The interplay between models and observations

Applied ontology 13 (1):41-71 (2018)
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We propose a formal framework to examine the relationship between models and observations. To make our analysis precise,models are reduced to first-order theories that represent both terminological knowledge – e.g., the laws that are supposed to regulate the domain under analysis and that allow for explanations, predictions, and simulations – and assertional knowledge – e.g., information about specific entities in the domain of interest. Observations are introduced into the domain of quantification of a distinct first-order theory that describes their nature and their organization and takes track of the way they are experimentally acquired or intentionally elaborated. A model mainly represents the theoretical knowledge or hypotheses on a domain, while the theory of observations mainly represents the empirical knowledge and the given experimental practices. We propose a precise identity criterion for observations and we explore different links between models and observations by assuming a degree of independence between them. By exploiting some techniques developed in the field of social choice theory and judgment aggregation, we sketch some strategies to solve inconsistencies between a given set of observations and the assumed theoretical hypotheses. The solutions of these inconsistencies can impact both the observations – e.g., the theoretical knowledge and the analysis of the way observations are collected or produced may highlight some unreliable sources – and the models – e.g. empirical evidences may invalidate some theoretical laws.

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Daniele Porello
Università degli Studi di Genova


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