mai puțin refrangibile; că, deși există un număr indefinit de astfel de raze, totuși între ele nu există o diferență esențială; ori că unele dintre aceste raze – mai apropiate pe spectrul culorilor- se pot amesteca, iar altele nu; și că dacă le amestecăm pe toate recompunem lumina ”albă”; sau că uneori nu vedem lumina ”albă” pentru că prisma pe care o folosim este ușor colorată etc.). Finalmente, Newton propune alte experimente în favoarea doctrinei culorilor.
Numai că această ”doctrină” este prezentată ca rezultând în urma unui experiment crucial. Iar acest lucru atrage atenția unui experimentator ce deja devenise, în epocă, parte a establishment-ului în ale opticii: Robert Hooke (Westfall 1963, Purrington 2009, ch 8). Într-un răspuns adresat tot Societății Regale, Hooke susține că ”teoria” lui Newton (după cum o numește acesta din urmă) este departe de a rezulta dintr-un experiment crucial, și că aceasta este mai degrabă o ”ipoteză” cu nimic mai certă decât alte ”ipoteze”, printre care și cea propuse de Hooke însuși: pentru el, lumina este indivizbilă, se propagă ondulatoriu, iar fenomenul culorilor este doar o aparență (”the Phantasm of Colour”) ce rezultă în urma indicilor de refracție diferiți pe care lumina îi întâlnește la contactul cu diferite suprafețe (deși uneori pare să fie ceva mai aproape de Newton și să spună că există totuși două culori fundamentale – roșu și albastru) (Micrographia 57-69, Purrington op. cit 136- 139). Cu alte cuvinte, Hooke respinge caracterul de experimentum crucis al demersului lui Newton, susținând că ambele teorii sunt coerente cu setup-ul experimental. Despre acest exemplu vom discuta mai îndelung la curs.
Natural History and Natural Philosophy in romanticism
The Romantic Period, defined approximately between 1790-1830, was an important timeframe for the formation of science as we know it today, with its rigorous method, continuous ramification of subject matter and cultural desideratum to use knowledge as a tool for life improvement. From Natural History through Natural Philosophy to Science, the complexity of this movement is suggested by the diversity of language styles, methodology, social approach and assumed purpose of each actor, specifically nature discourse.
Natural History, as a descriptive study, is rooted in field work and specimen collection, infused with literature and addressed to anyone interested. It is based on a more intimate approach to Nature, and on this rapport it builds its own aesthetic and philosophy. The field enjoyed an increased popularity in British society because it provided both functional results and artistic delights. As Catherine Ross noticed, the public was a crucial agent. Firstly, because it was composed by highly educated men, with diverse backgrounds, but still raised in the same classical spirit, reading the same books and attending the same lectures. Those are men formed to receive both types of knowledge, scientific and poetic. And because of this, whoever wanted to gain the public attention, had to resort to both receptacles. As the same author proves, the public switched from rich gentlemen with too much free time, to active men of society, pursuing knowledge to enhance the common good. In their work, intellectuals needed to keep in mind the market relevance of the results. For all these reasons, Davy had success with his lectures and Wordsworth had to give up poetry for a prolonged period of time. There was no place anymore for the isolated genius, and the demiurgic, hermetic arrogance prepared the fall for most creative enterprises. One example given by Ross to show this kind of compromise to public reception is Davy’s experiments, on which she notes that “this was not only scientific professionalism; it was a species of theater or performance art – small wonder that Davy captured not only the Romantic audiences’ intellectual attention but also their emotional and aesthetic interests in ways that few poets did.”
Natural Philosophy, on the other hand, is an older enterprise, tracing its origins back to Aristotle’s times. It has already a germ of scientific methodology, its language tends to be of a more realistic, experimental nature. Romantic period revived Francis Bacon and Sir Isaac Newton’s writing and further developed a language more precise, of a more mathematical style. Gravity law, corpuscular theory of light and other such theories were reborn to create a competing disciplinary structure out of natural philosophy by grounding it in mathematical principles and by formulating a distinct formal language for physics and astronomical knowledge.
One of the funny challenges of the epoch was that Natural Philosophy stands as a more valuable knowledge than Natural History. It required intensive training and further specialization, dedicated research spaces and tools, while the democratic knowledge of the other made it made accessible to the large public. Some practitioners of Natural History, in a popular display of irony, challenged this divide between theoretical and practical. For reference, we can take a look on the satire of “The philosophical puppet show”, or, Snip’s inauguration to the President’s Chair: “Preach not to me of theoretic art;/ I – like a whore – profess the practic part,” declares the Banks puppet in the play (Snip 1663:17).
If we can talk today about a transition from Natural History to Natural Philosophy to Science, we can be prone to reductionism. We can also consider the development of instruments as the main agents of revolution, but that can still be classified as a simplistic view. The path taken in this essay is to look at this subtle shift of vision through the lenses of literature. The points to discuss are how the metaphorical discourse is employed in the popularization of science, how the scientific discoveries are engulfed in the literary imagery and, finally, how both science and literature divided their subject. If Newton’s mechanical philosophy gave birth to a lifeless nature, objective and governed by intrinsic laws, the parallel movement emphasized the subjective, the elusive self of the individual and of nature. This reaction was led by poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats and Blake. One of the antinomies used in their work was that of nature. From Lake Poets perfection of nature and its inherent good, which stands out of human reach, through Blake’s fallen kingdom, where The Sick Rose will always betray her followers, we can sketch a map of nature’s image, and human place in it, swinging back and forth from one extreme to the other. On one hand there is W. Blake, who, in his poem “The Sick Rose”, gave a cruel imagery of natural element as “the invisible worm” who with “his dark secret love/Does thy life destroy.”
And, on the opposing side, there is the Lake poet W. Wordsworth who, in the poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, sings an ode to the eternal beauty of daffodils, which “flash upon that inward eye/Which is the bliss of solitude/And then my heart with pleasure fills,/And dances with the daffodils.” The flower image is common to both, but where one sees a picture of dark conqueror of hearts, the other finds a delightful pleasurable counterpart.
Demeter with a scalpel and the science of building up paradise in the backyard
As the poem exemplified here, “The sensitive plant” implies the primary background of the garden, it is necessary to say a few words about garden imagery in the romantic time. As mentioned above, productivity and utility became the standard by which knowledge of nature was proven to be worthy of pursuing. In her work, Rachel Crawford gave some directions by which the botanical taxonomy was rooted in every day’s life, with reference to the kitchen garden. Natural beauty took a complete turn, from the majestic and impersonal view of wild landscapes, to the confined, artificial space of the kitchen garden. The author’s analysis of kitchen garden manuals shows that they tend to unite didactic purposes with lyrical technique, in order to reach the public taste of the time. The functional aesthetic of the garden requires artifice, human control over natural phenomena. For the British public, nature was not a safe, familiar place for human subjectivity to project onto. By controlling nature, each gardener became a Deity and the garden a world by itself, or in Crawford’s words, “in calendar entries, especially, the gardener is portrayed as both regulator and genius of the garden. Under his tutelage, the garden is a product of artifice in which design, although everywhere apparent, produces sublime disorder.”
Shelley and his theoretical discourse on art
Percy Bysshe Shelley, the subject of this essay, was also a child of this time. Science has been his long-lasting fascination, and this can be seen from the youngest year’s natural experiments to the imagery, motives and leading ideas of his late poems. James Lind was his mentor, and the personality having the most impact on his development. When the young Shelley met him, he was the idealized image of the man of science. Another important personality in his life was Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin. His work, „The temple of nature” or „The origin of society” was crucial to the poet, and this can be seen in Queen Mab’s subtitle “A poem with philosophical notes”, copying the same form of Darwin subtitle in “The Origin of Society: A Poem with Philosophical Notes”. His widely known ars poetica, Shelley’s essay “A defense of poetry” is a crucial work on the place and purpose of creative arts. Written as a response to T.L. Peacock’s article, “The four ages of poetry”, the text presents the role of the artist and its creative endeavors. For the scope of this essay, there are a few things of importance: Firstly, the discourse regarding the origin of art. Following Shelley’s metaphor, man is like a lyre on which external and internal factors print their impression. The principle active in human being, and, says Shelley, probably in all sentient being, transform this impression into harmonious melody. The result of this process is seen on different media, be it the pencil, the picture, the statue or a book of laws.
The poet is a Creator in the largest sense of the word, a mirror that does not reflect life as it is but dresses it into its highest form of harmony principle. Poetry enlarges the mind, “lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as they were not familiar” Art is, in this view, inherently human and, in the same time, superior to any individualistic and conscient endeavor. It is a principle of harmony, potent in humankind and awakened in those gifted. Secondly, the idea related to the usefulness of art. Poetry is of use for morality not by giving directives, but by allowing man to “go out of his own nature”. In this view, the motor of moral good is imagination, which poetry only enriches. “Neither the eye nor the mind can see itself, unless reflected upon that which resembles” And, thirdly, the antinomy between grossiere sciences and art. Art is an active force, a creative process, a synthesis, while science is a passive contemplation of the relation between thoughts, an analysis. In his words, “reason is to the imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance”. Pleasure is the purpose of a conscious being. He differentiates between two kinds of pleasure, one permanent and universal and another transitory and particular. Utility in this distinction is either “what strengthens and purifies the affections…and adds spirit to the senses” or merely “wants of our animal nature”. The latter’s advocates “an unmitigated exercise of the calculating faculty”. The former, in its definition, it needs to include a series of paradoxes by which “from an inexplicable defect of harmony in the constitution of human nature, the pain of the inferior is frequently connected with the pleasures of the superior portions of our being”. Though not necessarily linked with pain, as Shelley gives further examples of these pleasures in love and friendship, or “the ecstasy of the admiration of nature”. And only this sense is where utility should be pursued. What Shelley says further in the text about “mere reasoners” is related more to moral philosophy. As for mankind awakening, no philosophical analysis of society could induce the values created by art. As for the science improvement, Shelley’s view is that he was at the point where humanity “had eaten more than we can digest”. The improvement in mechanical arts needs a of the creative faculty of imagination.
When, in the last part, Shelley seems to sing an ode to poetry, it should be remembered that he calls upon the human faculty of getting out of itself and reshaping what one knows within the harmonic faculty. The process seems to be of a double cyclicity in relation to nature. It allows firstly a de-personalization of the self, then an almost alchemical transformation of, let’s say, scientist conclusions and mechanical knowledge, within the furnace of creative harmonic faculty. The result is the work of art, which only now has the potential to reach further. It is important to note that this process is out of reach for the will; one cannot decide to become a poet or to write poetry. And to lastly consider, in the light of what was told until now, his famous conclusion “Poets are the unknown legislators of the world”. As in the image sketched above, only the poet is capable of that degree of reality reconstruction upon the laws of human subjectivity. Considering the above, Shelley’s account of nature is one of a naturalized soul. The rapport between science and reality is one of a lowest degree than that between soul and reality or soul and science.
The Sensitive Plant or Mimosa Pudica
For the purpose of exemplification, the poem discussed further is “The Sensitive Plant”. By its scientific name mimosa pudica, it is a species known for closing its leaves as a response to physical stimuli. In addition to its response to physical stimuli, the leaves also droop in response to darkness and reopen with daylight, a phenomenon known as nyctinastic movement. Going forward with the same flower motive which remained from Wordsworth and Blake, and its corresponding natural representation, I will take the chance to trace the routes of its botanical substratum and meaning.
In this poem Shelley describes mimosas in correlation to the human emotions. His conclusions are taken from Erasmus Darwin’s reflections on mimosas as a strange bridge between plant and animal kingdom. This parallel between natural world and human emotion is as old as poetry itself, but what is new in Shelley is that emotion stands as the link between human and nonhuman world. This idea is linked with his pantheistic view of poetry. As Nathan Cervo puts it : “For Shelley, a “person” (whatever that is) achieves monistic rapport by sensitization, by stripping the insulation of matter, which includes the accretions of conventionalized Lockean psychological atomism, from the sheer electricity, the absolute “unweddedness” (the meaning of the Greek etymon for electricity), of the brain-soul dialectic. Among the aestheticized elect, this stripping or enucleating of the noumenal (archetypal) self always issues not in the triumph of time and its minions but in the apotheosis of the soul by way of Sentimental Naturalism” This shows that the path to the core of a “person” is to be reached by taking down layers of “matter” (physical as well as psychological Lockean one), removing the core/nucleus which can stay at the basis of the individuation principle, until it remains only the universal “soul”, the same substance shared with all natural beings. The sensitive plant is placed in the enclosed, artificial space of the garden, acting on its natural habit of enclosing its leaves on night and opening them to sun. The soul, so to speak, of the „companionless sensitive plant” is in a continuous wanting for love. The images of the other flowers in the garden is the one of femininity in blossom, a paradise of senses. The idea of unity emerges in the first part of the poem, where each plant „was interpenetrated/With the light and the odour its neighbour shed”. And, unlike the other flowers, the sensitive plant was deprived of any sensual qualities; all she has left is a desire for the Beautiful and a feeble, though unique, connection with nature cyclicity. The God of the garden, The Lady, is further introduced as a tendering force. When she appears, Shelley does not take her out, as an individuality, from the harmony of the Edenic garden, but he puts her inside it, on a preliminary deeper level, „like a sea-flower unfolded beneath the ocean”. The singularity and loneliness of the Lady makes her the counterpart of the Sensitive Plant. This tender gardener not only provides for the plants, but also shelters them from the ugliness and from all the „things of obscene and unlovely forms”.
As, once autumn came, The Lady died, nature died with her too. The garden changed and, once the course of natural transformation begins, the Edenic space became the feeding ground for all things the Gardener kept away. The wild vegetation is presented here as parasitic and monstrous. As the time passes and the spring returns, the sensitive plant remained but a skeleton prone to decay. Shelley’s view is also deeply rooted in the botanical knowledge of his time, as the same descriptors are used for the sensitive plant behavior. But he takes this knowledge a step further and infuse it with that creative principle described in “A defense…”. The same one that elevates the scientific knowledge from mere necessity and satisfaction of primal needs is used to give an account of perennial soul marching through time. The sensitive plant becomes not only a metaphor, but a counterpart, a mirror of poet’s place in nature and in time. The paradise-like image at the beginning creates a crescendo image of togetherness and harmony, only to be disrupted by the companionless Sensitive Plant. One of the paradoxes of aesthetic transmutation is that “the pain of the inferior is frequently connected with the pleasures of the superior portions of our being”. What has been done in poem is to change the view of death and decay from the purely descriptive natural phenomenon of nature into an almost serene sensation of perpetual immanent change. For the sake of comparison, let’s look on Erasmus Darwin’s description of mimosas: “Weak with nice sense, the chaste mimosa stands,/From each rude touch withdraws her timid hands;/Oft as light clouds o’erpass the Summer-glade,/Alarm’d she trembles at the moving shade;/And feels, alive through all her tender form,/The whisper’d murmurs of the gathering storm;/Shuts her sweet eye-lids to approaching night;/And hails with freshen’d charms the rising light./Veil’d, with gay decency and modest pride,/Slow to the mosque she moves, an eastern bride;/There her soft vows unceasing love record,/Queen of the bright seraglio of her Lord.—/So sinks or rises with the changeful hour/The liquid silver in its glassy tower./So turns the needle to the pole it loves,/With fine librations quivering, as it moves. “ – Erasmus Darwin, “The loves of the plants”.[11
We can notice, from both poems, that the plant personification is feminine. In this case an ephemeral, delicate and tender image. This is a recurrent motive, as plants were portrayed either as impersonating feminine desirable qualities, either as oversexualized feminine motives. By looking at the two texts on the same flower, one can see that both are infused in poetic language and metaphors. It is a characteristic of the Romantic period that, in order to proliferate the scientific knowledge (of botany in this example), the most accessible dress is the one of literature. We do not see in Darwin texts (nor was intended) the bleak taxonomy of contemporary botany. “The loves of plants” was a poem written by a botanist. On the other hand, “The Sensitive Plant”, still using the same river of botanical taxonomy provided by Natural History, enriches the meaning of the personification and introduces philosophical conclusions based on the passage of time and the rite of initiation. Another way to interpret the poem, in the light of what was previously said, is that, even in the controlled and artificial space of the garden, nature ultimately escapes humanity’s caring hand. As Shelley is attentive to notice, the aesthetic of the enclosed space is not a conquered beauty. For a short period, as short as a human life can be, The Gardener can participate and be included in the natural harmony and Edenic beauty of its creations. Once time expires and the decaying cycle begins, formal beauty of the senses vanishes. What remains is the perennial virtues of art: “For love, and beauty, and delight, /There is no death nor change: their might/Exceeds our organs, which endure/ No light, being themselves obscure.”
1. Heringman, N. (Ed.). (2003). Romantic science: The literary forms of natural history. SUNY Press.
2. McCalman, I. (1999). An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age. Oxford University Press.
3. Halsted, J. B. (1969). Percy Bysshe Shelley:“A Defence of Poetry”. In Romanticism (pp. 81-97). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
4. King-Hele, D. G. (1992). Shelley and science. Notes and records of the Royal Society of London, 46(2), 253-265.
5. Cervo, N. (1988). Hopkins’ the Caged Skylark and Shelley’s to a Skylark. The Explicator, 47(1), 16-20.
6. Levere, T. (2010). Richard Holmes. The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. xxi+ 525 pp., illus., index. New York: Pantheon Books, 2008.
6. Kelley, T. M. (2012). Clandestine marriage: Botany and romantic culture. JHU Press.
7. Ruston, S. (2013). Humphry Davy and the Sublime. In Creating Romanticism (pp. 132-174). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
8. Heringman, Noah. “Natural history in the romantic period.” A Concise Companion to the Romantic Age (2009): 141-167.
9. Heringman, N. (2004). “Peter Pindar,” Joseph Banks, and the Case Against Natural History. The Wordsworth Circle, 35(1), 21-30
10. Shelley, P. B. (2019). A defence of poetry and other essays. Good Press.
11. Darwin, E. (1806). The loves of the plants (Vol. 2). J. Johnson.
What models are and what modeling is, are not easy questions to tackle down due, partly, to the fact that models are at the first glance overlapping with the concept of scientific theory. Are those really related in the sense that models and theories are on the same par? Or are models autonomous agents and we should be dismissive towards a theoretical-centered view? In this entry-article, I pursue rather the idea that models, whatever they are in regard with their fundamental ontology, are at the same time points of view or scientific perspectives about a physical phenomenon and, on the other hand, modeling is the locus of scientific activity which consists in the representational practice of depicting the physical phenomenon in the terms of a given perspective (Giere 2004, p.60). I call this latter approach “perspectival modeling”, borrowing the concept from Michela Massimi’s work, in order to restate Giere’s argument for models as perspectives (Massimi 2017, p.3). Modeling and models are intertwined in the sense that modeling is the scientific activity that relies on models (as vehicles of scientific representation).
In the first place, I consider various accounts of what models could be: either fictional, artifactual, abstract, or, rather, mathematical structures, or logic-linguistic propositions. Whatever models could be (here it comes the long disjunction of alternatives!), and whatever view one buys into, she should accept that models are also points of view about physical systems (target-systems). I argue henceforth that the perspectivist approach is consistent with (almost) any view about what models are. My guiding analogy would be, following Giere, the idea of a map that depicts the physical world (Giere 2004, pp.70-75). If models are perspectives, those are maps about the physical world. Within this view, we can conclude that models deliver perspectival, partial, and idealized scientific knowledge about phenomena (Massimi 2018, pp.166-167).
What models could be (a shortlist of much-debated approaches and examples):
Models as interpretations of theories (the Syntactic View): According to this approach, models are alternative interpretations to the abstract calculus of a theory. In turn, a theory is “an abstract calculus” and “a set of rules” that relate the calculus to “empirical content” (Nagel 1979, p.90). Models are, in other words, models for theories, or “are just the theories themselves” (French 2020, p.6). A classic example would be the billiard ball model of a gas, where the formal calculus (Newton’s laws of mechanics) is expressed not in terms of gas atoms, but in terms of a set of observable objects that enhance the scientific understanding (motion, momentum, mass) (French 2020, p.5). Models become mere psychological tools.
Models as mathematical structures (the Semantic View): Within this approach, models are extra-linguistic objects (contra the Syntactic View) since models can get multiple linguistic formulations.– models have, in this regard, a “linguistic independence” from the overarching theory (French 2020). Instead, under this construal, theories stand for “families of structures, its models” (van Fraassen 1980, p.64) – such that models are in fact mathematical structures. Take the previous example. The billiard ball model as a structure provides a representation of the gas atoms – the representation is an isomorphism (sharing the same structure) between the model and the physical system that is represented (the gas atoms).
Models as fictions: Models are on the same ontological par with fictions, meaning that there are no ontic differences between the billiard ball model, Hans Castorp, and The Magic Mountain (French 2020, pp.152-154). For instance, propositions regarding models are not literally true, but true only relative to the domain delineated by the model. Engaging with models in scientific practice, scientists are pretending ‘as if’ the models are real existing entities – being involved in a game of pretension. The entire game is “delineated by a kind of convention or principle of agreement” among scientists (French 2020, p.21).
Models as real abstract entities: Models are real entities, living in a Third World (basically, a realm of theories, models, artworks, paintings, literary fictions or music pieces) that is further distinguished from the First World (the physical world – the realm of physical entities) and the Second World (the mental world – made of mental states) (French 2020, pp.116-118). In this view, the process of building models is one of the discovery of a certain kind of entities that are out there in the world.
Models as metaphors: Another option is to define models as metaphors. In this view, metaphors are expressions involving interactions between a primary system and a secondary system (Hesse 1966, pp.158-159). If we take models as metaphors, the gas atoms (as the primary system) are conceived like billiard balls (as the secondary system). In this case, what hold between the former and the latter are multiple analogies of a certain kind. We assume from the onset that the primary and the secondary systems share some features (what is called positive analogy – for instance, kinetic properties), others properties are not shared (negative analogy – e.g. atoms are not made out of plastic), and there are also features about which I do not know (yet) if are shared (neutral analogy) (Hesse 1960, pp.8-9). Accordingly, a model could embody positive, negative, and neutral analogies with respect to the target-system.
Whatever alternative from (a) to (e) we pick out to define what a model is, models are going to provide scientific knowledge about the target-system similarly with how a map represents a specific delineated field. The latter thesis is an epistemic view about how scientific knowledge is generated within scientific practices – while our lists of approaches are, mainly, competing ontologies of models. Whether we decide that models are fictions, or abstract entities, or metaphors, models still work out as perspectives about the target-system. How? Let’s consider the following picture:
It depicts a partial subway map of Washington. The main information (knowledge) carried by the map is the topological ordering of stations (Giere 2004, p.74). What one resident of Washington can do with the subway map is “to know when one is at the stop before one’s desired destination” (Giere 2004, p.74). Regarding the target-system, the subway map is modeling Washington’s subway system from the point of view of how stations are ordered one after another. As a representation, Washington’s subway map is a one-to-one correspondence between the real order between stations and the mapped order between those. Also, many details or features are left out: we see no actual streets, the distance expressed in kilometers between stations is also lacking, no people in stations, or no subway schedule. Consequently, we can conclude that “every map reflects a perspective on the region mapped, a perspective built by the mapmakers” (Giere 2004, p.75). In our case, the Washington subway map reflects the perspective or the point of view of the relevant topological order. In the previous example, we can point out the central features of a map. Maps are partial since only some features of the place in question are subsequently represented (Giere 2004, pp.71-72). Maps are of limited accuracy because the relative distances on the map do not stand exactly for the relative distances on the ground (Giere 2004, p.72). Maps are idealized renderings of a physical system – as we have already seen, a lot of details from the ground are missing. (Giere 2004, p.72). Maps and mapmaking depend on conventions for interpretation, what and how maps represent is culturally dependent (Giere 2004, pp.74-75).
To make this latter point clear, Giere considers a Medieval map of the world. The outer circle refers to the world’s oceans, while the top part stands for Asia. The bottom left stands for Europe and the bottom right represents Africa. Without information (the relevant conventions) in place, we do not know “what a map is a map of” (Giere 2004, p.75)
Knowing better now what a map is and how it works, we can further extend the map case to models and modeling. Take the previous example of the billiard ball model. A perspectivist reading of it could say that the kinetic properties of small particles of matter are regarded from the point of view of the billiard ball. Within this perspective, atoms are depicted as bouncy balls that collide, exhibit momentum, are subject to change due to motion, are subject to the law of conservation of mass. The model is partial, it depicts certain features (the motion of the balls – the law of conservation) and no others (the material out of which the balls are made); the model is idealized, some features are neglected (certain friction forces due to air resistance); of limited accuracy (the relative size of the balls do not stand for the size of the atoms); and, finally, culturally dependent on certain conventions. In this regard, the billiard ball model is dependent upon Dalton’s atomic theory, which fits in the broader Newtonian classical mechanical view on how physical objects interact. Knowing all these particular details of the billiard ball model, we can certainly know what the model is a model of – what target-system is truly modeling. In other words, the billiard ball model reflects a perspective on the physical system that is mapped.
If models are like maps, then it follows that models are perspectives. How is in turn defined as perspectival modeling? The billiard ball model is a proper vehicle of representation for the gas atoms – it fixes up what features of the model correspond to which features of the targeted system. Models are designed such that elements of the model can be identified with features of the real world (Giere 2004, p.63). How modeling takes place? One way to obtain representations is to build one-to-correspondences that hold in certain respects (motion, the law of conservation in our toy example) but no others (size and the make-up material). By now, it is plausible to stress that representations are done not ex nihilo, or from almost any perspective, but the relevant models are representational tools withina specific perspective, namely the billiard ball model of gas atoms. If we are to abandon the billiard ball model and take into consideration the plum-cake model or Bohr’s model of the atom, we are gone to obtain different representations that are generated within other distinct perspectives. This train of thought shows nothing more than that scientific modeling is perspectival in the sense that it takes place from the point of view of a given scientific model.
Perspectival modeling provides understanding and insight of the target-system into question: how gas atoms behave as they do and why this behavior is subject to certain regularities (Bailer-Jones 2009, p.13). Moreover, modeling has an informational stage since there is a transfer of information from the physical system to the model – we are going to transfer the empirical information that we got directly to the billiard ball model. The next step is interpretation, where we take “the results of the derivation stage back to the target system” and interpret them in the light of our predictions about the gas atoms (French 2020, p.71).
Our detour to models as perspectives shows it does not presuppose beforehand what models are in regard to their fundamental ontology. Instead, the perspectivist reading puts models at work in scientific practices – explaining how scientists reason with models to generate knowledge. It is not a matter of ontology (not a fundamental ontological issue at least), but mostly a matter of knowledge acquisition or of epistemology (of science). We can live up with perspectivism regardless to which fundamental ontology of models we accept.
Seminar proposal: I would like to ask the students that are enrolled in the “Contemporary Trends in Philosophy of Science” course to read in advance the fourth chapter (“Scientific Theorizing”, pp.59-96) of Scientific Perspectivism as a starting point for our seminar discussion on models and modeling (15th December).
Bas C.Van Fraassen (1980), The Scientific Image, Oxford: Oxford Claredon Press.
Daniela Bailer-Jones (2009), Models in Philosophy of Science, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Ernest Nagel (1979), The Structure of Science, Indianapolis Cambridge: Hackett Company.
Mary Hesse (1966), Models and Analogies in Science, Indiana: Notre Dame Press