The Dark Side of the Force: When computer simulations lead us astray and "model think" narrows our imagination
- Preconference draft, Models and Simulations, Paris, June 12-14 -

Eckhart Arnold

1 Introduction
2 Different aims of computer simulations in science
3 Criteria for “explanatory” simulations
4 Simulations that fail to explain
    4.1 Axelrod style simulations of the “evolution of cooperation”
    4.2 Can we simulate the “Social Contract”?
5 Conclusions

4 Simulations that fail to explain

In the following I will to discuss two examples of computer simulations that were designed by its authors to explain certain empirical phenomena but ultimately fail to do so. But it is not only the failure to explain that I am interested in. What concerns me more is the consequences these failures had. In the one case it lead scientists away from the relevant questions and made them indulge into the study of computer simulations that remained almost completely useless for scientific explanation. In the other case it had, as it seems, the effect of limiting the imagination so that some of the most important features of the respective subject matter got overlooked.

Admittedly, both examples are examples of bad simulations. Why bother looking at bad simulations? Because, in these cases the failures are just the more obvious and they help us understand what to avoid. Also, at least the type of simulations described in the first example has been immensely popular for a long time.

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