A chronicled approach to the notion of computer simulations shows that there are two predominant interpretations in the specialized literature. According to the first interpretation, computer simulations are techniques for finding the set of solutions to a mathematical model. I call this first interpretation the problem-solving technique viewpoint (PST). In its second interpretation, computer simulations are considered to describe patterns of behavior of a target system. I call this second interpretation the description of patterns of behavior viewpoint of computer simulations (DPB). This article explores these two interpretations of computer simulations from three different angles. First, I collect a series of definitions of computer simulation from the historical record. I track back definitions to the early 1960s and show how each viewpoint shares similar interpretations of computer simulations – ultimately clustering into the two viewpoints aforementioned. This reconstruction also includes the most recent literature. Second, I unpack the philosophical assumptions behind each viewpoint, with a special emphasis on their differences. Third, I discuss the philosophical implications of each viewpoint in the context of the recent discussion on the logic of scientific explanation for computer simulations.
- Description of patterns of behavior viewpoint
- History and philosophy of computer simulations
- Problem-solving techniques viewpoint
- Scientific explanation
- Two viewpoints on computer simulations