On the truth – or otherwise – of models

All too often I hear people repeating a very old adage about modelling:

“All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

My immediate reaction to this tends to be ‘so what?’

No, models don’t describe the world in detail or provide insight into every facet of it, yet they do everything they claim to do. Maybe they aren’t exhaustive, yet in every important sense that matters to the user of a valid model, they are true. And in any case, exactly the same objection can be raised against every representation, from a word to a photography or a simulator or a mirror.

Another assertion of not dissimilar significance is the bald claim, often expressed in denigrating tones, that:

“All models are wrong.”

Again, not true, though in this case it’s because no model claims to be right – only useful for its (hopefully) defined scope and purpose. That’s why I refer to models as ”valid’: like other forms of validity, models are matters of logical and/or mathematical truth, not empirical or existential correctness.

A model is a tool, not an encyclopaedia or the thing in itself. If you want absolute truth, try Zen.

(Actually – though for quite different reasons – please do try Zen. You won’t regret it.)

By |2018-06-20T20:36:39+00:00Wednesday, June 20 2018|Categories: All, Methodology & lifecycles, Process and method, Quality, Skills, Stories, Tools|0 Comments

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