Gallery of models

Broadly understood, a model is a representation. A model can serve as a lens for examining the world, for reflecting on oneself, and for comparing understandings with others.
(See notes below.)

“Everything we think we know about the world is a model.”
Donella Meadows. 2008:191. Thinking in Systems: A Primer.



  • The famous quip by Box and Draper (1987), “all models are wrong, but some are useful,” is best paired with the counterpoint by Holling et al. (2002) that useful models are “not wrong, just incomplete.” Similarly, Leonard and Clemson (1984) wrote, “Any two different perspectives (or models) about a system will reveal truths about that system that are neither entirely independent nor entirely compatible.”
  • With regard to the word “representation,” in the statement at top, “a model is a representation,” I’m thinking also of fictional representation or even misrepresentation. See, for example, Frigg (2010) Models and Fiction (pdf).
  • Some uses of scientific models? See this post.
  • This gallery is a work in progress. Your favorite model missing? Other thoughts? Please get in touch: howard AT solvingforpattern DOT org or in the comment thread below.
  • These images are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Many of them are by me; some of the better ones are by design friends Wade Larsen and Andrew Fuller.
  • My shortlist of references on models:
    • Frigg, R. and S. Hartmann. 2012. Models in Science. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    • Page, S. E. 2014. Model Thinking. Coursera.
    • Rosen, R. 1991/2005. Life Itself. Columbia University Press.
    • Zellmer, A. J. et al. 2006. The nature of ecological complexity: A protocol for building the narrative. Ecological Complexity (pdf).
  • Adrian Grigoriu 4 Sep 2014, 6:45 pm

    A model is to me a representation of reality rather than a tool that exposes a few dimensions and/or patterns to analyse it.
    And as such a model may represent a system, an enterprise, the economy…

    • Howard Silverman 4 Sep 2014, 7:17 pm

      Interesting. Thanks, Adrian. I’ve been thinking to separate those two statements: what models are, what they might be used for.

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