Just Playing? Toy Models in the Sciences

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Workshop: Just Playing? Toy Models in the Sciences
8-9 May, 2015

Idea and Motivation

Toy models are ubiquitous in the natural and social sciences – prominent examples include the Ising model in physics, the Lotka-Volterra model in the life sciences, and the Schelling model in the social sciences. It is characteristic of toy models that they simplify radically and often succeed in identifying the crucial features that produce a phenomenon. Toy models play an important and, though, insufficiently appreciated role in philosophy of science. This workshop addresses the following questions regarding the epistemic functions of toy models in the natural and social sciences:

  • Do toy models represent ‘real’ target systems? Or do scientists just play around with models?
  • Do toy models provide reliable predictions?
  • How should one interpret the idealized assumptions in toy models?
  • Which role do toy models play as a tool of argument/consensus-finding in the scientific community?
  • How are simple toy models related to complex simulations?
  • Are toy models explanatory?
  • Do toy models yield scientific understanding?