Science in the Age of Computer Simulation
by Eric Winsberg
University of Chicago Press, 2010
Cloth: 978-0-226-90202-9 | Paper: 978-0-226-90204-3 | Electronic: 978-0-226-90205-0
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226902050.001.0001


Computer simulation was first pioneered as a scientific tool in meteorology and nuclear physics in the period following World War II, but it has grown rapidly to become indispensible in a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including astrophysics, high-energy physics, climate science, engineering, ecology, and economics. Digital computer simulation helps study phenomena of great complexity, but how much do we know about the limits and possibilities of this new scientific practice? How do simulations compare to traditional experiments? And are they reliable? Eric Winsberg seeks to answer these questions in Science in the Age of Computer Simulation.

Scrutinizing these issue with a philosophical lens, Winsberg explores the impact of simulation on such issues as the nature of scientific evidence; the role of values in science; the nature and role of fictions in science; and the relationship between simulation and experiment, theories and data, and theories at different levels of description. Science in the Age of Computer Simulation will transform many of the core issues in philosophy of science, as well as our basic understanding of the role of the digital computer in the sciences.


Eric Winsberg is associate professor of philosophy at the University of South Florida.


“In this groundbreaking work, Eric Winsberg argues persuasively that it is long past time for an epistemology of simulation. He deftly illustrates the differences between traditional scientific models and simulation models, raising and addressing a set of critical philosophical issues that are distinctive to simulation modeling. For instance, his investigation of the relations between experiments and simulations is an especially interesting contribution. Winsberg’s book will prove to be essential reading for both philosophers of science and scientists interested in foundational issues in simulation modeling.”

— Elisabeth A. Lloyd, Indiana University

“This is the first book-length study of the role of simulation models from the standpoint of philosophy of science. It will be required reading for all who follow.”

— Ronald Giere, University of Minnesota

“In our era, computer simulation has become a center of activity in virtually every domain where science is applied. In this exciting book, Eric Winsberg lays the foundation for a comprehensive philosophical treatment of computer simulation: its epistemology, ontology, and normative implications. As it moves seamlessly from detail to abstraction, Science in the Age of Computer Simulation will captivate and educate scientists as well as philosophers. And, like its namesake, Walter Benjamin’s essay, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,’ this is a must-read as well for students of culture and politics.”

— Arthur Fine, University of Washington

“Such provocative findings, and Winsberg’s exceptionally readable account of the reasoning that led him to them, will interest many general readers as well as scientists and philosophers of science.”

— Richard C. J. Somerville, Science



1. Introduction

2. Sanctioning Models: Theories and Their Scope

3. Methodology for a Virtual World

4. A Tale of Two Methods

5. When Theories Shake Hands

6. Models of Climate: Values and Uncertaint

7. Reliability without Truth

8. Conclusion