A new trend in the philosophical literature on scientific explanation is that of starting from a case that has been somehow identified as an explanation and then proceed to bringing to light its characteristic features and to constructing an account for the type of explanation it exemplifies. A type of this approach to thinking about explanation – the piecemeal approach, as I will call it – is used, among others, by Lange (2013) and Pincock (2015) in the context of their (...) treatment of the problem of mathematicalexplanations of physical phenomena. This problem is of central importance in two different recent philosophical disputes: the dispute about the existence on non-causal scientific explanations and the dispute between realists and antirealists in the philosophy of mathematics. My aim in this paper is twofold. I will first argue that Lange (2013) and Pincock (2015) fail to make a significant contribution to these disputes. They fail to contribute to the dispute in the philosophy of mathematics because, in this context, their approach can be seen as question begging. They also fail to contribute to the dispute in the general philosophy of science because, as I will argue, there are important problems with the cases discussed by Lange and Pincock. I will then argue that the source of the problems with these two papers has to do with the fact that the piecemeal approach used to account for mathematical explanation is problematic. (shrink)
In “What Makes a Scientific Explanation Distinctively Mathematical?” (2013b), Lange uses several compelling examples to argue that certain explanations for natural phenomena appeal primarily to mathematical, rather than natural, facts. In such explanations, the core explanatory facts are modally stronger than facts about causation, regularity, and other natural relations. We show that Lange's account of distinctively mathematical explanation is flawed in that it fails to account for the implicit directionality in each of his examples. This (...) inadequacy is remediable in each case by appeal to ontic facts that account for why the explanation is acceptable in one direction and unacceptable in the other direction. The mathematics involved in these examples cannot play this crucial normative role. While Lange's examples fail to demonstrate the existence of distinctively mathematicalexplanations, they help to emphasize that many superficially natural scientific explanations rely for their explanatory force on relations of stronger-than-natural necessity. These are not opposing kinds of scientific explanations; they are different aspects of scientific explanation. (shrink)
A finer-grained delineation of a given explanandum reveals a nexus of closely related causal and non- causal explanations, complementing one another in ways that yield further explanatory traction on the phenomenon in question. By taking a narrower construal of what counts as a causal explanation, a new class of distinctively mathematicalexplanations pops into focus; Lange’s characterization of distinctively mathematicalexplanations can be extended to cover these. This new class of distinctively mathematicalexplanations (...) is illustrated with the Lotka-Volterra equations. There are at least two distinct ways those equations might hold of a system, one of which yields straightforwardly causal explanations, but the other of which yields explanations that are distinctively mathematical in terms of nomological strength. In the first, one first picks out a system or class of systems, finds that the equations hold in a causal -explanatory way; in the second, one starts with the equations and explanations that must apply to any system of which the equations hold, and only then turns to the world to see of what, if any, systems it does in fact hold. Using this new way in which a model might hold of a system, I highlight four specific avenues by which causal and non- causal explanations can complement one another. (shrink)
A way to argue that something plays an explanatory role in science is by linking explanatory relevance with importance in the context of an explanation. The idea is deceptively simple: a part of an explanation is an explanatorily relevant part of that explanation if removing it affects the explanation either by destroying it or by diminishing its explanatory power, i.e. an important part is an explanatorily relevant part. This can be very useful in many ontological debates. My aim in this (...) paper is twofold. First of all, I will try to assess how this view on explanatory relevance can affect the recent ontological debate in the philosophy of mathematics—as I will argue, contrary to how it may appear at first glance, it does not help very much the mathematical realists. Second of all, I will show that there are big problems with it. (shrink)
Some scientific explanations appear to turn on pure mathematical claims. The enhanced indispensability argument appeals to these ‘mathematicalexplanations’ in support of mathematical platonism. I argue that the success of this argument rests on the claim that mathematicalexplanations locate pure mathematical facts on which their physical explananda depend, and that any account of mathematical explanation that supports this claim fails to provide an adequate understanding of mathematical explanation.
Lange argues that some natural phenomena can be explained by appeal to mathematical, rather than natural, facts. In these “distinctively mathematical” explanations, the core explanatory facts are either modally stronger than facts about ordinary causal law or understood to be constitutive of the physical task or arrangement at issue. Craver and Povich argue that Lange’s account of DME fails to exclude certain “reversals”. Lange has replied that his account can avoid these directionality charges. Specifically, Lange argues that (...) in legitimate DMEs, but not in their “reversals,” the empirical fact appealed to in the explanation is “understood to be constitutive of the physical task or arrangement at issue” in the explanandum. I argue that Lange’s reply is unsatisfactory because it leaves the crucial notion of being “understood to be constitutive of the physical task or arrangement” obscure in ways that fail to block “reversals” except by an apparent ad hoc stipulation or by abandoning the reliance on understanding and instead accepting a strong realism about essence. (shrink)
According to a widespread view in metaphysics and philosophy of science, all explanations involve relations of ontic dependence between the items appearing in the explanandum and the items appearing in the explanans. I argue that a family of mathematical cases, which I call “viewing-as explanations”, are incompatible with the Dependence Thesis. These cases, I claim, feature genuine explanations that aren’t supported by ontic dependence relations. Hence the thesis isn’t true in general. The first part of the (...) paper defends this claim and discusses its significance. The second part of the paper considers whether viewing-as explanations occur in the empirical sciences, focusing on the case of so-called fictional models. It’s sometimes suggested that fictional models can be explanatory even though they fail to represent actual worldly dependence relations. Whether or not such models explain, I suggest, depends on whether we think scientific explanations necessarily give information relevant to intervention and control. Finally, I argue that counterfactual approaches to explanation also have trouble accommodating viewing-as cases. (shrink)
Mathematical models provide explanations of limited power of specific aspects of phenomena. One way of articulating their limits here, without denying their essential powers, is in terms of contrastive explanation.
Call an explanation in which a non-mathematical fact is explained—in part or in whole—by mathematical facts: an extra-mathematical explanation. Such explanations have attracted a great deal of interest recently in arguments over mathematical realism. In this article, a theory of extra-mathematical explanation is developed. The theory is modelled on a deductive-nomological theory of scientific explanation. A basic DN account of extra-mathematical explanation is proposed and then redeveloped in the light of two difficulties that (...) the basic theory faces. The final view appeals to relevance logic and uses resources in information theory to understand the explanatory relationship between mathematical and physical facts. 1Introduction2Anchoring3The Basic Deductive-Mathematical Account4The Genuineness Problem5Irrelevance6Relevance and Information7Objections and Replies 7.1Against relevance logic7.2Too epistemic7.3Informational containment8Conclusion. (shrink)
This paper addresses a fundamental line of research in neuroscience: the identification of a putative neural processing core of the cerebral cortex, often claimed to be “canonical”. This “canonical” core would be shared by the entire cortex, and would explain why it is so powerful and diversified in tasks and functions, yet so uniform in architecture. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the search for canonical explanations over the past 40 years, discussing the theoretical frameworks informing this (...) research. It will highlight a bias that, in my opinion, has limited the success of this research project, that of overlooking the dimension of cortical development. The earliest explanation of the cerebral cortex as canonical was attempted by David Marr, deriving putative cortical circuits from general mathematical laws, loosely following a deductive-nomological account. Although Marr’s theory turned out to be incorrect, one of its merits was to have put the issue of cortical circuit development at the top of his agenda. This aspect has been largely neglected in much of the research on canonical models that has followed. Models proposed in the 1980s were conceived as mechanistic. They identified a small number of components that interacted as a basic circuit, with each component defined as a function. More recent models have been presented as idealized canonical computations, distinct from mechanistic explanations, due to the lack of identifiable cortical components. Currently, the entire enterprise of coming up with a single canonical explanation has been criticized as being misguided, and the premise of the uniformity of the cortex has been strongly challenged. This debate is analyzed here. The legacy of the canonical circuit concept is reflected in both positive and negative ways in recent large-scale brain projects, such as the Human Brain Project. One positive aspect is that these projects might achieve the aim of producing detailed simulations of cortical electrical activity, a negative one regards whether they will be able to find ways of simulating how circuits actually develop. (shrink)
An account of distinctively mathematical explanation (DME) should satisfy three desiderata: it should account for the modal import of some DMEs; it should distinguish uses of mathematics in explanation that are distinctively mathematical from those that are not (Baron [2016]); and it should also account for the directionality of DMEs (Craver and Povich [2017]). Baron’s (forthcoming) deductive-mathematical account, because it is modelled on the deductive-nomological account, is unlikely to satisfy these desiderata. I provide a counterfactual account of (...) DME, the Narrow Ontic Counterfactual Account (NOCA), that can satisfy all three desiderata. NOCA appeals to ontic considerations to account for explanatory asymmetry and ground the relevant counterfactuals. NOCA provides a unification of the causal and the non-causal, the ontic and the modal, by identifying a common core that all explanations share and in virtue of which they are explanatory. (shrink)
Can mathematics contribute to our understanding of physical phenomena? One way to try to answer this question is by getting involved in the recent philosophical dispute about the existence of mathematicalexplanations of physical phenomena. If there is such a thing, given the relation between explanation and understanding, we can say that there is an affirmative answer to our question. But what if we do not agree that mathematics can play an explanatory role in science? Can we still (...) consider that the above question can have an affirmative answer? My main aim here is to give an account that takes mathematics, in some of the cases discussed in the literature, as contributing to our understanding of physical phenomena despite not being explanatory. (shrink)
Lange’s collection of expanded, mostly previously published essays, packed with numerous, beautiful examples of putatively non-causal explanations from biology, physics, and mathematics, challenges the increasingly ossified causal consensus about scientific explanation, and, in so doing, launches a new field of philosophic investigation. However, those who embraced causal monism about explanation have done so because appeal to causal factors sorts good from bad scientific explanations and because the explanatory force of good explanations seems to derive from revealing the (...) relevant causal (or ontic) structures. The taxonomic project of collecting examples and sorting their types is an essential starting place for a theory of non-causal explanation. But the title of Lange’s book requires something further: showing that the putative explanations are, in fact, explanatory and revealing the non-causal source of their explanatory power. This project is incomplete if there are examples of putative non-causal explanations that fit the form but that nobody would accept as explanatory (absent a radical revision of intuitions). Here we provide some reasons for thinking that there are such examples. (shrink)
This thesis starts with three challenges to the structuralist accounts of applied mathematics. Structuralism views applied mathematics as a matter of building mapping functions between mathematical and target-ended structures. The first challenge concerns how it is possible for a non-mathematical target to be represented mathematically when the mapping functions per se are mathematical objects. The second challenge arises out of inconsistent early calculus, which suggests that mathematical representation does not require rigorous mathematical structures. The third (...) challenge comes from renormalisation group (RG) explanations of universality. It is argued that the structural mapping between the world and a highly abstract minimal model adds little value to our understanding of how RG obtains its explanatory force. I will address the first and second challenges from the similarity perspective. The similarity account captures representations as similarity relations, providing a more flexible and broader conception of representation than structuralism. It is the specification of the respect and degree of similarity that forges mathematics into a context of representation and directs it to represent a specific system in reality. Structuralism is treatable as a tool for explicating similarity rela-tions set-theoretically. The similarity account, combined with other approaches (e.g., Nguyen and Frigg’s extensional abstraction account and van Fraassen’s pragmatic equivalence), can dissolve the first challenge. Additionally, I will make a structuralist response to the second challenge, and suggestions regarding the role of infinitesimals from the similarity perspective. In light of the similarity account, I will propose the “hotchpotch picture” as a method-ological reflection of our study of representation and explanation. Its central insight is to dissect a representation or an explanation into several aspects and use different theories (that are usually thought of competing) to appropriate each of them. Based on the hotchpotch picture, RG explanations can be dissected to the “indexing” and “inferential” conceptions of explanation, which are captured or characterised by structural mappings. Therefore, structuralism accommodates RG explanations, and the third challenge is resolved. (shrink)
Easy-road mathematical fictionalists grant for the sake of argument that quantification over mathematical entities is indispensable to some of our best scientific theories and explanations. Even so they maintain we can accept those theories and explanations, without believing their mathematical components, provided we believe the concrete world is intrinsically as it needs to be for those components to be true. Those I refer to as “mathematical surrealists” by contrast appeal to facts about the intrinsic (...) character of the concrete world, not to explain why our best mathematically imbued scientific theories and explanations are acceptable in spite of having false components, but in order to replace those theories and explanations with parasitic, nominalistically acceptable alternatives. I argue that easy-road fictionalism is viable only if mathematical surrealism is and that the latter constitutes a superior nominalist strategy. Two advantages of mathematical surrealism are that it neither begs the question concerning the explanatory role of mathematics in science nor requires rejecting the cogency of inference to the best explanation. (shrink)
Some proponents of the indispensability argument for mathematical realism maintain that the empirical evidence that confirms our best scientific theories and explanations also confirms their pure mathematical components. I show that the falsity of this view follows from three highly plausible theses, two of which concern the nature of mathematical application and the other the nature of empirical confirmation. The first is that the background mathematical theories suitable for use in science are conservative in the (...) sense outlined by Hartry Field. The second is that the empirical relevance of mathematical statements suitable for use in science is mediated by their non-mathematical consequences. The third is that statements receive additional empirical confirmation only by way of generating additional empirical expectations. Since each of these is a thesis we have good reason to endorse, my argument poses a challenge to anyone who argues that science affords empirical grounds for mathematical realism. (shrink)
It is a well-known fact that mathematics plays a crucial role in physics; in fact, it is virtually impossible to imagine contemporary physics without it. But it is questionable whether mathematical concepts could ever play such a role in psychology or philosophy. In this paper, we set out to examine a rather unobvious example of the application of topology, in the form of the theory of persons proposed by Kurt Lewin in his Principles of Topological Psychology. Our aim is (...) to show that this branch of mathematics can furnish a natural conceptual system for Gestalt psychology, in that it provides effective tools for describing global qualitative aspects of the latter’s object of investigation. We distinguish three possible ways in which mathematics can contribute to this: explanation, explication and metaphor. We hold that all three of these can be usefully characterized as throwing light on their subject matter, and argue that in each case this contrasts with the role of explanations in physics. Mathematics itself, we argue, provides something different from such explanations when applied in the field of psychology, and this is nevertheless still cognitively fruitful. (shrink)
In this paper, I propose that applying the methods of data science to “the problem of whether mathematicalexplanations occur within mathematics itself” (Mancosu 2018) might be a fruitful way to shed new light on the problem. By carefully selecting indicator words for explanation and justification, and then systematically searching for these indicators in databases of scholarly works in mathematics, we can get an idea of how mathematicians use these terms in mathematical practice and with what frequency. (...) The results of this empirical study suggest that mathematicalexplanations do occur in research articles published in mathematics journals, as indicated by the occurrence of explanation indicators. When compared with the use of justification indicators, however, the data suggest that justifications occur much more frequently than explanations in scholarly mathematical practice. The results also suggest that justificatory proofs occur much more frequently than explanatory proofs, thus suggesting that proof may be playing a larger justificatory role than an explanatory role in scholarly mathematical practice. (shrink)
Do multi-level selection explanations of the evolution of social traits deepen the understanding provided by single-level explanations? Central to the former is a mathematical theorem, the multi-level Price decomposition. I build a framework through which to understand the explanatory role of such non-empirical decompositions in scientific practice. Applying this general framework to the present case places two tasks on the agenda. The first task is to distinguish the various ways of suppressing within-collective variation in fitness, and moreover (...) to evaluate their biological interest. I distinguish four such ways: increasing retaliatory capacity, homogenising assortment, and collapsing either fitness structure or character distribution to a mean value. The second task is to discover whether the third term of the Price decomposition measures the effect of any of these hypothetical interventions. On this basis I argue that the multi-level Price decomposition has explanatory value primarily when the sharing-out of collective resources is `subtractable'. Thus its value is more circumscribed than its champions Sober and Wilson (1998) suppose. (shrink)
The Enhanced Indispensability Argument appeals to the existence of MathematicalExplanations of Physical Phenomena to justify mathematical Platonism, following the principle of Inference to the Best Explanation. In this paper, I examine one example of a MEPP—the explanation of the 13-year and 17-year life cycle of magicicadas—and argue that this case cannot be used defend the EIA. I then generalize my analysis of the cicada case to other MEPPs, and show that these explanations rely on what (...) I will call ‘optimal representations’, which are representations that capture all that is relevant to explain a physical phenomenon at a specified level of description. In the end, because the role of mathematics in MEPPs is ultimately representational, they cannot be used to support mathematical Platonism. I finish the paper by addressing the claim, advanced by many EIA defendants, that quantification over mathematical objects results in explanations that have more theoretical virtues, especially that they are more general and modally stronger than alternative explanations. I will show that the EIA cannot be successfully defended by appealing to these notions. (shrink)
Proponents of the explanatory indispensability argument for mathematical platonism maintain that claims about mathematical entities play an essential explanatory role in some of our best scientific explanations. They infer that the existence of mathematical entities is supported by way of inference to the best explanation from empirical phenomena and therefore that there are the same sort of empirical grounds for believing in mathematical entities as there are for believing in concrete unobservables such as quarks. I (...) object that this inference depends on a false view of how abductive considerations mediate the transfer of empirical support. More specifically, I argue that even if inference to the best explanation is cogent, and claims about mathematical entities play an essential explanatory role in some of our best scientific explanations, it doesn’t follow that the empirical phenomena that license those explanations also provide empirical support for the claim that mathematical entities exist. (shrink)
A number of philosophers have recently suggested that some abstract, plausibly non-causal and/or mathematical, explanations explain in a way that is radically dif- ferent from the way causal explanation explain. Namely, while causal explanations explain by providing information about causal dependence, allegedly some abstract explanations explain in a way tied to the independence of the explanandum from the microdetails, or causal laws, for example. We oppose this recent trend to regard abstractions as explanatory in some sui (...) generis way, and argue that a prominent ac- count of causal explanation can be naturally extended to capture explanations that radically abstract away from microphysical and causal-nomological details. To this end, we distinguish di erent senses in which an explanation can be more or less abstract, and analyse the connection between explanations’ abstractness and their explanatory power. According to our analysis abstract explanations have much in common with counterfactual causal explanations. (shrink)
Mathematicians distinguish between proofs that explain their results and those that merely prove. This paper explores the nature of explanatory proofs, their role in mathematical practice, and some of the reasons why philosophers should care about them. Among the questions addressed are the following: what kinds of proofs are generally explanatory (or not)? What makes a proof explanatory? Do all mathematicalexplanations involve proof in an essential way? Are there really such things as explanatory proofs, and if (...) so, how do they relate to the sorts of explanation encountered in philosophy of science and metaphysics? (shrink)
Within the context of the Quine–Putnam indispensability argument, one discussion about the status of mathematics is concerned with the ‘Enhanced Indispensability Argument’, which makes explicit in what way mathematics is supposed to be indispensable in science, namely explanatory. If there are genuine mathematicalexplanations of empirical phenomena, an argument for mathematical platonism could be extracted by using inference to the best explanation. The best explanation of the primeness of the life cycles of Periodical Cicadas is genuinely (...) class='Hi'>mathematical, according to Baker :223–238, 2005; Br J Philos Sci 60:611–633, 2009). Furthermore, the result is then also used to strengthen the platonist position :779–793, 2017a). We pick up the circularity problem brought up by Leng Mathematical reasoning, heuristics and the development of mathematics, King’s College Publications, London, pp 167–189, 2005) and Bangu :13–20, 2008). We will argue that Baker’s attempt to solve this problem fails, if Hume’s Principle is analytic. We will also provide the opponent of the Enhanced Indispensability Argument with the so-called ‘interpretability strategy’, which can be used to come up with alternative explanations in case Hume’s Principle is non-analytic. (shrink)
Explaining the behaviour of ecosystems is one of the key challenges for the biological sciences. Since 2000, new-mechanicism has been the main model to account for the nature of scientific explanation in biology. The universality of the new-mechanist view in biology has been however put into question due to the existence of explanations that account for some biological phenomena in terms of their mathematical properties (mathematicalexplanations). Supporters of mathematical explanation have argued that the explanation (...) of the behaviour of ecosystems is usually provided in terms of their mathematical properties, and not in mechanistic terms. They have intensively studied the explanation of the properties of ecosystems that behave following the rules of a non-random network. However, no attention has been devoted to the study of the nature of the explanation in those that form a random network. In this paper, we cover that gap by analysing the explanation of the stability behaviour of the microbiome recently elaborated by Coyte and colleagues, to determine whether it fits with the model of explanation suggested by the new-mechanist or by the defenders of mathematical explanation. Our analysis of this case study supports three theses: (1) that the explanation is not given solely in terms of mechanisms, as the new-mechanists understand the concept; (2) that the mathematical properties that describe the system play an essential explanatory role, but they do not exhaust the explanation; (3) that a non-previously identified appeal to the type of interactions that the entities in the network can exhibit, as well as their abundance, is also necessary for Coyte and colleagues’ account to be fully explanatory. From the combination of these three theses we argue for the necessity of an integrative pluralist view of the nature of behaviour explanation when this is given by appealing to the existence of a random network. (shrink)
Recently, many have argued that there are certain kinds of abstract mathematicalexplanations that are noncausal. In particular, the irrelevancy approach suggests that abstracting away irrelevant causal details can leave us with a noncausal explanation. In this paper, I argue that the common example of Renormalization Group explanations of universality used to motivate the irrelevancy approach deserves more critical attention. I argue that the reasons given by those who hold up RG as noncausal do not stand up (...) to critical scrutiny. As a result, the irrelevancy approach and the line between casual and noncausal explanation deserves more scrutiny. (shrink)
I offer an alternative account of the relationship of Hobbesian geometry to natural philosophy by arguing that mixed mathematics provided Hobbes with a model for thinking about it. In mixed mathematics, one may borrow causal principles from one science and use them in another science without there being a deductive relationship between those two sciences. Natural philosophy for Hobbes is mixed because an explanation may combine observations from experience (the ‘that’) with causal principles from geometry (the ‘why’). My argument shows (...) that Hobbesian natural philosophy relies upon suppositions that bodies plausibly behave according to these borrowed causal principles from geometry, acknowledging that bodies in the world may not actually behave this way. First, I consider Hobbes's relation to Aristotelian mixed mathematics and to Isaac Barrow's broadening of mixed mathematics in Mathematical Lectures (1683). I show that for Hobbes maker's knowledge from geometry provides the ‘why’ in mixed-mathematicalexplanations. Next, I examine two explanations from De corpore Part IV: (1) the explanation of sense in De corpore 25.1-2; and (2) the explanation of the swelling of parts of the body when they become warm in De corpore 27.3. In both explanations, I show Hobbes borrowing and citing geometrical principles and mixing these principles with appeals to experience. (shrink)
“Structuralism, Fictionalism, and the Applicability of Mathematics in Science”. This article has two objectives. The first one is to review some of the most important questions in the contemporary philosophy of mathematics: What is the nature of mathematical objects? How do we acquire knowledge about these objects? Should mathematical statements be interpreted differently than ordinary ones? And, finally, how can we explain the applicability of mathematics in science? The debate that guides these reflections is the one between (...) class='Hi'>mathematical realism and anti-realism. On the other hand, the second objective is to discuss the arguments that use the applicability of mathematics in science to justify mathematical realism, and show that none of them reaches its aim. To this end, we will distinguish three aspects of the problem of the applicability of mathematics: the utility of mathematics in science, the unexpected utility of some mathematical theories, and the apparent indispensability of mathematics in our best scientific theories - in particular, in our best scientific explanations. Finally, I argue that none of these aspects constitutes a reason to adopt mathematical realism. (shrink)
Gauss’s quadratic reciprocity theorem is among the most important results in the history of number theory. It’s also among the most mysterious: since its discovery in the late 18th century, mathematicians have regarded reciprocity as a deeply surprising fact in need of explanation. Intriguingly, though, there’s little agreement on how the theorem is best explained. Two quite different kinds of proof are most often praised as explanatory: an elementary argument that gives the theorem an intuitive geometric interpretation, due to Gauss (...) and Eisenstein, and a sophisticated proof using algebraic number theory, due to Hilbert. Philosophers have yet to look carefully at such explanatory disagreements in mathematics. I do so here. According to the view I defend, there are two important explanatory virtues—depth and transparency—which different proofs (and other potential explanations) possess to different degrees. Although not mutually exclusive in principle, the packages of features associated with the two stand in some tension with one another, so that very deep explanations are rarely transparent, and vice versa. After developing the theory of depth and transparency and applying it to the case of quadratic reciprocity, I draw some morals about the nature of mathematical explanation. (shrink)
Philippe Huneman has recently questioned the widespread application of mechanistic models of scientific explanation based on the existence of structural explanations, i.e. explanations that account for the phenomenon to be explained in virtue of the mathematical properties of the system where the phenomenon obtains, rather than in terms of the mechanisms that causally produce the phenomenon. Structural explanations are very diverse, including cases like explanations in terms of bowtie structures, in terms of the topological properties (...) of the system, or in terms of equilibrium. The role of mathematics in bowtie structured systems and in topologically constrained systems has recently been examined in different papers. However, the specific role that mathematical properties play in equilibrium explanations requires further examination, as different authors defend different interpretations, some of them closer to the new-mechanistic approach than to the structural model advocated by Huneman. In this paper, we cover this gap by investigating the explanatory role that mathematics play in Blaser and Kirschner’s nested equilibrium model of the stability of persistent long-term human-microbe associations. We argue that their model is explanatory because: i) it provides a mathematical structure in the form of a set of differential equations that together satisfy an ESS; ii) that the nested nature of the ESSs makes the explanation of host-microbe persistent associations robust to any perturbation; iii) that this is so because the properties of the ESS directly mirror the properties of the biological system in a non-causal way. The combination of these three theses make equilibrium explanations look more similar to structural explanations than to causal-mechanistic explanation. (shrink)
I examine explanations’ realist commitments in relation to dynamical systems theory. First I rebut an ‘explanatory indispensability argument’ for mathematical realism from the explanatory power of phase spaces (Lyon and Colyvan 2007). Then I critically consider a possible way of strengthening the indispensability argument by reference to attractors in dynamical systems theory. The take-home message is that understanding of the modal character of explanations (in dynamical systems theory) can undermine platonist arguments from explanatory indispensability.
The epistemic probability of A given B is the degree to which B evidentially supports A, or makes A plausible. This paper is a first step in answering the question of what determines the values of epistemic probabilities. I break this question into two parts: the structural question and the substantive question. Just as an object’s weight is determined by its mass and gravitational acceleration, some probabilities are determined by other, more basic ones. The structural question asks what probabilities are (...) not determined in this way—these are the basic probabilities which determine values for all other probabilities. The substantive question asks how the values of these basic probabilities are determined. I defend an answer to the structural question on which basic probabilities are the probabilities of atomic propositions conditional on potential direct explanations. I defend this against the view, implicit in orthodox mathematical treatments of probability, that basic probabilities are the unconditional probabilities of complete worlds. I then apply my answer to the structural question to clear up common confusions in expositions of Bayesianism and shed light on the “problem of the priors.”. (shrink)
We are justified in employing the rule of inference Modus Ponens (or one much like it) as basic in our reasoning. By contrast, we are not justified in employing a rule of inference that permits inferring to some difficult mathematical theorem from the relevant axioms in a single step. Such an inferential step is intuitively “too large” to count as justified. What accounts for this difference? In this paper, I canvass several possible explanations. I argue that the most (...) promising approach is to appeal to features like usefulness or indispensability to important or required cognitive projects. On the resulting view, whether an inferential step counts as large or small depends on the importance of the relevant rule of inference in our thought. (shrink)
I investigate how theoretical assumptions, pertinent to different perspectives and operative during the modeling process, are central in determining how nature is actually taken to be. I explore two different models by Michael Turelli and Steve Frank of the evolution of parasite-mediated cytoplasmic incompatility, guided, respectively, by Fisherian and Wrightian perspectives. Since the two models can be shown to be commensurable both with respect to mathematics and data, I argue that the differences between them in the (1) mathematical presentation (...) of the models, (2) explanations, and (3) objectified ontologies stem neither from differences in mathematical method nor the employed data, but from differences in the theoretical assumptions, especially regarding ontology, already present in the respective perspectives. I use my "set up, mathematically manipulate, explain, and objectify" (SMEO) account of the modeling process to track the model-mediated imposition of theoretical assumptions. I conclude with a discussion of the general implications of my analysis of these models for the controversy between Fisherian and Wrightian perspectives. (shrink)
Detailed examinations of scientific practice have revealed that the use of idealized models in the sciences is pervasive. These models play a central role in not only the investigation and prediction of phenomena, but in their received scientific explanations as well. This has led philosophers of science to begin revising the traditional philosophical accounts of scientific explanation in order to make sense of this practice. These new model-based accounts of scientific explanation, however, raise a number of key questions: Can (...) the fictions and falsehoods inherent in the modeling practice do real explanatory work? Do some highly abstract and mathematical models exhibit a noncausal form of scientific explanation? How can one distinguish an exploratory "how-possibly" model explanation from a genuine "how-actually" model explanation? Do modelers face tradeoffs such that a model that is optimized for yielding explanatory insight, for example, might fail to be the most predictively accurate, and vice versa? This chapter explores the various answers that have been given to these questions. (shrink)
Using as case studies two early diagrams that represent mechanisms of the cell division cycle, we aim to extend prior philosophical analyses of the roles of diagrams in scientific reasoning, and specifically their role in biological reasoning. The diagrams we discuss are, in practice, integral and indispensible elements of reasoning from experimental data about the cell division cycle to mathematical models of the cycle’s molecular mechanisms. In accordance with prior analyses, the diagrams provide functional explanations of the cell (...) cycle and facilitate the construction of mathematical models of the cell cycle. But, extending beyond those analyses, we show how diagrams facilitate the construction of mathematical models, and we argue that the diagrams permit nomological explanations of the cell cycle. We further argue that what makes diagrams integral and indispensible for explanation and model construction is their nature as locality aids: they group together information that is to be used together in a way that sentential representations do not. (shrink)
It is our contention that an ontological commitment to propositions faces a number of problems; so many, in fact, that an attitude of realism towards propositions—understood the usual “platonistic” way, as a kind of mind- and language-independent abstract entity—is ultimately untenable. The particular worries about propositions that marshal parallel problems that Paul Benacerraf has raised for mathematical platonists. At the same time, the utility of “proposition-talk”—indeed, the apparent linguistic commitment evident in our use of 'that'-clauses (in offering explanations (...) and making predictions)—is also in need of explanation. We account for this with a fictionalist analysis of our use of 'that'-clauses. Our account avoids certain problems that arise for the usual error-theoretic versions of fictionalism because we apply the notion of semantic pretense to develop an alternative, pretense-involving, non-error-theoretic, fictionalist account of proposition-talk. (shrink)
We overview logical and computational explanations of the notion of tractability as applied in cognitive science. We start by introducing the basics of mathematical theories of complexity: computability theory, computational complexity theory, and descriptive complexity theory. Computational philosophy of mind often identifies mental algorithms with computable functions. However, with the development of programming practice it has become apparent that for some computable problems finding effective algorithms is hardly possible. Some problems need too much computational resource, e.g., time or (...) memory, to be practically computable. Computational complexity theory is concerned with the amount of resources required for the execution of algorithms and, hence, the inherent difficulty of computational problems. An important goal of computational complexity theory is to categorize computational problems via complexity classes, and in particular, to identify efficiently solvable problems and draw a line between tractability and intractability. -/- We survey how complexity can be used to study computational plausibility of cognitive theories. We especially emphasize methodological and mathematical assumptions behind applying complexity theory in cognitive science. We pay special attention to the examples of applying logical and computational complexity toolbox in different domains of cognitive science. We focus mostly on theoretical and experimental research in psycholinguistics and social cognition. (shrink)
This is an introduction to the volume "Explanation Beyond Causation: Philosophical Perspectives on Non-Causal Explanations", edited by A. Reutlinger and J. Saatsi (OUP, forthcoming in 2017). -/- Explanations are very important to us in many contexts: in science, mathematics, philosophy, and also in everyday and juridical contexts. But what is an explanation? In the philosophical study of explanation, there is long-standing, influential tradition that links explanation intimately to causation: we often explain by providing accurate information about the causes (...) of the phenomenon to be explained. Such causal accounts have been the received view of the nature of explanation, particularly in philosophy of science, since the 1980s. However, philosophers have recently begun to break with this causal tradition by shifting their focus to kinds of explanation that do not turn on causal information. The increasing recognition of the importance of such non-causal explanations in the sciences and elsewhere raises pressing questions for philosophers of explanation. What is the nature of non-causal explanations - and which theory best captures it? How do non-causal explanations relate to causal ones? How are non-causal explanations in the sciences related to those in mathematics and metaphysics? This volume of new essays explores answers to these and other questions at the heart of contemporary philosophy of explanation. The essays address these questions from a variety of perspectives, including general accounts of non-causal and causal explanations, as well as a wide range of detailed case studies of non-causal explanations from the sciences, mathematics and metaphysics. (shrink)
This paper explores the question of Leibniz’s contribution to the rise of modern ‘science’. To be sure, it is now generally agreed that the modern category of ‘science’ did not exist in the early modern period. At the same time, this period witnessed a very important stage in the process from which modern science eventually emerged. My discussion will be aimed at uncovering the new enterprise, and the new distinctions which were taking shape in the early modern period under the (...) banner of the old Aristotelian terminology. I will argue that Leibniz begins to theorize a distinction between physics and metaphysics that tracks our distinction between the autonomous enterprise of science in its modern meaning, and the enterprise of philosophy. I will try to show that, for Leibniz, physics proper is the study of natural phenomena in mathematical and mechanical terms without recourse for its explanations to metaphysical notions. This autonomy, however, does not imply for Leibniz that physics can say on its own all that there is to be said about the natural world. Quite the opposite. Leibniz inherits from the Aristotelian tradition the view that physics needs metaphysical roots or a metaphysical grounding. For Leibniz, what is ultimately real is reached by metaphysics, not by physics. This is, in my view, Leibniz’s chief insight: the new mathematical physics is an autonomous enterprise which offers its own kind of explanations but does not exhaust what can (and should) be said about the natural world. (shrink)
Any philosophy of science ought to have something to say about the nature of mathematics, especially an account like constructive empiricism in which mathematical concepts like model and isomorphism play a central role. This thesis is a contribution to the larger project of formulating a constructive empiricist account of mathematics. The philosophy of mathematics developed is fictionalist, with an anti-realist metaphysics. In the thesis, van Fraassen's constructive empiricism is defended and various accounts of mathematics are considered and rejected. Constructive (...) empiricism cannot be realist about abstract objects; it must reject even the realism advocated by otherwise ontologically restrained and epistemologically empiricist indispensability theorists. Indispensability arguments rely on the kind of inference to the best explanation the rejection of which is definitive of constructive empiricism. On the other hand, formalist and logicist anti-realist positions are also shown to be untenable. It is argued that a constructive empiricist philosophy of mathematics must be fictionalist. Borrowing and developing elements from both Philip Kitcher's constructive naturalism and Kendall Walton's theory of fiction, the account of mathematics advanced treats mathematics as a collection of stories told about an ideal agent and mathematical objects as fictions. The account explains what true portions of mathematics are about and why mathematics is useful, even while it is a story about an ideal agent operating in an ideal world; it connects theory and practice in mathematics with human experience of the phenomenal world. At the same time, the make-believe and game-playing aspects of the theory show how we can make sense of mathematics as fiction, as stories, without either undermining that explanation or being forced to accept abstract mathematical objects into our ontology. All of this occurs within the framework that constructive empiricism itself provides the epistemological limitations it mandates, the semantic view of theories, and an emphasis on the pragmatic dimension of our theories, our explanations, and of our relation to the language we use. (shrink)
I have been working for a long time about basic laws which direct existence, and some mathematical problems which are waited for a solution. I can count myself lucky, that I could make some important inferences during this time, and I published them in a few papers partially as some propositions. This work aimed to explain and discuss these inferences all together by relating them one another by some extra additions, corrections and explanations being physical phenomena are prior. (...) There are many motivation instruments for exact physical inferences. (shrink)
Are there arguments in mathematics? Are there explanations in mathematics? Are there any connections between argument, proof and explanation? Highly controversial answers and arguments are reviewed. The main point is that in the case of a mathematical proof, the pragmatic criterion used to make a distinction between argument and explanation is likely to be insufficient for you may grant the conclusion of a proof but keep on thinking that the proof is not explanatory.
Recent work on interpretability in machine learning and AI has focused on the building of simplified models that approximate the true criteria used to make decisions. These models are a useful pedagogical device for teaching trained professionals how to predict what decisions will be made by the complex system, and most importantly how the system might break. However, when considering any such model it’s important to remember Box’s maxim that "All models are wrong but some are useful." We focus on (...) the distinction between these models and explanations in philosophy and sociology. These models can be understood as a "do it yourself kit" for explanations, allowing a practitioner to directly answer "what if questions" or generate contrastive explanations without external assistance. Although a valuable ability, giving these models as explanations appears more difficult than necessary, and other forms of explanation may not have the same trade-offs. We contrast the different schools of thought on what makes an explanation, and suggest that machine learning might benefit from viewing the problem more broadly. (shrink)
The term “Complex Systems Biology” was introduced a few years ago [Kaneko, 2006] and, although not yet of widespread use, it seems particularly well suited to indicate an approach to biology which is well rooted in complex systems science. Although broad generalizations are always dangerous, it is safe to state that mainstream biology has been largely dominated by a gene-centric view in the last decades, due to the success of molecular biology. So the one gene - one trait approch, which (...) has often proved to be effective, has been extended to cover even complex traits. This simplifying view has been appropriately criticized, and the movement called systems biology has taken off. Systems biology [Noble, 2006] emphasizes the presence of several feedback loops in biological systems, which severely limit the range of validity of explanations based upon linear causal chains (e.g. gene → behaviour). Mathematical modelling is one the favourite tools of systems biologists to analyze the possible effects of competing negative and positive feedback loops which can be observed at several levels (from molecules to organelles, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, ecosystems). Systems biology is by now a well-established field, as it can be inferred by the rapid growth in number of conferences and journals devoted to it, as well as by the existence of several grants and funded projects.Systems biology is mainly focused upon the description of specific biological items, like for example specific organisms, or specific organs in a class of animals, or specific genetic-metabolic circuits. It therefore leaves open the issue of the search for general principles of biological organization, which apply to all living beings or to at least to broad classes. We know indeed that there are some principles of this kind, biological evolution being the most famous one. The theory of cellular organization also qualifies as a general principle. But the main focus of biological research has been that of studying specific cases, with some reluctance to accept (and perhaps a limited interest for) broad generalizations. This may however change, and this is indeed the challenge of complex systems biology: looking for general principles in biological systems, in the spirit of complex systems science which searches for similar features and behaviours in various kinds of systems. The hope to find such general principles appears well founded, and I will show in Section 2 that there are indeed data which provide support to this claim. Besides data, there are also general ideas and models concerning the way in which biological systems work. The strategy, in this case, is that of introducing simplified models of biological organisms or processes, and to look for their generic properties: this term, borrowed from statistical physics, is used for those properties which are shared by a wide class of systems. In order to model these properties, the most effective approach has been so far that of using ensembles of systems, where each member can be different from another one, and to look for those properties which are widespread. This approach was introduced many years ago [Kauffman, 1971] in modelling gene regulatory networks. At that time one had very few information about the way in which the expression of a given gene affects that of other genes, apart from the fact that this influence is real and can be studied in few selected cases (like e.g. the lactose metabolism in E. coli). Today, after many years of triumphs of molecular biology, much more has been discovered, however the possibility of describing a complete map of gene-gene interactions in a moderately complex organism is still out of reach. Therefore the goal of fully describing a network of interacting genes in a real organism could not be (and still cannot be) achieved. But a different approach has proven very fruitful, that of asking what are the typical properties of such a set of interacting genes. Making some plausible hypotheses and introducing some simplifying assumptions, Kauffman was able to address some important problems. In particular, he drew attention to the fact that a dynamical system of interacting genes displays selforganizing properties which explain some key aspects of life, most notably the existence of a limited number of cellular types in every multicellular organism (these numbers are of the order of a few hundreds, while the number of theoretically possible types, absent interactions, would be much much larger than the number of protons in the universe). In section 3 I will describe the ensemble based approach in the context of gene regulatory networks, and I will show that it can describe some important experimental data. Finally, in section 4 I will discuss some methodological aspects. (shrink)
A compelling idea holds that reality has a layered structure. We often disagree about what inhabits the bottom layer, but we agree that higher up we find chemical, biological, geological, psychological, sociological, economic, /etc./, entities: molecules, human beings, diamonds, mental states, cities, interest rates, and so on. How is this intuitive talk of a layered structure of entities to be understood? Traditionally, philosophers have proposed to understand layered structure in terms of either reduction or supervenience. But these traditional views face (...) well-known problems. A plausible alternative is that layered structure is to be explicated by appeal to explanations of a certain sort, termed / grounding explanations/. Grounding explanations tell us what obtains in virtue of what. Unfortunately, the use of grounding explanations to articulate the layered conception faces a problem, which I call /the collapse/. The collapse turns on the question of how to ground the facts stated by the explanations themselves. In this paper I make a suggestion about how to ground explanations that avoids the collapse. Briefly, the suggestion is that the fact stated by a grounding explanation is grounded in its /explanans/. (shrink)
This paper focuses on a particular kind of non-naturalism: moral non-naturalism. Our primary aim is to argue that the moral non-naturalist places herself in an invidious position if she simply accepts that the non-natural moral facts that she posits are not explanatory. This has, hitherto, been the route that moral non-naturalists have taken. They have attempted to make their position more palatable by pointing out that there is reason to be suspicious of the explanatory criterion of ontological commitment. That is (...) because other perfectly respectable views fall foul of that criterion, most notably: mathematical realism. Since we don’t want to rule out mathematical realism, we should jettison the explanatory criterion of ontological commitment. Against this manoeuvre, we argue that many contemporary mathematical realists accept the explanatory criterion and provide an account of how mathematical objects are indeed indispensable to our best explanations. Thus, the moral non-naturalist will be left in an awkward dialectical position if she accepts that non-natural moral properties play no such explanatory role. (shrink)
The enigma of the Emergence of Natural Languages, coupled or not with the closely related problem of their Evolution is perceived today as one of the most important scientific problems. The purpose of the present study is actually to outline such a solution to our problem which is epistemologically consonant with the Big Bang solution of the problem of the Emergence of the Universe}. Such an outline, however, becomes articulable, understandable, and workable only in a drastically extended epistemic and scientific (...) oecumene, where known and habitual approaches to the problem, both theoretical and experimental, become distant, isolated, even if to some degree still hospitable conceptual and methodological islands. The guiding light of our inquiry will be Eugene Paul Wigner's metaphor of ``the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in natural sciences'', i.e., the steadily evolving before our eyes, since at least XVIIth century, ``the miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics''. Kurt Goedel's incompleteness and undecidability theory will be our guardian discerner against logical fallacies of otherwise apparently plausible explanations. John Bell's ``unspeakableness'' and the commonplace counterintuitive character of quantum phenomena will be our encouragers. And the radical novelty of the introduced here and adapted to our purposes Big Bang epistemological paradigm will be an appropriate, even if probably shocking response to our equally shocking discovery in the oldest among well preserved linguistic fossils of perfect mathematical structures outdoing the best artifactual Assemblers. (shrink)
On a view implicitly endorsed by many, a concept is epistemically better than another if and because it does a better job at ‘carving at the joints', or if the property corresponding to it is ‘more natural' than the one corresponding to another. This chapter offers an argument against this seemingly plausible thought, starting from three key observations about the way we use and evaluate concepts from en epistemic perspective: that we look for concepts that play a role in (...) class='Hi'>explanations of things that cry out for explanation; that we evaluate not only ‘empirical' concepts, but also mathematical and perhaps moral concepts from an epistemic perspective; and that there is much more complexity to the concept/property relation than the natural thought seems to presuppose. These observations, it is argued, rule out giving a theory of conceptual evaluation that is a corollary of a metaphysical ranking of the relevant properties. -/- conceptual ethics, explanation, naturalness, epistemic value, concept/property, semantic internalism. (shrink)
Each day people are presented with circumstances that may require speculation. Scientists may ponder questions such as why a star is born or how rainbows are made, psychologists may ask social questions such as why people are prejudiced, and military strategists may imagine what the consequences of their actions might be. Speculations may lead to the generation of putative explanations called hypotheses. But it is by checking if hypotheses accurately reflect the encountered facts that lead to sensible behaviour demonstrating (...) a true understanding. If evidence shows a hypothesis to be false, then people should rationally abandon it, especially if there are negative consequences. The aim of this thesis is to examine how effectively people search for evidence in their hypothesis testing to test whether or not their hypotheses are true or false in competitive games. -/- Research findings from six studies of hypothesis testing behaviour in competitive deductive tasks are explored. Chapter by chapter the thesis tests how everyday people, and master chess players, tackle hypothesis testing in mathematical tasks, such as how to solve sequential number sequence puzzles when thinking about an opponent, or how to solve chess problems in a variety of contexts. The implications of the results are discussed in light of aspects of general cognition: such as reasoning, social hypothesis testing and planning. (shrink)
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