The role of models in mind and science

Abstract

During the last few decades, models have become the centre of attention in both cognitive science and philosophy of science. In cognitive science, the claim that humans reason with mental models, rather than mentally manipulate linguistic symbols, is the majority view. Similarly, philosophers of science almost unanimously acknowledge that models have to be taken as a central unit of analysis. Moreover, some philosophers of science and cognitive scientists have suggested that the cognitive hypothesis of mental models is a promising way of accounting for the use of models in science. However, once the importance of models in cognition as well as in science has been acknowledged, much more needs to be said about how models enable agents to make predictions, and to understand the world. In this paper, our goal (as a cognitive scientist, working on causal reasoning, and a philosopher of science, working on models and representations) is twofold. We would like to further develop the notion of mental models, and to explore the parallels between mental models as a concept in cognitive science, and models in science. While acknowledging that the parallel move towards models in cognitive science and in philosophy of science is in the right direction, we think that: i. the notion of mental models needs to be clarified in order to serve as a useful tool, ii. the relation between the hypothesis of mental models and the use of models in science is still to be clarified. First, we will briefly recall a few points about the mental model hypothesis, on the one hand, and the model-centred view of science, on the other hand. Then, we will present our parallel criticisms, and put forward our own proposals

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