# Abstract

Arguments for the effectiveness, and even the indispensability, of mathematics in scientific explanation rely on the claim that mathematics is an effective or even a necessary component in successful scientific predictions and explanations. Well-known accounts of successful mathematical explanation in physical science appeals to scientists’ ability to solve equations directly in key domains. But there are spectacular physical theories, including general relativity and fluid dynamics, in which the equations of the theory cannot be solved directly in target domains, and yet scientists and mathematicians do effective work there (McLarty 2023, Elder 2023). Building on extant accounts of structural scientific explanation (Bokulich 2011, Leng 2021), I argue that philosophical accounts of the role of equations in scientific explanation need not rely on scientists’ ability to solve equations independently of their understanding of the empirical or experimental context. For instance, the process of formulating solutions to equations can involve significant appeal to information about experimental contexts (Curiel 2010) or of physically similar systems (Sterrett 2023). Working from a close analysis of work in fluid mechanics by Martin Bazant and Keith Moffatt (2005), I propose an account of heuristic structural explanation in mathematics (Einstein 1921, Pincock 2021), which explains how physical explanations can be constructed even in domains where basic equations cannot be solved directly.