Chapter 1

Model Use: From a Decision-Making Problem to a Set of Research Problems1

1.1. Introduction: why model?

We “model” constantly in the course of everyday life: for each entity we encounter, be it an object, a person, or a process, we create an associated mental image that enables us to give meaning to its existence and behavior. As Valéry states in [VAL 77], “we only think using models”. A model is a formal representation of an object or a set of associated phenomena, which we attempt to circumscribe. It may be seen as an analytical tool used to describe, in a reduced and formalized manner, a particular observed object. In this way, the model acts as an intermediary between the object and the questions we ask to understand the object. Thus, the value of the model resides not in its “reality”, but in its use to explain a given object or a set of phenomena: it takes on a heuristic role in the process of generating knowledge about a given object.

We thus see that the concept of models is part of a “simplification/abstraction” dichotomy, containing aspects of both symbolic representation and reduction of the complexity of the observed object. However, although the model is only a partial representation of this object, or of a certain “reality” of the object (which implies that a large number of possible models exist for a given object), it enables us, in relation to our aims, to reduce this “reality” to a limited number of viewpoints that are intelligible and coherent for the ...

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