Performing abstraction: Two ways of modelling Arabidopsis thaliana
Biology and Philosophy
What is the best way to analyse abstraction in scientific modelling? I propose to focus on abstracting as an epistemic activity, which is achieved in different ways and for different purposes depending on the actual circumstances of modelling and the features of the models in question. This is in contrast to a more conventional use of the term ‘abstract’ as an attribute of models, which I characterise as black-boxing the ways in which abstraction is performed and to which epistemological advantage. I exemplify my claims through a detailed reconstruction of the practices involved in creating two types of models of the flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana, currently the best-known model organism in plant biology. This leads me to distinguish between two types of abstraction processes: the ‘material abstracting’ required in the production of Arabidopsis specimens and the ‘intellectual abstracting’ characterising the elaboration of visual models of Arabidopsis genomics. Reflecting on the differences between these types of abstracting helps to pin down the epistemic skills and research commitments used by researchers to produce each model, thus clarifying how models are handled by researchers and with which epistemological implications.
The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)
The Leverhulme Trust
Vol. 23, Issue 4, pp. 509 - 528