[Humanist] 27.576 model, modelling, simulation

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Nov 30 09:47:02 CET 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 576.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sat, 30 Nov 2013 08:38:07 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: model, modelling, simulation

At the moment I cannot stop to assimilate the various papers on the 
topic which I have run across, but I thought it might be useful to others 
involved in this discussion-thread if I were to point to those that seem 
to me most worthy of our attention. This pointing might also provoke 
mention of others. So here goes.

(1) Galison, Peter. 1996. "Computer Simulations and the Trading Zone". 
In The Disunity of Science: Boundaries, Contexts, and Power. Ed. Peter 
Galison and David J. Stump. 118-157. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

An historical study of the common activity, centred on computing, of 
what might seem at first a chaotic assemblage of disciplines and 
activities: thermonuclear weapons, enhanced A-bombs, poison gas, weather 
prediction, pion-nucleon interactions, number theory, probability 
theory, industrial chemistry, and quantum mechanics. "More precisely, 
nuclear-weapons theorists transformed the nascent "calculating machine," 
and in the process created alternative realities to which both theory 
and experiment bore uneasy ties. Grounded in statistics, game theory, 
sampling, and computer coding, these simulations constituted what I have 
been calling a "trading zone," an arena in which radically different 
activities could be locally, but not globally, coordinated."

(2) Ghamari-Tabrizi, Sharon. 2000. "Simulating the Unthinkable: Gaming 
Future War in the 1950s and 1960s". Social Studies of Science 30.2: 163-223.

A socio-historical study that gives emphasis to the effect of planning 
for thermonuclear war had on the development of simulation. "The Cold War 
set for its strategic planners a problem that had never before 
confronted the military. Nuclear war was a tabula rasa.... Given the 
fact that nuclear wars could not be field-tested, war-planning 
necessarily employed a variety of simulations." Hence, she argues, the 
authority of experienced field officers was undermined and that of 
civilian scientists greatly increased. Simulation is thus tied not only 
to the unobservable and unpredictable but also the unthinkable and 
undoable -- as well as to a profound social shift.

(3) Keller, Helen Fox. 2003. "Models, Simulations, and 'Computer 
Experiments'". In The Philosophy of Scientific Experimentation. Ed. 
Hans Radder. 198-215. Pittsburgh PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

As with Galison, anything Keller writes is worth dropping whatever one 
is doing to read, so it is difficult to narrow down to this, but it is 
exactly on topic. Keller is also interested in sorting out a taxonomy 
for simulation, but she ends with synthetic biology as a discipline of 
engineering, thus: "Synthetic life forms that are real objects in the 
sense that they are made from material components and assembled in real 
space and time are clearly being built, and in ways that draw directly 
from work on "lifelike" simulations in cyberspace..... Without doubt, 
these entities are real. But another question immediately arises: are 
they "alive"?" Then the punchline: "This is a question that worries many 
philosophers, but, as I argue elsewhere (Keller 2002, chap. 9), it may 
well be a question that belongs more properly in the realm of history 
than in that of philosophy." In other words, what we call being alive, 
she suggests, is historically contingent -- along with thinking, 
reasoning, doing scholarship?

(4) Lenhard, Johannes. 2007. "Computer Simulation: The Cooperation 
between Experimenting and Modelling". Philosophy of Science 74.2: 176-94.

As many have noticed, the introduction of Monte Carlo and other 
statistical techniques into physics has resulted in a new branch of that 
discipline: computational physics. There are, of course, philosophical 
problems to be sorted, but for us this seems important because now we 
are in the humanities doing something very much like experiment, so need 
to understand how the idea of experiment is being affected.


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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