Biological Control Variously Materialized: Modeling, Experimentation and Exploration in Multiple Media

Perspectives on Science 29 (4):468-492 (2021)
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This paper examines two parallel discussions of scientific modeling which have invoked experimentation in addressing the role of models in scientific inquiry. One side discusses the experimental character of models, whereas the other focuses on their exploratory uses. Although both relate modeling to experimentation, they do so differently. The former has considered the similarities and differences between models and experiments, addressing, in particular, the epistemic value of materiality. By contrast, the focus on exploratory modeling has highlighted the various kinds of exploratory functions of models in the early stages of inquiry. These two perspectives on modeling are discussed through a case study in the field of synthetic biology. The research practice in question explores biological control by making use of an ensemble of different epistemic means: mathematical models and simulations, synthetic genetic circuits and intracellular measuring devices, and finally electronic circuits. We argue that the study of exploratory modeling should trace the ways different epistemic means, in different materialities, are being combined over time. Finally, the epistemic status of such novel investigative objects as synthetic genetic circuits is evaluated, with the conclusion that they can function as both experiments and models.

Author Profiles

Tarja Knuuttila
University of Vienna
Andrea Loettgers
University of Vienna


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