Models of machines and models of phenomena

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Sterrett, Susan G.

Sterrett, Susan G. 2006. Models of Machines and Models of Phenomena. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science Vol. 20, Iss. 1, March 2006: pp.69-80. 10.1080/02698590600641024


Experimental engineering models have been used both to model general phenomena, such as the onset of turbulence in fluid flow, and to predict the performance of machines of particular size and configuration in particular contexts. Various sorts of knowledge are involved in the method -- logical consistency, general scientific principles, laws of specific sciences, and experience. I critically examine three different accounts of the foundations of the method of experimental engineering models (scale models), and examine how theory, practice, experience are involved in employing the method to obtain practical results. Models of machines and mechanisms can be (and generally are) involved in establishing criteria for similar phenomena, which provide guidance in using events to model other events. Conversely, models of phenomena such as events that model other events can be (and generally are) involved in experimentation on models of machines. I conclude that often it is not more detailed models or the more precise equations they engender that leads to better understanding, but rather an insightful use of knowledge at hand to determine which similarity principles are appropriate in allowing us to infer what we do not know from what we are able to observe.

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