Turing Patterns and Biological Explanation

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Turing patterns are a class of minimal mathematical models that have been used to discover and conceptualize certain abstract features of early biological development. This paper examines a range of these minimal models in order to articulate and elaborate a philosophical analysis of their epistemic uses. It is argued that minimal mathematical models aid in structuring the epistemic practices of biology by providing precise descriptions of the quantitative relations between various features of the complex systems, generating novel predictions that can be compared with experimental data, promoting theory exploration, and acting as constitutive parts of empirically adequate explanations of naturally occurring phenomena, such as biological pattern formation. Focusing on the roles that minimal model explanations play in science motivates the adoption of a broader diachronic view of scientific explanation.

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