Axel Gelfert's research while affiliated with Technische Universität Berlin and other places

Publications (52)

Chapter
Dass die Wissenschaft weder vor ehrlichen Irrtümern noch vor Betrug und Fehlverhalten gefeit ist, beweist die Wissenschaftsgeschichte zur Genüge. Während erstere durch disziplingebundene Methodiken minimiert werden, sollen letztere durch forschungsethische Regeln guter wissenschaftlicher Praxis in Schach gehalten werden. Was aber, wenn in bester Ab...
Chapter
The science of climate change has long had to negotiate the tension between the demand for hard numerical data and the need for imagining radically different futures. In recent years, the notion of the ‘Anthropocene’—that is, of a new geological epoch brought about by the cumulative effects of humans on the Earth’s geochemical cycles—has opened up...
Chapter
According to one influential view, model-building in science is primarily a matter of simplifying theoretical descriptions of real-world target systems using abstraction and idealization. This view, however, does not adequately capture all types of models. Many contemporary models in the natural and social sciences – from physics to biology to econ...
Chapter
Whether or not the results of a computer simulation are credible depends to a large extent on the credibility (or lack thereof) of the underlying conceptual model. If a model has been developed explicitly with the goal of running a computer simulation in mind, the two types of credibility may seem deeply intertwined. Yet, often enough, conceptual m...
Chapter
Traditional frameworks for evaluating scientific models have tended to downplay their exploratory function; instead they emphasize how models are inherently intended for specific phenomena and are to be judged by their ability to predict, reproduce, or explain empirical observations. By contrast, this paper argues that exploration should stand alon...
Article
Traditional frameworks for evaluating scientific models have tended to downplay their exploratory function; instead they emphasize how models are inherently intended for specific phenomena and are to be judged by their ability to predict, reproduce, or explain empirical observations. By contrast, this paper argues that exploration should stand alon...
Article
Despite being a new term, 'fake news' has evolved rapidly. This paper argues that it should be reserved for cases of deliberate presentation of (typically) false or misleading claims as news, where these are misleading by design. The phrase 'by design' here refers to systemic features of the design of the sources and channels by which fake news pro...
Chapter
Mathematics, not least in popular writings on the topic, is often credited with a special affinity to beauty. For example, mathematical theorems are sometimes described as ‘beautiful’, or a particular proof may be deemed more ‘elegant’ than another. But it is far from clear how mathematical objects such as theorems or proofs could function as beare...
Chapter
This paper investigates one of the great achievements of twentieth-century cell biology: determining the structure of the cell membrane. This case differs in important ways from the better-known case of the identification of the DNA double helix as the carrier of genetic information, especially regarding the evaluation of potential evidence in ligh...
Chapter
The term scientific model picks out a great many things, including scale models, physical models, sets of mathematical equations, theoretical models, toy models, and so forth. This raises the question of whether a general answer to the question What is a model? is even possible. This chapter surveys a number of philosophical approaches that bear on...
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This chapter discusses a variety of closely related uses of models which are best described collectively as ‘exploratory modeling’. The importance of exploration to science has recently been emphasized by a number of historians and philosophers of science writing on scientific experimentation, and the chapter begins by reviewing this lively debate....
Chapter
Much of the philosophical debate about scientific models has focused on their representational function. Beginning with a discussion of the problem of scientific representation in general (as explored by Nelson Goodman, Bas van Fraassen, and others) this chapter discusses two specific proposals of how model-based representation comes about: first,...
Chapter
Models are used across all scientific disciplines and come in a variety of different forms and shapes: as phenomenological models, theoretical models, mathematical models, toy models, scale models, etc. This bewildering array of different types of models naturally gives rise to the ontological question ?What is a model??, which the present chapter...
Chapter
This chapter argues that scientific models function as mediators, contributors, and enablers of scientific knowledge. It begins with a discussion of the ‘models-as-mediators’ view, according to which models are partly autonomous mediators between theory and data. However, close attention to the process of model construction reveals that models are...
Article
In this article we argue that idealizations and limiting cases in models play an exploratory role in science. Four senses of exploration are presented: exploration of the structure and representational capacities of theory; proof-of-principle demonstrations; potential explanations; and exploring the suitability of target systems. We illustrate our...
Book
Taking scientific practice as its starting point, this book charts the complex territory of models used in science. It examines what scientific models are and what their function is. Reliance on models is pervasive in science, and scientists often need to construct models in order to explain or predict anything of interest at all. The diversity of...
Chapter
This chapter looks in detail at a number of case studies from across the natural sciences, with the goal of identifying recurring strategies of model-building. Examples discussed range from target-oriented modeling in population biology (Lotka-Volterra model of predator–prey systems) to phenomenological models in physics (Ginzburg-Landau model of s...
Chapter
The present paper focuses on a particular class of models intended to describe and explain the physical behaviour of systems that consist of a large number of interacting particles. Such many-body models are characterized by a specific Hamiltonian (energy operator) and are frequently employed in condensed matter physics in order to account for such...
Article
In recent years, the idea has been gaining ground that our traditional conceptions of knowledge and cognition are unduly limiting, in that they privilege what goes on inside the ‘skin and skull’ (Clark 1997: 82) of an individual reasoner. Instead, it has been argued, knowledge and cognition need to be understood as embodied (involving both mind and...
Article
This paper contrasts and compares strategies of model-building in condensed matter physics and biology, with respect to their alleged unequal susceptibility to trade-offs between different theoretical desiderata. It challenges the view, often expressed in the philosophical literature on trade-offs in population biology, that the existence of system...
Article
Hume concludes Book II of his Treatise of Human Nature with a section on the passion of curiosity, ‘that love of truth, which was the first source of all our enquiries’. At first sight, this characterization of curiosity – as the motivating factor in that specifically human activity that is the pursuit of knowledge – may seem unoriginal. However, w...
Article
In his influential 1960 paper ‘The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences’, Eugene P. Wigner raises the question of why something that was developed without concern for empirical facts—mathematics—should turn out to be so powerful in explaining facts about the natural world. Recent philosophy of science has developed ‘Wig...
Article
Synthetic biology presents a challenge to traditional accounts of biology: Whereas traditional biology emphasizes the evolvability, variability, and heterogeneity of living organisms, synthetic biology envisions a future of homogeneous, humanly engineered biological systems that may be combined in modular fashion. The present paper approaches this...
Article
Singapore’s foray into biotechnology is generally considered an economic and scientific success, its most visible sign being Biopolis, launched in 2003 as an integrated cluster of research facilities in an urban setting. Biopolis, however, is itself the result of a long-term effort to build up capacities for biotechnological research. The present a...
Article
Edgar Allan Poe’s standing as a literary figure, who drew on (and sometimes dabbled in) the scientific debates of his time, makes him an intriguing character for any exploration of the historical interrelationship between science, literature and philosophy. His sprawling ‘prose-poem’ Eureka (1848), in particular, has sometimes been scrutinized for...
Article
Rumors, for better or worse, are an important element of public discourse. The present paper focuses on rumors as an epistemic phenomenon rather than as a social or political problem. In particular, it investigates the relation between the mode of transmission and the reliability, if any, of rumors as a source of knowledge. It does so by comparing...
Article
Much of Arnold Hauser’s work on the social history of art and the philosophy of art history is informed by a concern for the cognitive dimension of art. The present paper offers a reconstruction of this aspect of Hauser’s project and identifies areas of overlap with the sociology of knowledge—where the latter is to be understood as both a separate...
Article
The present paper contributes to a growing body of philosophical, sociological, and historical analyses of recent nanoscale science and technology. Through a close examination of the origins of contemporary nanotech efforts, their ambitions, and strategic uses, it also aims to provide the basis for a critical theory of emerging technologies more ge...
Article
This paper argues that the problem of expertise calls for a rapprochement between social epistemology and argumentation theory. Social epistemology has tended to emphasise the role of expert testimony, neglecting the argumentative function of appeals to expert opinion by non-experts. The first half of the paper discusses parallels and contrasts bet...
Article
The present paper argues that ‘mature mathematical formalisms’ play a central role in achieving representation via scientific models. A close discussion of two contemporary accounts of how mathematical models apply—the DDI account (according to which representation depends on the successful interplay of denotation, demonstration and interpretation)...
Article
The present paper argues for a more complete integration between recent “genealogical” approaches to the problem of knowledge and evolutionary accounts of the development of human cognitive capacities and practices. A structural tension is pointed out between, on the one hand, the fact that the explicandum of genealogical stories is a specifically...
Article
Among contemporary epistemologists of testimony, David Hume is standardly regarded as a 'global reductionist', where global reductionism requires the hearer to have sufficient first-hand knowledge of the facts in order to individually ascertain the reliability of the testimony in question. In the present paper, I argue that, by construing Hume's re...
Article
In his work on the epistemology of testimony, Peter Lipton developed an account of testimonial inference that aimed at descriptive adequacy as well as justificatory sophistication. According to ‘testimonial inference to the best explanation’ (TIBE), we accept what a speaker tells us because the truth of her claim figures in the best explanation of...
Article
The present paper argues for the relevance of Immanuel Kant and the German Enlightenment to contemporary social epistemology. Rather than distancing themselves from the alleged ‘individualism’ of Enlightenment philosophers, social epistemologists would be well-advised to look at the substantive discussion of social-epistemological questions in the...
Article
This paper argues that a successful philosophical analysis of models and simulations must accommodate an account of mathematically rigorous results. Such rigorous results may be thought of as genuinely model-specific contributions, which can neither be deduced from fundamental theory nor inferred from empirical data. Rigorous results provide new in...
Article
Local reductionism purports to defend a middle ground in the debate about the epistemic status of testimony-based beliefs. It does so by acknowledging the practical ineliminability of testimony as a source of knowledge, while insisting that such an acknowledgment need not entail a default-acceptance view, according to which there exists an irreduci...
Article
Immanuel Kant is often regarded as an exponent of the 'individualist' tradition in epistemology, according to which testimony is not a fundamental source of knowledge. The present paper argues that this view is far from accurate. Kant devotes ample space to discussions of testimony and, in his lectures on logic, arrives at a distinct and stable phi...
Article
This paper argues that, for a prospective philosophical analysis of models and simulations to be successful, it must accommodate an account of mathematically rigorous results. Such rigorous results are best thought of as genuinely model-specific contributions, which can neither be deduced from fundamental theory nor inferred from empirical data. Ri...
Article
The present paper examines the role of exact results in the theory of many-body physics, and specifically the example of the Mermin-Wagner theorem, a rigorous result concerning the absence of phase transitions in low-dimensional systems. While the theorem has been shown to hold for a wide range of many-body models, it is frequently ‘violated’ by re...
Article
In its original form due to Ian Hacking, entity realism postulates a criterion of manipulative success which replaces explanatory virtue as the criterion of justified scientific belief. The article analyses the foundations on which this postulate rests and identifies the conditions on which one can derive a form of entity realism from it. It then d...
Article
After a brief discussion of the Bogoliubov inequality and possible generalizations thereof, we present a complete review of results concerning the Mermin-Wagner theorem for various many-body systems, geometries and order parameters. We extend the method to cover magnetic phase transitions in the periodic Anderson model as well as certain supercondu...
Article
Starting from general considerations concerning phase transitions and the many-body problem, a pedagogical introduction to the Mermin-Wagner theorem is given. Particular attention is paid to how the Mermin-Wagner theorem fits in with more general methods in many-particle physics. An attempt at an assessment of its validity for approximative methods...
Article
The possibility of a magnetic phase transition in Heisenberg, Hubbard, and s-f (Kondo-lattice) films is investigated. It is shown that, for any finite temperature and any finite number of layers, the magnetization within every layer must vanish. Thus, the Mermin-Wagner theorem is extended to a variety of system geometries. We also comment on the mi...

Citations

... The existing literature focuses primarily on documentation and analysis of specific modeling practices, although some overviews have been attempted (e.g. Gelfert, 2019). But it has not been much discussed under what conditions, and in virtue of what, scientific models can perform the epistemic function-helping to uncover modal information-that is ascribed to them. ...
... Similarly, Gelfert (2019) highlights the use of models as exploration tools as well as instruments in the development of credible worlds to gain intuition about scientific phenomena in the absence of established theory and data. Such uses of models are offered as examples to illustrate the limitations of conventional empirical similarity measures. ...
... It claims that often mathematical modelling is useful because it is an integral and active part of exploratory science. Recent philosophical analyses have argued that exploration should be considered alongside explanation, prediction and unification as a core function of scientific models in general [1][2][3]. To articulate and illustrate some of these exploratory functions, I will focus on mathematical models from network science used in the investigation of modularity across different biological scales. ...
... The communication form of the story is another aspect to inspect, what techniques are applied to appear convincing. Perhaps the numbers have the role to appear objective (in line with Porter 1996), or the numbers are accompanied with techniques to spark emotions, which is common in fake news (Gelfert 2018). Further, it is essential to reflect on the audience: who does the text turn to? ...
... Interest in scientific modeling has recently given prominence to exploratory models, a type of model that may not have a target that it represents, but which still has epistemic value because it allows scientists to explore something, be it a phenomenon, a theory, a hypothesis, a concept, or something else (Gelfert, 2018;Massimi, 2019). Part of what makes these models interesting is that accounts of models based on representation (van Fraassen, 1980;French, 2003;Giere, 2004;Giere, 2010;van Fraassen, 2008;Suarez, 2010;Suárez, 2004;Suárez, 2003) do not seem to capture what exploratory models are doing because those accounts presume models have targets, whereas exploratory models may not. ...
... I do not know a good retort to this worry, and so I reject t2. In its place, I want to identify three roles that explanatory fictions may fulfill, in the spirit of Shech and Gelfert (2016) and Gelfert (2016), thereby grounding the idea that there is value in science to using fictional explanans and explanada. ...
... For a recent review of the literature on the ontology of models seeGelfert (2017). See alsoFrigg and Nguyen (2017) for a review of model-based theories of representation. ...
... Although the explanatory role of models is widely acknowledged, several philosophers of science emphasize that models serve important roles besides explanation. Gelfert (2014Gelfert ( , 2018 argues that exploration should stand alongside explanation (and prediction) as a genuine epistemic function of models. Like experiments, models serve exploratory functions when the target system is poorly understood, e.g., because no well-articulated theory is available to describe it. ...
... where the first term indicates the purely kinetic energy of the electrons, the second term the interaction between the electrons and the lattice potential, ( ), due to the 24 For relevant background material in solid state/condensed matter physics see standard textbooks such as Ashcroft and Mermin ([1976]). 25 For a review, see Gelfert ([2015]). 26 For the canonical derivation due to Hubbard, see his ([1963]). ...
... In the absence of a guiding theory, science turns to exploration [18]. Exploratory modelling techniques include using a variety of alternative models or parameter combinations. ...