Tools for Evaluating the Consequences of Prior Knowledge, but no Experiments. On the Role of Computer Simulations in Science
4.3 Experiment-like computer simulations
The opposite case to simulation-like experiments is that of computer
simulations that are experiment-like. The motivation for considering
computer simulations as experiment-like is that some computer simulations
resemble experiments in many different ways. As has been noted earlier
there are indeed many similarities between simulations and experiments
and, naturally, these are strongly emphasized by that part of the philosophical
literature on simulations that tends to liken simulations with experiments
(Morrison 2009, Parker 2009, Winsberg 2010).
Again, not all of these similarities may become relevant in every single
case of a simulation. But as a matter of terminological convention
we can call those simulation studies experiment-like which are conducted
in a way that mimics experimental studies and which therefore show
many of these similarities. This is often the case with simulations
that are used as surrogates for experiments when it is either to costly
or ethically unacceptable or for other reasons impossible to conduct
a material experiment. The previously quoted example of H-tunnelling
under conditions that hold in outer space is a good example for an
experiment-like computer simulation, because it can be regarded as
a substitute for an experiment to determine the H-tunnelling rate which
is practically not feasible, because the tunnelling rates are to slow
to be determined experimentally at temperatures which are as low as
in outer space (Goumans/Kaestner 2010, p. 7351).
Experiment-likeness if understood in this sense describes a similarity
of simulations to experimental procedures on the phenomenological level.
It does not make a simulation any more empirical if it is experiment-like.
Therefore, no matter how experiment-like some simulations are, there
will remain some experiments (namely those, where it matters that they
have an empirical content) that will never be fully resembled nor replaced
by any simulation.