Monday, June 17, 2013

Models are experiments

I spent last week at a two-part meeting on language in developmental and acquired disorders, hosted by the Royal Society. The organizers (Dorothy Bishop, Kate Nation, and Karalyn Patterson) devised a meeting structure that stimulated – and made room for – a lot of discussion and one of the major discussion topics throughout the meeting was computational modeling. A major highlight for me was David Plaut’s aphorism “Models are experiments”. The idea is that models are sometimes taken to be the theory, but they are better thought of as experiments designed to test the theory. In other words, just as a theory predicts some behavioral phenomena, it also predicts that a model implementation of that theory should exhibit those phenomena. This point of view has several important, and I think useful, consequences.