Page 68 - MODES of EXPLANATION

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problem with ascribing a label, and using it as our method of explanation, is that once we
have ascribed it, once we have said that this belongs to Label X, then the explanation is done.
The assertion is that the representation holds. Implicitly, it is further asserted that the
complexity and degrees of freedom found in compressions are unnecessary. “I am a nice
person. Nice persons do X. I must do X.” There is no room in this equation for context. The
representation is assumed to govern.
Another way to say this is that models are partial truths; they partially reflect some
aspects of reality. Explanations, be they mechanistic, functional, or structural, evoke models.
Good models have well-defined relationships to reality so that we know how and when to use
them. This means that we recognize which aspects of the model are related to which aspects
of reality. This is not a piece-by-piece correspondence but a behavior-by-behavior
correspondence. Our use of models is clearly not only a property of the model, but a property
of our (incomplete) understanding of the relationship between the model and reality.
“Simplifying idealizations are, of course, an essential part of science. The
complexities of the world must be tamed by models that omit or simplify many
features of the real systems they represent, partly just to make the models tractable
enough to work with, but also to enable them to uncover the deeper patterns of
similarity that underlie the diversity of particular cases … Richard Levins (1966)
argued that, given the practical constraints to which both observation and computation
are subject, the idealized models that scientists use must make trade-offs among three
desirable features: precision, generality, and realism.” (Barker & Odling-Smee, 2014)
“An oversimplified model may act as a starting point in a series of models of
increasing complexity and realism.” (Wimsatt, 2007)
“A story is a narrative told around the formalism of the model. It is neither a
deductive consequence of the model nor of the underlying theory. It is, however,
inspired by the underlying theory (if there is one). This is because the story takes
advantage of the vocabulary of the theory (such as ‘gluon’) and refers to some of its
features (such as its complicated vacuum structure). Using more general terms, the
story fits the model in a larger framework (a ‘world picture’) in a non-deductive way.
A story is, therefore, an integral part of a model; it complements the formalism. To
put it in a slogan: a model is an (interpreted) formalism plus a story.” (Hartman, 1999)
“We use narrative to rise above the local constraints of models. A narrative is not
about the reality of a situation. Rather, the point of a story is to lay out in the open
what the narrator suggests is important. Narratives are not about being objective, but
are instead displays of subjectivity. … Powerful narratives, like great pieces of music,
feel as if they were inevitable when they are over, and we seem to agree on that. But
note, even in a compelling story, the next line cannot be predicted. It is that feeling of
inevitability that endows the great story with its ability to generate commensurate
experience amongst independent listeners.” (Zellmer, Allen, & Kesseboehmer, 2007)
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