Representation and Theory in Biology

This project is an exercise in what I like to call "descriptive metaphysics of science." Most basically, the project is to understand the sorts of conceptual structures that scientists bring to their work, where these can include purely internal reasoning processes, representations mediated via internal models and external visualizations, and shared experimental and communicative resources in a field. The goal is to understand standard issues in philosophy of science from this perspective.

With my collaborators in the WORking Group on Diagrams in Science (WORGODS), I have written several papers discussing the role of visual representations in scientific reasoning and explanation, and have presented them to both cognitive science and philosophy of science audiences. We argue that visual representations both afford and constrain hypothesis generation and reasoning, and discuss the different kinds of constraints and affordances provided by different kinds of representations, and how they relate.

In ongoing work, I extend this perspective to address such issues as the role of abstraction and idealization in representations in biology, and the relationships between scientific representations that underlie successful pluralist explanation.