This course examines the use of models, metaphors and analogies as means of presenting information in the sciences, humanities and social sciences.
This course will start by studying the role of a model in science, the social sciences and basic rational thinking. We will look at concepts such as those presented in Edward Lee’s Plato and the Nerd, a 2017 MIT Press book on “The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology.” We will look at how the metaphor has been viewed in the humanities and social sciences, such as in Max Black’s 1962 book, “Models and Metaphors;” in “Studies in Language and Philosophy” (Cornell Press) and in Peter Godfrey-Smith’s 2003 book, “Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science.” Next, we will look at analogy as a central element of both the model and metaphor and—according to Douglas Hofstadter, author of “Gödel, Escher, and Bach”—the basic element in cognitive science. Finally, we will examine how the idea of model is used by Thomas Kuhn in his book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (1962, 1971 and 1996).
To apply these ideas, we will consider competition models, predator-prey models and Jay Forrester’s computer simulation of the world described in his book “World Dynamics” (1972). This model is based on his work at MIT and Donella Meadows’ research at Dartmouth starting in the 1970's as a response to the Club of Rome, an international group concerned about the future of the world. The response over the years has been divided into pessimists who say the modern industrialized world is destined to destroy itself and optimists who say that technology will prevent a catastrophe and make life better. We will look at the simulation of a model as one approach to studying these questions.