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Institute of Advanced Study

A Function for Fictions: Expanding the Scope of Science


To a first approximation, fictions are representations that do not concern themselves with truth. Science, to be sure, is full of representations. But the representations offered to us by science, or so we are inclined to think, are supposed to aim at truth, (or at least one of its cousins: approximate truth, empirical adequacy, reliability.) If the proper and immediate object of fictions is contrary to the aims of science, what role could there be for fictions in science? This paper will argue for at least one important role for fictions in science, especially in the computationally intensive sciences of complex physical systems - in computer simulation. Fictions, I will argue, are sometimes needed for extending the useful scope of theories and model-building frameworks beyond the limits of their traditional domains of application. One especially interesting way in which they do this is by helping to enable model builders to sew together incompatible theories and apply them in contexts in which neither theory by itself will do the job.

Insights Paper