The dark side of the force: When computer simulations lead us astray and ``model think'' narrows our imagination

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Abstract
This paper is intended as a critical examination of the question of when the use of computer simulations is beneficial to scientific explanations. This objective is pursued in two steps: First, I try to establish clear criteria that simulations must meet in order to be explanatory. Basically, a simulation has explanatory power only if it includes all causally relevant factors of a given empirical configuration and if the simulation delivers stable results within the measurement inaccuracies of the input parameters. If a simulation is not explanatory, it can still be meaningful for exploratory purposes, but only under very restricted conditions. In the second step, I examine a few examples of Axelrod-style simulations as they have been used to understand the evolution of cooperation (Axelrod, Schüßler) and the evolution of the social contract (Skyrms). These simulations do not meet the criteria for explanatory validity and it can be shown, as I believe, that they lead us astray from the scientific problems they have been addressed to solve and at the same time bar our imagination against more conventional but still better approaches.
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2006
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ARNTDS
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Archival date: 2018-12-02
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2009-01-28

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