Understanding the core of modern scientific research

Lorenzo Magnani_Tommaso Bertolotti © Lorenzo Magnani and Tommaso BertolottiLorenzo Magnani and Tommaso Bertolotti, editors of the recently published “Springer Handbook of Model-Based Science”, on the significance of models in science and the role of philosophers in scientific progress.

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Why is model-based science of importance, especially for people outside of philosophy?

Lorenzo Magnani (LM): Virtually all the science of our era is model-based science, meaning based on models or using models. That is why many of the authors of the handbook already belong to multidisciplinary research teams in their domains of expertise.

Tommaso Bertolotti (TB): A deep understanding of how the human mind works when it is creating science is crucial to protect science and to foster its constant growth. So the philosophical research on scientific creativity is – at least in our opinion - the most significant one.

What are the biggest challenges for the field still ahead?

TB: We can produce computer simulations of basically any target, draw hypotheses from them and hence make decisions. But is this always legitimate? This question is all the more crucial as far as models of living systems are concerned, for instance in medicine and biology.

LM: Computer simulations are at the core of a lot of the debate about models. If we really manage to achieve biological, neural and quantum computing, I wonder what a handbook like this might look in two or three decades!

Which application of models in science do you, personally, find most exciting?

LM: Model-based reasoning is widespread in all fields of natural science and technological research, also in related areas such as medical diagnosis, where we assist to an increase of the use of model-based instrumental cognition.

TB: We also find model-based approaches to human sciences very interesting and new. Sometimes they do not give answers, but they show trends and correlations that make you think further.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in the field?

LM: As a XXI century philosopher you cannot refrain from interacting with science and technology. You cannot teach scientists and engineers how to do their job, but once you understand it a little better, you can play side by side with them and leverage the positive impact of science on society.

What is the most exciting part of your current research?

LM: Our research includes philosophy of science,  cognitive science and artificial intelligence. It is especially concerned with the study of processes of model-based conceptual innovation and change in science also in the perspective of abductive reasoning.

TB: Recently we also addressed the problem of the relationships between morality and technology, the problem of violence in a philosophical and cognitive perspective, and the delineation of best model that captures the most basic human activities, such as of gossip.

How would you describe the experience of editing the book?

TB: It was like climbing a mountain: positively overwhelming! You work a lot, and you feel as if you are not making any progress. Then one day, in our case four years since the idea for this project,  you realize you made it to the top, you look down and see how far you have gone.

What was your personal highlight during the process?

LM: Editing this handbook really made us feel the breadth of the community working around model-based science, not only within philosophy of science, but outside of it as well.

And for whom is this book a “must-read”?

LM: Besides the “obvious” categories of scholars and researchers, we think this book could benefit the interdisciplinary connections within different scientific disciplines.