Byrne, D. (1997) 'Simulation - A
Sociological Research Online, vol. 2, no. 2, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/2/2/4.html>
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Received: 18/4/97 Accepted: 20/6/97 Published: 30/6/97
...the epistemological problem of nonlinear modeling can be crudely summarized as the dichotomy between engineering and science. As long as a representation is effective for a task, an engineer does not care what it implies about underlying mechanisms; to the scientist though the implication makes all the difference in the world. The engineer is certainly concerned with minimizing implementation cost ... but the scientist presumes, at least, to be focused on what the model means vis-a-vis natural laws. The engineering view of science is that it is mere data compression; scientists seem to be motivated by more than this. (J. P. Crutchfield, 1992: p. 68)
Deterministic chaos is generated in the system model by destabilizing mechanisms such as positive feedback, and by nonlinear constraints such as human values. Systems specified in this way are very sensitive to initial conditions, with the result that they cannot be used to predict future system states from initial states. (Seror, 1994: p. 34)
I am not speaking of randomness ... but of a central principle of all history - contingency (original emphasis). A historical explanation does not rest on direct deductions from laws of nature, but on an unpredictable set of antecedent states, where any major change in any step of the sequence would have altered the final result. This final result is therefore dependent, or contingent, on everything that came before - the uneraseable and determining signature of history. (Gould, 1991: p. 283)
Social simulation studies provide an opportunity to fill the gap between empirical research and theoretical work while avoiding the individualist tendency of most mathematically-based approaches. In particular, social simulation provides not only for testing hypotheses, but also an observatory of social processes. It can, therefore, offer the basis of new efforts to devise categories of description and new analyses of social reality. In other words, social simulation can provide instruments for modeling sociality. (Conte and Gilbert, 1995: p. 5)
The description of complex systems suggests that a candidate criterion is that it should not be possible to derive analytically the global emergent behaviour solely from a consideration of the property of agents. In other words emergent behaviour is that which cannot be predicted from knowledge of the properties of agents, except as a result of simulation. (Gilbert, 1995: p. 150)
Instead of a one-dimensional reality coming to us through hard data supplied by the senses, to speak of emergence implies a stratified (original emphasis) social world including non-observable entities, where reductive talk about its ultimate constituents makes no sense, given that relational properties pertaining to each stratum are real, that it is nonsense to discuss whether something (like water) is more real than something else (like hydrogen and oxygen), and that regress as a means of determining 'ultimate constituents' is of no help in this respect and an unnecessary distraction in social or any other type of theorizing. Reed and Harvey (1996: p. 686)
The mark of a good simulation is that it separates the essential from the incidental, cutting through what is deemed irrelevant detail to get at the heart of a problem. This involves making instinctual judgements about which details are crucial and which can be ignored (Johnson, 1996: p. 244).
... a radical epistemological break in the type of knowledge it provides to researchers. Iconological modeling is rooted in a pictorial method, in visual correspondences rather than in deductive reasoning. (Reed and Harvey, 1996: p.309)
The question here is not 'what has happened', ... or even 'what might have happened', but rather 'what are the sufficient conditions for a given result to be obtained?' While the first two questions are exclusively descriptive, the latter may have prescriptive consequences. It may provide hints about how to enhance or reinforce some social strategies by telling us, for example, under what conditions these strategies become stabilized. (Conte and Gilbert, 1995: p. 3)
...are highly sensitive to initially specified conditions. The simulation is not, therefore, useful to predict future states from initial states of the system; the explanatory focus is on the dynamics of change from one node to another, such as the change from a chaotic to a non-chaotic model or pattern of behaviour. Such changes are the representation of the model's active structure which mimic the evolutionary behaviour of social systems. (Seror, 1994: p. 38)
2 Evocative of Modernity alongside those other absolute products of modern design, railway engines.
3 Frankly I find this distinction to be of not very much import.
4 I don't want to get at Gilbert here, far from it. In fact his book on Analyzing Tabular Data (Gilbert, 1993) with its very important recognition of the way in which apparently inductive tests were really used in exploratory model building, has played an important part in my coming to the position I hold on these issues.
5 Gilbert's function is not a chaos function but the general principle holds.
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