Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Short Communication

How building physical models can reduce and guide the abstraction of nature

Malcolm A. MacIver a1
a1 Division of Engineering and Applied Science & Computation and Neural Systems Program, 104–44, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125


Animals detect and acquire resources through a sequence of shape changes. This process is tightly coupled to the sensory and mechanical ecology of the animal. Building physical models allow us to prescind from modeling these aspects of the environment, which may not yet be described or suitably abstracted. The significance of this hybrid of physical modeling and experimentation to the acquisition of scientific knowledge is discussed.