Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Wrong models – a brief note

"Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful" (George E. P. Box). Well put – but essentially, all we have is "models" and all "usefulness" is based on having "models" of sorts – life, as we know it, would be very hard or impossible without them... So what about "wrong", then? It seems to imply a certain "correspondence theory of truth": since there is never an exact correspondence between a model (a description of various levels of complexity) and the "state of affairs" (or the "thing itself"), all models are "wrong". But perhaps it is "wrong" to expect such an exact correspondence as a measure of truth? Our observations are always more or less "modelled"... A drawing of a landscape is usually not dismissed as "wrong" because it shows only contours and shades, omitting an indefinite amount of details... Its "model" (in another sense of the word) is something like the essentials of observation and not the natural landscape "as such".

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