Scientific representation and dissimilarity
In this essay, I examine the role of dissimilarity in scientific representation. After briefly reviewing some of the philosophical literature which places a strong emphasis on the role of similarity, I turn to examine some work from Carroll and Borges which demonstrates that perfect similarity is not valuable in the representational use of maps. Expanding on this insight, I go on to argue that this shows that dissimilarity is an important part of the representational use of maps—a point I then extend to the case of scientific representation. Relying on some work from Latour, I argue that dissimilarity plays an essential role in representational practice, by providing novel forms of manipulation and use which affords the achievement of various epistemic and nonepistemic aims. After showing how this point connects to some other literature on scientific representation, I discuss some examples of the value of dissimilarity in the use of representational vehicles. Overall, I argue that to understand scientific representation, we will need to consider more than just similarity. We will need to explore dissimilarities as well.
KeywordsScientific representation Models Dissimilarity Similarity Abstraction Idealization
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The author declares he has no conflicts of interest.
- Bartels, A. (2006). Defending the structural concept of representation. Theoria, 21(1), 7–19.Google Scholar
- Boesch, B. (2015). Scientific representation. In Internet encyclopedia of philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/sci-repr/.
- Borges, J. L. (1960). Del Rigor En La Ciencia. In El Hacedor. Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, S. A.Google Scholar
- Carroll, L. (1994). The complete works of Lewis Carroll. New York: Barnes and Noble Books.Google Scholar
- Contessa, G. (2011). Scientific models and representation. In S. French & J. Saatsi (Eds.), The continuum companion to philosophy of science (pp. 120–137). New York: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
- Eco, U. (1995). How to travel with a Salmon & other essays. Boston: HMH.Google Scholar
- Foster, J. E. (1971). History and description of the Mississippi basin model. U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station.Google Scholar
- Frigg, R. (2006). Scientific representation and the semantic view of theories. Theoria, 21(1), 49–65.Google Scholar
- Frigg, R., & Nguyen, J. (2016a). Scientific representation. In E. N. Zalta (Eds.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/scientific-representation/.
- Goodman, N. (1976). Languages of art: An approach to a theory of symbols (2d ed.). Indianapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
- Knuuttila, T., & Loettgers, A. (2012). The productive tension: Mechanisms vs. templates in modeling the phenomena. In P. Humphreys & C. Imbert (Eds.), Models, simulations, and representations (pp. 2–24).Google Scholar
- Knuuttila, T., & Loettgers, A. (2017). Modelling as indirect representation? The Lotka–Volterra model revisited. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 68(4), 1007–1036.Google Scholar
- Latour, B. (1999). Pandora’s hope: Essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Latour, B. (2014). The more manipulations, the better. In C. Coopmans, J. Vertesi, M. E. Lynch, & S. Woolgar (Eds.), Representation in scientific practice revisited. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Suárez, M. (Ed.). (2008). Fictions in science: Philosophical essays on modeling and idealization. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Suárez, M. (2015b). Representation in science. In P. Humphreys (Ed.), Oxford handbook in philosophy of science (pp. 440–460). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Tversky, A., & Gati, I. (1978). Studies of similarity. In E. Rosch & B. Loyd (Eds.), Cognition and categorization. New Jersey: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Wagner, D. (2011). Glimpses of unsurveyable maps. In R. Heinrich, E. Nemeth, W. Pichler, & D. Wagner (Eds.), Image and imaging in philosophy, science and the arts (Vol. 2, pp. 365–376). Berlin: De Gruyter.Google Scholar
- Weinberg, W. (1908). Uber Den Nachweis Der Vererbung Biem Menschen. Jahreshefte Des Vereins Für Vaterländische Naturkunde in Württemberg, 64, 368–382.Google Scholar