Models as scaffolds for understanding.

Jeffrey Charles Schank, Christopher J. May

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


The term model has a variety of context-dependent meanings. A common meaning of model is to represent a physical system. Examples of representational models include mathematical and computational models of populations, ecosystems, or traffic flows. Sometimes, a model is primarily used not representationally but rather as an instantiation of an idea such as robots that can interact with humans, computational agents that play games, or agents that search the Internet. Often the intended meaning is less clear. For example, the notion of model organisms is increasingly common in the biological sciences. A model organism in one sense is intended as a representation of, for example, some human disease condition, but model organisms are also investigated to better understand the model system itself. These and other senses of model are used every day in science, and their meaning differs primarily in the functions they serve. Models are therefore multifunctional, and whether they are representational is more or less important depending on the context of research. In this chapter, our primary focus is on models as representations of physical animate systems (e.g., animals) that support our understanding of those systems. It is in this sense that models are most closely connected to the idea of scaffolding as it is used in this anthology. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDeveloping scaffolds in evolution, culture, and cognition.
EditorsLinnda R. Caporael, James R. Griesemer, William C. Wimsatt
Place of PublicationCambridge, MA
PublisherMIT Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9780262019552
Publication statusPublished - 1-Jan-2014

Publication series

NameThe Vienna series in theoretical biology


  • Animals
  • Comprehension
  • Models
  • Scaffolding

Cite this