[Humanist] 27.554 model, modelling, simulation

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Nov 25 10:20:21 CET 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 554.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 25 Nov 2013 07:02:51 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: model, modelling, simulation

When I wrote the chapter on the notion of "model" for Humanities 
Computing (Palgrave, 2005) I read everything I could then get my hands 
on that made an attempt to define it. I sped quickly and bravely past 
all the warning signs of dangerous polysemy ahead, surveyed it all and 
came to my own conclusions. These anyone who is interested may read. But 
chief among them was that "model" was if not the wrong word for what we 
do certainly a misleading one, because (as Bob Amsler put it) what we do 
moves in time. So I recommended "modelling" as the central idea. I more 
or less ignored "simulation" and "simulating" -- a serious shortcoming 
of that account but, I hope, forgivable given the complexities 
involved. But a serious shortcoming nevertheless.

It's clear that the murk has not cleared itself up. There are surely 
some models in our work that last long enough to give continuing life to 
the idea of a settled representation of something. But I like to think 
that these are the exception in the context of research (as opposed to 
the context of building of things to fit given specifications). In the 
context of research (which is a kind of search not a kind of finding, 
no?) one of the big problems is the assumption, as Brian Rotman puts it 
in Ad Infinitum: The Ghost in Turing's Machine (Stanford 1993), of an 
anterior reality to which the model corresponds, or as Jerome McGann 
says in many places on behalf of literature, that what we work with is not 
self-identical. The problem (as I understand it, all serious 
qualifications applying) is that we do not stand apart from the action 
but are part of it -- we begin immediately to see the object in terms of 
the modelling we are doing. And I suppose one could argue that prior to 
all that, given that we are immersed in computational thinking, we have 
already construed the object computationally in some basic sense.

Modelling moves in time. So does simulating. But it's curious that 
whereas "model" refers to an object only, "simulation" refers both to an 
object and a process. So I am beginning to think that the two basic 
kinds can be distinguished by the fact that once we build the 
simulation, we either stand back and observe or play the game. We don't 
tinker with the rules of the game.

Does that fly?

Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Research Group in Digital
Humanities, University of Western Sydney

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