, Volume 75, Issue 3, pp 349–376 | Cite as

Science as (Historical) Narrative

  • M. Norton WiseEmail author


The traditional mode of explanation in physics via deduction from partial differential equations is contrasted here with explanation via simulations. I argue that the different technologies employed constitute different languages, which support different sorts of narratives. The narratives that accompany simulations and articulate their meaning are typically historical or natural historical in kind. They explain complex phenomena by growing them rather than by referring them to general laws. Examples of such growth simulations and growth narratives come from the evolution of wave functions in quantum chaos, snowflake formation, and Etruscan genetics. The examples suggest a few concluding remarks on historical explanation.


Cellular Automaton Historical Narrative Quantum Chaos Schroedinger Equation Physical Intuition 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



For extensive discussions I thank Mary Morgan, Lorraine Daston, and my long-time collaborator and muse Elaine Wise, also Guido Barbujani, Krishna Veeramah, Philip Kitcher, Manfred Laubichler, and an especially probing anonymous referee. An earlier version benefited from comments of participants in the conference on Historical Epistemology at the Max Planck Institute for History of Science, 24–26 July 2008.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Center for Society and GeneticsUniversity of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)Los AngelesUSA

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