Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Questions to Artificial Nature: A Philosophical Study of Interdisciplinary Models and their Functions in Scientific Practice

Erika Mattila

Doctoral dissertation, December 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts, Department of Philosophy and University of Helsinki, Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, Department of Education, Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research.

This thesis presents an interdisciplinary analysis of how models and simulations function in the production of scientific knowledge. The work is informed by three scholarly traditions: studies on models and simulations in philosophy of science, so-called micro-sociological laboratory studies within science and technology studies, and cultural-historical activity theory. Methodologically, I adopt a naturalist epistemology and combine philosophical analysis with a qualitative, empirical case study of infectious-disease modelling. This study has a dual perspective throughout the analysis: it specifies the modelling practices and examines the models as objects of research. The research questions addressed in this study are: 1) How are models constructed and what functions do they have in the production of scientific knowledge? 2) What is interdisciplinarity in model construction? 3) How do models become a general research tool and why is this process problematic?

The core argument is that the mediating models as investigative instruments (cf. Morgan and Morrison 1999) take questions as a starting point, and hence their construction is intentionally guided. This argument applies the interrogative model of inquiry (e.g., Sintonen 2005; Hintikka 1981), which conceives of all knowledge acquisition as process of seeking answers to questions.

The first question addresses simulation models as Artificial Nature, which is manipulated in order to answer questions that initiated the model building. This account develops further the "epistemology of simulation" (cf. Winsberg 2003) by showing the interrelatedness of researchers and their objects in the process of modelling.

The second question clarifies why interdisciplinary research collaboration is demanding and difficult to maintain. The nature of the impediments to disciplinary interaction are examined by introducing the idea of object-oriented interdisciplinarity, which provides an analytical framework to study the changes in the degree of interdisciplinarity, the tools and research practices developed to support the collaboration, and the mode of collaboration in relation to the historically mutable object of research.

As my interest is in the models as interdisciplinary objects, the third research problem seeks to answer my question of how we might characterise these objects, what is typical for them, and what kind of changes happen in the process of modelling. Here I examine the tension between specified, question-oriented models and more general models, and suggest that the specified models form a group of their own. I call these Tailor-made models, in opposition to the process of building a simulation platform that aims at generalisability and utility for health-policy. This tension also underlines the challenge of applying research results (or methods and tools) to discuss and solve problems in decision-making processes.

The title page of the publication

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Last updated 13.11.2006

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