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On the narrative form of simulations.

  • Author(s): Wise, M Norton
  • et al.
Abstract

Understanding complex physical systems through the use of simulations often takes on a narrative character. That is, scientists using simulations seek an understanding of processes occurring in time by generating them from a dynamic model, thereby producing something like a historical narrative. This paper focuses on simulations of the Diels-Alder reaction, which is widely used in organic chemistry. It calls on several well-known works on historical narrative to draw out the ways in which use of these simulations mirrors aspects of narrative understanding: Gallie for "followability" and "contingency"; Mink for "synoptic judgment"; Ricoeur for "temporal dialectic"; and Hawthorn for a related dialectic of the "actual and the possible". Through these reflections on narrative, the paper aims for a better grasp of the role that temporal development sometimes plays in understanding physical processes and of how considerations of possibility enhance that understanding.

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