One phenomenon, many models: inconsistency and complementarity
The paper examines philosophical issues that arise in contexts where one has many different models for treating the same system. I show why in some cases this appears relatively unproblematic (models of turbulence) while others represent genuine difficulties when attempting to interpret the information that models provide (nuclear models). What the examples show is that while complementary models needn’t be a hindrance to knowledge acquisition, the kind of inconsistency present in nuclear cases is, since it is indicative of a lack of genuine theoretical understanding. It is important to note that the differences in modeling do not result directly from the status of our knowledge of turbulent flows as opposed to nuclear dynamics—both face fundamental theoretical problems in the construction and application of models. However, as we shall, the ‘problem context(s)’ in which the modeling takes plays a decisive role in evaluating the epistemic merit of the models themselves. Moreover, the theoretical difficulties that give rise to inconsistent as opposed to complementary models (in the cases I discuss) impose epistemic and methodological burdens that cannot be overcome by invoking philosophical strategies like perspectivism, paraconsistency or partial structures.