For Edmonds : The artist as a climate model .

By steven d keeler | Jun 03, 2014


Magritte’s visual message is that a copy or rendition of an object is not the original object itself. David Blakesley and Collin Brooke’s commentary on visual rhetoric notes that:

“Magritte highlights for our consideration the idea that an image of a pipe is not the same thing as the pipe itself (or the letters p-i-p-e). It is a representation of a pipe, once removed from its referent, the object to which it refers. He also forces us to consider our own reaction to the painting by suggesting that our compulsion to call the image a pipe reveals our predisposition to confuse the image with the thing it represents.”

Here then is the lesson offered by Magritte for the global climate modelers. The computer model is not reality; it is just your attempt to replicate reality. In the complex system known as global climate dynamics, the models are not reality on a computer chip. They are scenarios akin to the fabled three blind men describing an elephant. Stephen Few has used this tale as the starting point for his essay on perception and business intelligence. Each modeler may, or may not, capture a small piece of the climate puzzle correctly, but no one has gotten the whole picture reduced to a valid computer representation. The climate system is so complex and chaotic, that computer modelers have to settle for simplified constructs with open-ended assumptions (parameterizations). Like Magritte’s pipe, the final result is even further removed from reality.

Recently, the National Climate Assessment was released and claims to “detail(s) the multitude of ways climate change is already affecting and will increasingly affect the lives of Americans. Institutionalized computer forecasting masquerading as scientific fact does not make it fact.

Charles Battig, M.D. , Piedmont Chapter president, VA-Scientists and Engineers for Energy and Environment (VA-SEEE). His website is

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