The nature of model-based understanding in condensed matter physics
- Sang Wook Yi
- … show all 1 hide
Purchase on Springer.com
$39.95 / €34.95 / £29.95*
Rent the article at a discountRent now
* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.
The paper studies the nature of “understanding” in condensed matter physics (CMP), mediated by the successful employment of its models. I first consider two obvious candidates for the criteria of model-based understanding, Van Fraassen's sense of “empirical adequacy” and Hacking's “instrumental utility”, and conclude that both are unsatisfactory. Inspired by Hasok Chang's recent proposal to reformulate realism as the pursuit of ontological plausibility in our system of knowledge, we may require the model under consideration to be understood (or intelligible) before claiming model-based understanding. Here the understanding of a model typically consists of the following: figuring out at least one plausible (preferably realistic) physical mechanism for the model, determining the theoretical consequences of the model by mathematically “probing” it and developing our physical intuitions about the model. I consider the q-state Potts model to illustrate. After having understood a model, we may employ the model to understand its target phenomena in the world. This is done by “matching” one of the interpretative models of the model with the central features of the phenomena. The matching should be motivated (ideally both theoretically and empirically) in the sense that we have good reason to believe that the central features of the phenomena can be thought of as having more or less the same structure as postulated by the interpretative model. In conclusion, I propose a two-stage account of model-based understanding in CMP: (1) understanding of a model and (2) matching a target phenomenon with a well-motivated interpretative model of the model. Empirical success and instrumental utility both play their roles in the evaluation of how successful the model is, but are not the essential part of model-based understanding.
- Cartwright, N. (1983)How the laws of physics lie (Oxford, Clarendon Press).
- Cartwright, N. (1999a) Models and the limits of theory: quantum hamiltonians and the BCS models of superconductivity, Morgan & Morrison (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press). 1999, pp. 241–81.
- Cartwright, N. (1999b)The dappled world: A study of the boundaries of science (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
- Chaikin, P.M. & Lubensky, T.C. (1995)Principles of condensed matter physics (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
- Chang, H. (1999) History and philosophy of science as a continuation of science by other means,Science and Education, 8, pp. 413–25. CrossRef
- Chang, H. (2001) How to take realism beyond foot-stamping,Philosophy, 76, pp. 5–30. CrossRef
- Chang, H. (forthcoming) Spirit, air and quicksilver: The search for the “real” scale of temperature,Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences.
- Craig, E. (Ed.) (1998)Routledge encyclopedia of philosophy, version 1.0 (London-New York, Routledge).
- Darden, L. (Ed.) (1997)PSA 1996, Vol. 2 (East Lansing, Philosophy of Science Association).
- Giere, R. (1988)Explaining science: A cognitive approach (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press).
- Davies, P. (Ed.) (1989)The new physics (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
- Domb, C. (1985). Critical phenomena: A brief historical survey,Contemp. Phys., 26, pp. 49–72.
- Domb, C. (1996)The critical point: A historical introduction to the modern theory of critical phenomena (London, Taylor and Francis).
- Goldenfeld, N. (1992)Lectures on phase transitions and the renormalization group (Reading MA, Addison-Wesley).
- Hacking, I. (1983)Representing and interveting: Introductory topics in the philosophy of natural science (Cambridge, Cambrige University Press).
- Hughes, R.I.G. (1996) The semantic view of theories, inEncyclopedia of applied physics (New York, VCH Publishers), vol. 17, pp. 175–80.
- Hughes, R.I.G. (1997) Models and representation, Darden 1997, pp. S325-S336.
- Lakatos, I. (1970) Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes, Lakatos & Musgrave. 1970, pp. 91–196.
- Lakatos, I. & Musgrave, A. (Eds.) (1970)Criticism and the growth of knowledge (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
- Leibniz, G.W. (1692) Critical remarks concerning the general part of Descartes, inMethodology and other philosophical essays, trans. and ed. in 1985 by Paul Schrecker and Anne Martin Schrecker (New York, Macmillan).
- Lloyd E.A. (1998) Models, in Craig 1998.
- Morgan, M.S. (1999) Learning from models, in Morgan & Morrison 1999.
- Morgan, M.S. & Morrison, M. (Eds) (1999)Models as mediators: Perspectives on natural and social science (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
- Morrison, M. (1999) Models as autonomous agents, in Morgan & Morrison 1999. pp. 38–65.
- Plischke, M. & Bergersen, B. (1989)Equilibrium statistical physics (Englewood Cliffs NJ, Prentice Hall)
- Savage, C.W. (Ed.) (1990)Scientific theories (Minneapolis MN, University of Minnesota Press).
- Thouless, D. (1989) Condensed matter physics in less than three dimensions, in Davies 1989. pp. 209–35.
- Wu, F.Y. (1982) The Potts model,Review of Modern Physics, 54, pp. 235–87. CrossRef
- Yi, S.W. (2000)How to model macroscopic worlds: Towards the philosophy of condensed matter physics, PhD thesis (London, University of London).
- The nature of model-based understanding in condensed matter physics
Mind & Society
Volume 3, Issue 1 , pp 81-91
- Cover Date
- Print ISSN
- Online ISSN
- Additional Links
- theoretical understanding
- target phenomena
- plausible physical mechanism
- mathematical probing
- motivated interpretative models
- Sang Wook Yi (1)
- Author Affiliations
- 1. Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, WC2A 2AE, London, UK