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Metaphors, Models, and Theories

posted Aug 30, 2018, 9:52 PM by Enrico Fagnoni   [ updated Sep 1, 2018, 12:00 AM ]

Because most  software developers are not familiar with using “formal theories” it is worth explaining what a theory is. 

In his book, “Models. Behaving. Badly.”,  Emanual Derman explains the differences between metaphors, models, and theories.
  • A metaphor describes something less understandable by relating it to something more understandable.
  • A model is a specimen that exemplifies the ideal qualities of something. Models tend to simplify. There tend to always be gaps between models and reality. Models are analogies; they tend to describe one thing relative to something else. Models need a defense or an explanation.
  • A theory describes absolutes. Theories are the real thing. A theory describes the object of its focus. A theory does not simplify. Theories are irreducible, the foundation on which new metaphors can be built. A successful theory can become a fact. A theory describes the world and tries to describe the principles by which the world operates. A theory can be right or wrong, but it is characteristic by its intent: the discovery of essence.
Theories can be expressed logically, mathematically, symbolically, or in common language; but are generally expected to follow well understood principles of logic or rational thought.

Theory can be implemented within a robust model which is understandable by computer software.