Thursday, March 18, 2004

Simulations, All

I've been reading Richard Dawkin's book about evolution, The Selfish Gene. It's apparent that a lot of ideas about evolution are tested out through computer simulations. Of course, it's not just evolutionary theory where computer simulations are heavily used - there's other areas such as Economics, Physics and Meteorology. But despite the fairly widespread use of simulation, despite its utility, may people seem to consider it somehow lesser than other techniques for understanding the world.

Many people would consider verbal or mathematical means of understanding the world superior to simulations. I believe the argument is that simulations seem so paltry against the complexity of the real world, with the assumption that the other techniques are much better at dealing the nature of the world, perhaps because they don't try explicitly representing it. Against this idea, it occurred to me before -- and this probably has occurred to others -- that all thinking is fundamentally simulation.

Any reasoning about the world -- verbal, mathematical, etc -- involves some conception of the way the world is. In short, when you're reasoning you're manipulating this model in some way in order to see what it can tell you. What does this have to say about the relative efficacy of a computer simulation? That's something I'll consider another time.

This post is really just a quick sketch - I want to come back to this and consider it more fully another time, but now it's beddy-bies time and I need my beauty sleep :-).

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