Structural Modeling Error and the System Individuation Problem

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Lawhead, Jon
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Recent work by Frigg et. al.(2014a, 2014b) and Mayo-Wilson (forthcoming) have called attention to a particular sort of error associated with attempts to model certain complex systems: structural modeling error (SME). The assessment of the degree of SME in a model presupposes agreement between modelers about the best way to individuate natural systems, an agreement which can be more problematic than it appears. This problem, which we dub “the system individuation problem” arises in many of the same contexts as SME, and the two often compound one another. This paper explores the common roots of the two problems in concerns about the precision of predictions generated by scientific models, and discusses how both concerns bear on the study of complex natural systems, particularly the global climate.