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Scientific representation and dissimilarity

  • Brandon BoeschEmail author
Unrealistic Models
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. What to Make of Highly Unrealistic Models


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.


Scientific representation Models Dissimilarity Similarity Abstraction Idealization 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares he has no conflicts of interest.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HumanitiesMorningside CollegeSioux CityUSA

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