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SCIMOD Report Summary

Project ID: 654034
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.2.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SCIMOD (Scientific Models, Fiction and Imagination)

Reporting period: 2015-10-01 to 2017-09-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

In this project I aimed to systematically explore a novel approach to model-based reasoning drawing on the relation between the debate on the nature of scientific models from philosophy of science and the debate on the nature of fiction from aesthetics. This connection has been suggested by some philosophers of science but it has not been spelled out rigorously and many questions remain open. In particular, this will change our current understanding of the nature of models by pursuing five main research objectives:

1. Conduct the first rigorous study of the analogy between models and fiction starting from a deep understanding of the notion of fictionality.
2. Develop a novel theory of models as fictions that rejects the recurrent equivocation in the philosophy of science between fictionality and non-existence.
3. Explore the sort of imaginative activities characterizing our cognitive engagement with models.
4. Build a new defensive strategy against traditional criticisms to the fiction view of models.
5. Offer the first taxonomy of the representational styles used in science.

The project benefitted from the combination of Roman Frigg’s (the supervisor) expertise in philosophy of science and modelling and my specialisation in the areas of aesthetics and the philosophy of mind and language. Furthermore, we will collaborate with the experts from the CPNSS Philosophy of Physics project, with the decision theorists and social choice experts in the LSE’s Choice Group and with the CATS (Centre for the Analysis of Time Series) group on climate models based at LSE. The dissemination of the project outcomes, which were tested through specific case studies directly involving the competences of modellers, will be of considerable interest to scientists and to a much broader scientific audience, and it will positively contribute to the public debate on the nature of model-based science. Scientists are often unclear about how to understand the model-world interface. There is a vague recognition that there is a problem, but they typically don’t have the conceptual means to frame it and discuss it in an informed way. So, often they say something vague like “the world is roughly like the model”, which is deeply unsatisfactory. By presenting a view of what models are, what representational strategies they can pursue and what sort of cognitive resources are deployed in reasoning with models, we will give scientists a tool to discuss the model-world interface in an informed way.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

During the first part of the project (month 1-6) I completed the first research objective, which was that of learning about the main issues raised by scientific representation. To this aim I surveyed the existent literature on the nature of scientific models and the analogy with fiction. I wrote two research papers (one on fictionalism about models and the problem of comparative claims and one on scientific models as representations) and I edited a special volume of The Monist on Scientific Fiction Making. Furthermore, I attended the PH400 course Philosophy of Science and I taught the PH203 course Philosophy of the Social Sciences. As part of my complementary training I attended the LSE Research Division induction courses. I worked in constant collaboration with Prof Roman Frigg (the supervisor), Jane Ellison ((project administrator at the LSE Research Division), and Laura O'Keefe (Centre Manager at CPNSS) for the administration of the grant.

During the second part of the project (month 7-12) I addressed the project's second research objective, which was that of studying the specific cognitive function of models. I surveyed the existent literature on the nature of model-based reasoning and the existent literature on the nature of propositional imagination, I learned about the issues raised by model-based reasoning through regular meetings with Prof Frigg and I acquired advanced interdisciplinary competence on the different styles of model-based reasoning. I co-authored a paper with Prof Frigg on the scientific imagination and I organised a workshop on Imagination and Epistemic Representations.

During the third part of the project (months 13-18) I worked on the project's third research objective, which was that of defending fictionalism about models. To this aim I surveyed the existent literature on scientific representation and gathered the existent arguments against fictionalism about models. I wrote three papers (one co-authored with Prof Frigg on fictionalism about models, one single-authored paper on fictionally modelling reality and one single-authored review paper on explanatory models). I also obtained the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education, a professional developmental programme taught at the LSE, and became an Associate Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy.

During the fourth part of the project (months 19-24) I worked on the project's fourth research objective, which was to unite the results and observations obtained in the previous parts of the project. I discussed the main issues raised by the general theory of model-based reasoning with Prof Frigg, I compared and exchanged views with project collaborators and consultants about the issues at stake. I further developed advanced interdisciplinary skills by applying the results obtained in the previous phases to the specific examples of scientific models previously selected and analysed. I wrote two more papers (one co-authored with Prof Frigg and Dr James Nguyen on How models denote, and one single-authored paper on model-based discovery). I also taught a course in Philosophy of Social Science (PH203) and I have been invited to each one postgraduate workshop in Qualitative Methods (MY530) at the LSE. I organised a conference on Bridging the Gap: Scientific Imagination Meets Aesthetic Imagination with my colleague Mike Stuart and I prepared and submitted an application to an ERC Starting grant to be hosted at the University of Munich (Germany).

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Research outputs of this work (seven research papers and a special issue of a top philosophy journal) will impact European research excellence by contributing a ground-breaking interdisciplinary approach to the current debate on scientific modelling. The tight connections that I am contributing to establish between the debate in aesthetics and the debate in philosophy of science will be of interest to experts from both disciplines and the project results, which are being tested through specific case studies directly involving the competences of modellers, will be of interest to scientists and to a much broader scientific audience. The dissemination of the results will impact European society in that they will contribute to the public debate on the nature of scientific models and, more generally, the nature of model-based science. Some might express concern about the analogy between fiction and models. Part of my work will consist in qualifying the correct notion of fiction to be used in this area. I will distinguish between a notion of fiction as forgery or counterfeit produced with the aim of deceiving and a notion of fiction as a hypothetical scenario known by everyone to be at variance with actual facts but that can nevertheless help us to focus on important aspects of reality that would be otherwise difficult to grasp.

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