Laws or Models?

TheScientist.com offers an excerpt from a book edited by Angela N. H. Creager, Elizabeth Lunbeck, and M. Norton Wise entitled, Science Without Laws:  Model Systems, Cases, Exemplary Systems, published by Duke University Press.

The several authors of this volume argue for or give examples of analogical modeling as a rigorous methodology, not only in biology but in a wide variety of fields.  This modeling methodology is more true to the objects of study than would be precise mathematical laws (a preeminent form of reductionism).

Here’s a little taste:

Unlike the idealized representational models characteristically featured in the history of the exact sciences, in which the model (e.g., the Bohr atom) has been supposed to mirror a natural system (hydrogen) by embodying the mathematical laws and structure from which the behavior of the system can be deduced, model systems maintain their own autonomy and specificity. That is, model systems [NOTE:  this refers to “a select set of rodents, fish, amphibians, microbes, and even a plant”] do not directly represent humans as models of them. Rather, they serve as exemplars or analogues that are probed and manipulated in the search for generic (and genetic) relationships. They serve as models for human attributes. The use of standardized organisms in biomedicine is part of a broader model-systems approach in the life sciences that includes the investigation of a far wider range of entities, from specific proteins (e.g., hemoglobin) to particular lakes (e.g., Linsley Pond in Connecticut), and whose utility in producing general knowledge relies on the routine use of analogies to other examples and entities.

These distinctions between representational and representative functions, between models of and models for, have proven quite useful in discussing the characteristics of model systems. We suggest that insofar as similar objects inhabit spaces far beyond biology laboratories, the same distinctions extend to other areas, areas where relations of similarity rather than deduction have grounded claims to generality and where specificity has been a resource rather than a problem. Many fields have developed canonical examples that have played something like the role of model systems, which serve not only as points of reference and as illustrations of general principles or values but also as sites of continued investigation and reinterpretation. What we here call model objects of this sort in this volume include Athenian democracy in political theory, the ritual in anthropology, and the so-called Prisoner’s Dilemma in game theory. Through what processes do particular organisms, cases, materials, or texts become foundational to their fields? How do they serve a classificatory function for the organization of knowledge, whether it is in a biology laboratory or an art museum? When does the specificity or idiosyncrasy of an example threaten its utility?

Examining the pursuit of knowledge organized around exemplars rather than around fundamental laws, we aim to reopen the old question of the relation between the human sciences and the natural sciences. In the nineteenth century, the question was cast in terms of the relation between the generalizing lawlike sciences (nomothetic, in the canonical formulation of Wilhelm Windelband) and the particularizing sciences (idiographic), where lawlike referred to the universal laws of physics as the ideal of science.

It is no longer the case, however, that universal laws either do or can serve as a model for all science, even natural science. This has become most apparent with the emergence of biology in the past thirty years as the so-called science of the future. It is not clear that there are any high-level laws in biology, in the sense of predictive laws that determine the future behavior of a biological system (except perhaps in evolutionary theory); we will not be concerned with whether such laws may emerge. Instead, we want to show how the model-systems approach so pervasive in biology compares with the use of cases, exemplars, and related methods in other fields. Interestingly, it appears that many of these approaches grew up in response to the challenge of producing something like lawlike knowledge in disciplines in which laws seemed incapable of capturing the specificity and complexity of organisms, geological processes, or human productions. If the result has not been laws, it has nevertheless been reliable systematic knowledge. Thus, our title: Science without Laws.

The book will also make a case for “casuistry,”so to speak–that is, reasoning by cases.  Pascal was bothered by this, but he should really have been bothered only by the abuse of casuistry. Again from Science Without Laws:

To Ian Hacking’s enumeration of six “styles of reasoning” that characterize the sciences, for example, John Forrester has proposed “reasoning by cases” as a seventh scientific method, widely used not only in the human (and biological) sciences, but also in law, medicine, and ethics. Case-based reasoning relies on relations of similarity rather than on conventional reductionism and treats specificity as a resource, not a problem. The essays in this book attend to case based modes of inquiry usually neglected by historians and philosophers of science, demonstrating that their epistemological practices and patterns extend far beyond the boundaries of science.

Table of Contents:

Introduction / Angela N.H. Creager, Elizabeth Lunbeck, and M. Norton Wise 1

Part 1: Biology
Redesigning the Fruit Fly: The Molecularization of Drosophila / Marcel Weber 23
Wormy Logic: Model Organisms as Case-Based Reasoning / Rachel A. Ankeny 46
Model Organisms as Powerful Tools for Biomedical Research / E. Jane Albert Hubbard 59
The Troop Trope: Baboon Behavior as a Model System in the Postwar Period / Susan Sperling 73

Part 2: Simulations
From Scaling to Simulation: Changing Meanings and Ambitions of Models in Geology / Naomi Oreskes 93
Models and Simulations in Climate Change: Historical, Epistemological, Anthropological, and Political Aspects / Amy Dahan Dalmedico 125
The Curios Case of the Prisoner’s Dilemma: Model Situation? Exemplary Narrative? Mary S. Morgan

Part 3: Human Sciences
The Psychoanalytic Case: Voyeurism, Ethics, and Epistemology in Robert Stoller’s Sexual Excitement / John Forrester 189
“To Exist Is to Have Confidence in One’s Way of Being”: Rituals as Model Systems / Clifford Geertz 212
Democratic Athens as an Experimental System: History and the Project of Political Theory / Josiah Ober 225
Latitude, Slaves, and the Bible: An Experiment in Microhistory / Carlo Ginzburg 243

Afterword: Reflections on Exemplary Narratives, Cases, and Model Organisms / Mary S. Morgan 264

Contributors 275
Index 279

Interested readers should also have a look at this chapter (.pdf) from Nancy Cartwright’s book, The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science.

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