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Uncovering Empirical Modelling


Empirical Modelling is the name given to an ongoing research programme at the University of Warwick which began in 1983 with the development of ARCA, a definitive (definition-based) notation for interactive Cayley diagrams (cf. [Bey83]). ARCA led to much interest in definitive notations and motivated the subsequent development of the Evaluator of DEfinitive Notations (EDEN) in 1987 by Edward Yung, and the introduction of the notion of Modelling With Definitive Scripts (MWDS) [Bey85]. Traditional construals of computation were found to be insufficient in accounting for the semantic richness of MWDS and principles were introduced to distinguish such activity from conventional programming. As the principles and tools developed, consideration was given to the implicit philosophy of the approach, and strong connections were identified with the Radical Empiricism of William James [Bey03]. However, the distinctions between Empirical Modelling and traditional approaches to computing are both profound and subtle, and communicating the nature of the subject matter has proven difficult. This thesis explores the breadth of Empirical Modelling from its underlying philosophical orientation to the current tool support. Its central theme is uncovering EM and it proceeds to do so by:

  • Exploring connections between phenomenology and the philosophical orientation underlying EM.
  • Developing a fresh account of Empirical Modelling activity and the semantics of computer-based artefacts.
  • Considering areas in which EM principles and tools can be usefully applied.
  • Describing work undertaken by the author in improving the current tool support and exploring alternative ways of MWDS.

The thesis concludes that whilst there is much still to be done in articulating the approach and realising the aspiration of supporting 'modelling in the stream-of-thought', Empirical Modelling provides a practical means of exploring problems that are not amenable to formalisation.