The Structure of Idealization in Biological Theories: The Case of the Wright-Fisher Model

Article

Abstract

In this paper we present a new framework of idealization in biology. We characterize idealizations as a network of counterfactual and hypothetical conditionals that can exhibit different “degrees of contingency”. We use this idea to say that, in departing more or less from the actual world, idealizations can serve numerous epistemic, methodological or heuristic purposes within scientific research. We defend that, in part, this structure explains why idealizations, despite being deformations of reality, are so successful in scientific practice. For illustrative purposes, we provide an example from population genetics, the Wright-Fisher Model.

Keywords

Idealization Epistemic virtues Scientific models Modeling in biology Population genetics Wright-Fisher Model 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This paper has received financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (Research Project Ref.: FFI2009-08828/FISO). A postdoctoral fellowship was awarded to Alfonso Arroyo Santos by the CONACyT (“Programa de Estancias posdoctorales vinculadas al fortalecimiento de la calidad del posgrado nacional” 2010). Previous versions of this article were presented at different conferences, including the PSA Biennial Meeting held on November 6–8, 2008 in Pittsburgh. The authors would like to thank the audiences on those occasions, and specially Mark E. Olson and two anonymous referees of this journal for their helpful comments.

References

  1. Balzer, W., Moulines, C. U., & Sneed, J. D. (1987). An architectonic for science. Dordrecht: Reidel.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barr, E. W. (1971). A syntactical and semantic analysis of idealization in science. Philosophy of Science, 38, 258–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bechtel, W., & Richardson, R. C. (1993). Discovering complexity: Decomposition and localization as strategies in scientific research. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bennett, J. (2003). A philosophical guide to conditionals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bennett, J., & Fine, K. (1975). Critical notice: Counterfactuals. Mind, 84, 451–458.Google Scholar
  6. Cartwright, N. (1983). How the laws of physics lie. Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cartwright, N. (1989). Nature’s capacities and their measurement. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  8. Cleland, C. E., & Copley, S. (2005). The possibility of alternative microbial life on earth. International Journal of Astrobiology, 4, 165–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Darden, L. (2002). Strategies for discovering mechanisms: Schema instantiation, modular subassembly, forward/backward chaining. Philosophy of Science, 69, S354–S365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Darden, L., & Craver, C. (2002). Strategies in the interfield discovery of the mechanism of protein synthesis. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 33C, 1–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fisher, R. A. (1930). The genetical theory of natural selection. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  12. Fogelin, R. J. (1998). David Lewis on indicative and counterfactual conditionals. Analysis, 58(4), 286–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gillespie, J. (2004). Population genetics: A concise guide. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Godfrey-Smith, P. (2006a). Abstractions, idealizations, and evolutionary biology. Retrieved March 28, 2008 from Harvard University, Peter Godfey-Smith online papers: http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~pgs/OnlinePapers/PGSAbstractnIdealizn06.pdf.
  15. Godfrey-Smith, P. (2006b). The strategy of model-based science. Biology and Philosophy, 21, 725–740.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Griesemer, J. R. (1990). Modelling in the museum. On the role of remnant models in the work of Joseph Grimell. Biology and Philosophy, 5, 3–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Helgason, A., Hrafnkelsson, B., Gulcher, J. R., Ward, R., & Stefánsson, K. (2003). A populationwide coalescent analysis of Icelandic matrilineal and patrilineal genealogies: evidence for a faster evolutionary rate of mtDNA lineages than Y chromosomes. American Journal of Human Genetics, 72(6), 1370–1388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jones, M. (2005). Idealization and Abstraction: A Framework. In M. Jones & N. Cartwright (Eds.), Idealization XII: Correcting the model (pp. 173–217). Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
  19. Jorde, P. E., & Ryman, N. (2007). Unbiased estimator for genetic drift and effective population size. Genetics, 177, 927–935.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Keller, E. F. (2000). Models of and models for: Theory and practice in contemporary biology. Philosophy of Science, 67(Proceedings), S72–S86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kimura, M. (1954). Process leading to quasi-fixation of genes in natural populations due to random fluctuation of selection intensities. Genetics, 39(3), 280–295.Google Scholar
  22. Kingman, J. F. C. (1982). On the genealogy of large populations. In J. Gani & E. J. Hannan (Eds.), Essays in the statistical science (pp. 27–43). London: Applied Probability Trust.Google Scholar
  23. Kingman, J. F. C. (2000). Origins of the coalescent: 1974–1982. Genetics, 156, 1461–1463.Google Scholar
  24. Kitakado, T., Kitada, S., Obata, Y., & Kishino, H. (2006). Simultaneous estimation of mixing rates and genetic drift under successive sampling of genetic markers with application to the mud crab (Scylla paramamosain) in Japan. Genetics, 173, 2063–2072.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Krasner, D., & Heller, M. (1994). The miracle of counterfactuals: Counterexamples to Lewis’s world ordering. Philosophical Studies, 76(1), 27–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kuipers, Th. (Ed.). (1987). What is closer-to-the-truth? A parade of approaches to truthlikeness. (Poznań studies in the philosophy of the sciences and the humanities, vol. 10). Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
  27. Kuipers, Th. (1992a). Naive and refined truth approximation. Synthese, 93, 299–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kuipers, Th. (1992b). Truth approximation by concretization. In J. Brzezinski and L. Nowak (Eds.), Idealization III: approximation and truth. Poznań Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities (Vol. 25, pp. 159–179). Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
  29. Kvart, I. (1992). Counterfactuals. Erkenntnis, 36(2), 139–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Labate, J. A., Biermann, C. H., & Eanes, W. F. (1999). Nucleotide variation at the runt locus in Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila simulans. Molecular Biological Evolution, 16(6), 724–731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Laymon, R. (1982). Scientific realism and the hierarchical counterfactual path from data to theory. In P. Asquith and T. Nickles (Eds.), PSA 1982 (Vol. 1, pp. 107–121). Michigan: East Lansing.Google Scholar
  32. Laymon, R. (1985). Idealizations and the Testing of Theories by Experimentation. In P. Achinstein & O. Hannaway (Eds.), Experiment and observation in modern science (147–173). Boston: MIT Press and Bradford Books.Google Scholar
  33. Levins, R. (1966). The strategy of model building in population biology. American Scientist, 54, 421–431.Google Scholar
  34. Lewis, D. (1973). Counterfactuals. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  35. Machamer, P., Darden, L., & Craver, C. F. (2000). Thinking about mechanisms. Philosophy of Science, 67, 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. McMullin, E. (1985). Galilean idealization. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, 16, 247–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mitchell, S. (2000). Dimensions of scientific law. Philosophy of Science, 67, 242–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Nagylaki, T. (1979). The island model with stochastic migration. Genetics, 91(1), 163–176.Google Scholar
  39. Niiniluoto, I. (1987). Truthlikeness. Dordrecht: Reidel.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Niiniluoto, I. (1998). Verisimilitude: The third period. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 49, 1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Niiniluoto, I. (1999). Critical scientific realism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Nowak, L. (1980). The structure of idealization. Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  43. Nowak, L. (2000). Darwin’s theory of the natural selection. In L. Nowak and I. Nowakowa: Idealization X: The richness of idealization (pp. 63–94). Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
  44. Nowak, L., & Nowakowa, I. (2000). Idealization X: The richness of idealization. Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
  45. Nozick, R. (2001). Invariances :The structure of the objective world. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Nute, D. (1976). David Lewis and the analysis of counterfactuals. Noûs, 10(3), 355–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pruss, A. R. (2007). Conjunctions, Disjunctions and Lewisian Semantics for Counterfactuals. Synthese, 156(1), 33–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Schlossberger, E. (1978). Similarity and counterfactuals. Analysis, 38(2), 80–82.Google Scholar
  49. Shapere, D. (1969). Notes towards a post-positivistic interpretation of science. In P. Achinstein and S. Barker (Eds.), The legacy of logical positivism (pp. 115–160), Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Skalski, G. T. (2007). Joint estimation of migration rate and effective population size using the island model. Genetics, 177, 1043–1057.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Strevens, M. (2008). Depth: an account of scientific explanation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Suppe, F. (1989). The semantic conception of theories and scientific realism. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  53. Tooley, M. (2003). The Stalnaker-Lewis approach to counterfactuals. The Journal of Philosophy, 100(7), 371–377.Google Scholar
  54. Walsh, D. M., Lewens, T., & Ariew, A. (2002). The trials of life: natural selection and random drift. Philosophy of Science, 69, 452–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Waples, R. S., & Yokota, M. (2007). Temporal estimates of effective population size in species with overlapping generations. Genetics, 175, 219–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Weisberg, M. (2006a). Forty years of ‘The Strategy’: Levin’s on Model Building and Idealization. Biology and Philosophy, 21, 623–645.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Weisberg, M. (ed.) (2006b). Richard Levins’ Philosophy of Science, Biology & Philosophy, 21 (5).Google Scholar
  58. Weisberg, M. (2007). Three kinds of idealization. Journal of Philosophy, CIV(12), 639–659.Google Scholar
  59. Wimsatt, W. C. (1987). False models as means to truer theories. In M. H. Nitecki & A. Hoffman (Eds.), Neutral models in biology (pp. 23–55). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Wimsatt, W. C. (2002). Using false models to elaborate constraints on processes: blending inheritance in organic and cultural evolution. Philosophy of Science, 69, S12–S24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Wright, S. (1931). Evolution in Mendelian populations. Genetics, 16, 97–159.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Logic and Moral PhilosophyUniversity of Santiago de CompostelaSantiago de CompostelaSpain
  2. 2.Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Posgrado en Filosofía de la CienciaUNAMMexico CityMexico

Personalised recommendations