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Order out of Chaos? A Case Study in High Energy Physics

Author(s): Rafaela Hillerbrand

Journal: Studia Philosophica Estonica
ISSN 1406-0000

Volume: 5.2;
Start page: 61;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Keywords: philosophy of simulation | causality | experiment

In recent years, computational sciences such as computational hydrodynamics or computational field theory have supplemented theoretical and experimental investigations in many scientific fields. Often, there is a seemingly fruitful overlap between theory, experiment, and numerics. The computational sciences are highly dynamic and seem a fairly successful endeavor---at least if success is measured in terms of publications or engineering applications. However, for theories, success in application and correctness are two very different things; and just the same may hold for "methodologies" like computer simulations. A lively debate on the epistemic status of computer simulations has thus emerged within the philosophy of science. This paper discusses possible problems when computer simulation and laboratory experiment are intertwined. In present experiments, stochastic methods in the form of Monte Carlo simulations are often involved in generating experimental data. It is questioned as to how far a realistic stance can be maintained when such stochastic elements are involved. Taking experiments in high energy physics as a study case, this paper contends that using these types of entangled material and numerical experiments as a source of new phenomena or for theory testing must presuppose a certain understanding of causality and thus binds us at least to a weak form of realism.
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