[ExI] The Simulators and the Theoreticians (was: [Ethics] Better Never to Have Been)

Amara Graps amara at amara.com
Sun Dec 9 03:54:38 UTC 2007

Anne Corwin <sparkle_robot at yahoo.com>:
>Here's an analogy that might make sense if there are any other engineers
>on this list (something I imagine is quite likely).  As an electrical
>engineer, I've worked a bit with modeling and simulation software.
>Simulations can help you predict circuit behavior for *particular
>parameters*, or within a particular range of accuracy, but NO smart
>engineer would rely solely on simulation to verify the functionality of
>every one of his or her circuits.

Simulations have always attracted me, because, with those, I am a goddess
of my own universe. If I incorporate reality in the form of physics
equations, and which the computer can understand, then my simulation
guides me to a perspective that I would not have gained if I had
approached my universe in analog, that is, with straight math. However,
I have always given the benefit of the doubt to the theoreticians, that
_their_ reality is probably more true than _my_ reality. Or at least
their theory should always be able to support anything that my
simulations might reveal.

Now I'm seeing in the planetary sciences a very interesting dichotomy
between the simulators and the theoreticians. The simulators are less
dependent or less trusting of the theoreticians' reality and more
willing and happy to make large claims about their simulated results
without the support of the theoreticians. Moreover, if a theoretical
result perplexes them, their natural response is to simulate the theory
and try to prove the theoretician wrong. Another way of saying this is
that the insights, that the simulators gain, do not need to be supported
with analog theory; they even think the theoreticians could easily miss
such a result.

I find this confidence for simulated results very interesting... and
surprising. For a person who built some part of her education and
toolset in the simulation world, I should have been expecting it, but
I was not. Now in 2007, this simple perspective could indicate the
direction of our technical successes as well as a kind of proof
of our modern age.

Still wondering and pondering,


Amara Graps, PhD      www.amara.com
Research Scientist, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado

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