Bowtie Structures, Pathway Diagrams, and Topological Explanation

Erkenntnis 79 (5):1135-1155 (2014)
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Abstract
While mechanistic explanation and, to a lesser extent, nomological explanation are well-explored topics in the philosophy of biology, topological explanation is not. Nor is the role of diagrams in topological explanations. These explanations do not appeal to the operation of mechanisms or laws, and extant accounts of the role of diagrams in biological science explain neither why scientists might prefer diagrammatic representations of topological information to sentential equivalents nor how such representations might facilitate important processes of explanatory reasoning unavailable to scientists who restrict themselves to sentential representations. Accordingly, relying upon a case study about immune system vulnerability to attacks on CD4+ T-cells, I argue that diagrams group together information in a way that avoids repetition in representing topological structure, facilitate identification of specific topological properties of those structures, and make available to controlled processing explanatorily salient counterfactual information about topological structures, all in ways that sentential counterparts of diagrams do not.
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Archival date: 2015-08-26
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