7.0006 Modelling (1/33)

Mon, 17 May 1993 17:29:45 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 7, No. 0006. Monday, 17 May 1993.

Date: Tue, 11 May 93 23:08:19 EDT
From: mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca (W. McCarty)
Subject: modelling

Recently I discovered an interesting book, _The Rules of the Game: Cross-
disciplinary Essays on Models in Scholarly Thought_ (London, 1972). I
have yet to read anything more than the first essay, Teodor Shanin's
"Models and Thought", but am encouraged to think that the rest will be
rewarding also. I bring this book to the attention of fellow
Humanists to 'stir the pot' of discussion on the subject of modelling,
as it seems to me an essential aspect of computing and what we in
particular do with computers.

In his essay, Shanin argues for the fundamental importance of
modelling to all forms of disciplined study, which he attributes
to its use "as the major bridge" or middle ground "between the
language of theory and that of empirically collected data... between
subject and object", consciousness and existence (9, 18). Modelling
thus represents a "transformation of the object of study inside
consciousness itself" (10), which then may mobilize construction of
an external model, as in a computer program or other simulacrum.
Although, as he notes, models simplify reality, and so are necessarily
'unrealistic', they allow for inferences about empirical data;
furthermore, "the formalization of the model permits its interdisciplinary
use, in whole or in part, and opens possibilities for logical manipulation
and for utilization of mathematical techniques" (10). Uncritically
received (i.e. unrecognised for what they are) models tend to exert
tyrannical control, he points out; at the same time, "they represent
time and time again the height of human creativity, liberation, and
imagination" (19).


Willard McCarty