Agent-based Models as Fictive Instantiations of Ecological Processes

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Philosophy and Theory in Biology, ISSN: 1949-0739, Vol: 4, Issue: 20170609, Page: 1-12

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Peck, Steven L.
University of Michigan Library; Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library
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It has been argued that problems in computer simulation bear enough resemblance to recognized issues in the philosophy of modeling that they only pose philosophical challenges analogous to those found in standard analytic models used to represent the natural world. Agent-based models have become important for understanding the interactions among organisms in ecological and evolutionary systems. Like the complexity found in natural systems, these models allow emergent patterns to arise from lower-level processes. The use of these models presents several philosophical problems to understanding how a simulation represents and what role it can play in scientific discourse. One fruitful way to look at agent-based models is as instantiations: a representational mode that recreates a type of the system with which one is working. I explore whether agent-based models present new challenges for philosophy of science and why these types of models are relevant for understanding emergent systems. I argue that certain types of ecological systems may be examined more substantively with agential models. I also suggest that these models might be described as fictions and require deeper hermeneutic engagement than non-simulation models.