Natalia Carrillo and Tarja Knuuttila claim that there are two traditions of thinking about idealization offering almost opposite views on their functioning and epistemic status. While one tradition views idealizations as epistemic deficiencies, the other one highlights the epistemic benefits of idealization. Both of them treat idealizations as deliberate misrepresentations, however. They then argue for an artifactual account of idealization, comparing it to the traditional accounts of idealization, and exemplifying it through the Hodgkin and Huxley model of the nerve impulse. From the artifactual perspective, the epistemic benefits and deficiencies introduced by idealization frequently come in a package due to the way idealization draws together different resources in model construction. Accordingly, idealization tends to be holistic in that it is not often easily attributable to some specific parts of the model. They conclude that the artifactual approach offers a unifying view into idealization in that it is able to recover several basic philosophical insights motivating both the deficiency and epistemic benefit accounts, while being simultaneously detached from the idea of distortion by misrepresentation.
- Scientific modeling
- Artifactual account
- Hodgkin and Huxley model
This project received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 818772) and from the UNAM PAPIIT project “Cognición, artefactualidad y representación en la ciencia.” IN402018.
Natalia Carrillo and Tarja Knuuttila contributed equally to this work.
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Frigg and Hartmann (2012) have introduced a somewhat similar distinction between Aristotelian and Galilean idealization.
Potochnik (2017) considers idealization rampant and unchecked in science. In her account idealizations help limited cognitive agents to set aside complicating factors to identify causal patterns. Consequently, Potochnik’s notion of idealization contains features of both deficiency and epistemic benefit accounts.
Artifacts do not have to be human made objects. A rock used to open a clam may be thought of as an artifact even though it is not constructed by humans for that purpose. Artifactuality in general can rather be defined through the roles an object plays in some human (or animal) activity.
Models are typically multipurpose tools: the aims of modeling may and do change, and multiple aims may co-exist as models are being reused, reconstructed and repurposed by different groups and stakeholders.
The epistemic benefit account by Batterman and Rice (2014) seems to be in line with the artifactual account, since they focus on the epistemic work done by limiting operations.
Rice has recently argued that applying mathematical methods involves holistic distortion that enables researchers to “to extract various kinds of modal information” (2018, 2802).
A solution in which each ion has a valence of 1, and produces two ions when dissociated.
The voltage clamp fixes the transmembrane voltage of the membrane to a value set by the experimenter, and records the current that had to be injected in order to maintain voltage steady at that value. That recording is the inverse of the actions that took place in the membrane, and was interpreted by Hodgkin and Huxley and others as the inverse of the transmembrane currents.
A capacitor is usually constructed of two plates of conducting material separated at a distance small enough so that charges on one side will feel electric repulsion or attraction from charges on the other plate. If connected to a battery, one plate becomes negatively charged with respect to the other.
This is the equivalent of a battery. When a cable connects one pole of the battery to the other, the charges tend to move from the pole with excess negative charge to the one with less negative charge.
Hodgkin and Huxley used the term “conductance,” which is the multiplicative inverse of the resistance, but for simplicity we describe them as resistances since both terms retain the same underlying concept.
Hodgkin and Huxley also considered the contribution of a “leak” current, which accounted for minor errors in prediction and measurement. We are not discussing this for simplicity since it does not contribute substantially to the excitable behavior of the axon.
Craver’s criticism of Weber is a part of his more comprehensive mechanistic account of explanation, whose main target of criticism is the covering law account of explanation.
Discrete ion fluxes were detected by Neher and Sackmann in the 1970s, supporting the idea of a passive mechanism of ionic transport. Later, in the late 1990s, evidence of the existence of the potassium ion channel was obtained with x-ray crystallography. These results were considered as sound evidence for the hypothesis that it is voltage-sensitive protein ion channels that change the permeability of the membrane during a nerve impulse.
We consider aggregative abstraction an idealization, since we take that omissions and distortions cannot sharply be distinguished, in contrast to Levy (2018), who holds that we ought—and can—differentiate between them. Another justification for considering aggregative abstraction as an idealization is due to the distinction between Galilean and minimalist idealization. If minimalist idealization is understood as removing non-difference-making factors (or their contributions), it would amount to the conventional abstraction-by-omission account. So, by the standards of already established discussion of idealization, it is legitimate to regard Levy’s “aggregative abstraction” as idealization.
Except for the initial charging of the capacitor at the instant when the voltage is fixed to a particular value with the voltage-clamp.
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Carrillo, N., Knuuttila, T. (2021). An Artifactual Perspective on Idealization: Constant Capacitance and the Hodgkin and Huxley Model. In: Cassini, A., Redmond, J. (eds) Models and Idealizations in Science. Logic, Epistemology, and the Unity of Science, vol 50. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-65802-1_2
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