Similarity, Analogy and Models



I have a number of articles and talks about the significance of physical similarity to philosophy of science; publication details are given on my cv; preprints of most of them are available on the Philosophy of Science Archive at

“Physical Models & Fundamental Laws:  Using One Piece of the World to Tell About Another”

“Kinds of Models”

“Models of Machines and Models of Phenomena”

“Similarity and Dimensional Analysis”

In addition, the core of my book Wittgenstein Flies A Kite:  A Story of Models of Wings and Models of the World gives a (partial) history of the concept of physical similarity, which was given the formalization in use today in July 1914 as a short communication of the (Washington) National Academy of Science, and later, in October of that year, as a much longer journal article in the Physical Review that included a response to the physicist Richard Tolman about a philosophically-inspired question that later became known in philosophy of science as the problem of nocturnal expansion (if the universe expanded overnight, upon waking, would you be able to discern any difference?).

The parts of the book that discuss the intellectual history of physical similarity are Chapter 5 (“A New Age-Old Problem to Solve”), Chapter 6 (“The Physics of Miniature Worlds”), and Chapter 7 (“Models of Wings and Models of the World”) of my book Wittgenstein Flies a Kite:  A Story of Models of Wings and Models of the World. These chapters are especially related to physical similarity, which is the appropriate formal account of the methodology of scale models, including experimental scale models.


Analogy figures prominently in three historical case studies I have published:  one on Darwin (Darwin’s Analogy Between Artificial and Natural Selection: How Does It Go?), one on Einstein (Sounds Like Light:  Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity and Mach’s Work on Acoustics and Aerodynamics), and one on the development of sound recording technologies (Pictures of Sounds: Wittgenstein on Gramophone Records and the Logic of Depiction).

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