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The Limits of Phenomenology: From Behaviorism to Drug Testing and Engineering Design

  • Bar-Yam, Yaneer
Publication Date
Aug 14, 2013
Submission Date
Aug 14, 2013
arXiv ID: 1308.3094
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It is widely believed that theory is useful in physics because it describes simple systems and that strictly empirical phenomenological approaches are necessary for complex biological and social systems. Here we prove based upon an analysis of the information that can be obtained from experimental observations that theory is even more essential in the understanding of complex systems. Implications of this proof revise the general understanding of how we can understand complex systems including the behaviorist approach to human behavior, problems with testing engineered systems, and medical experimentation for evaluating treatments and the FDA approval of medications. Each of these approaches are inherently limited in their ability to characterize real world systems due to the large number of conditions that can affect their behavior. Models are necessary as they can help to characterize behavior without requiring observations for all possible conditions. The testing of models by empirical observations enhances the utility of those observations. For systems for which adequate models have not been developed, or are not practical, the limitations of empirical testing lead to uncertainty in our knowledge and risks in individual, organizational and social policy decisions. These risks should be recognized and inform our decisions.

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