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In this paper we argue that data science is a coherent and novel approach to empirical problems that, in its most general form, does not build understanding about phenomena. Within the new type of mathematization at work in data science, mathematical methods are not selected because of any relevance for a problem at hand; mathematical methods are applied to a specific problem only by `forcing’, i.e. on the basis of their ability to reorganize the data for further analysis and the intrinsic richness of their mathematical structure. In particular, we argue that deep learning neural networks are best understood within the context of forcing optimization methods. We finally explore the broader question of the appropriateness of data science methods in solving problems. We argue that this question should not be interpreted as a search for a correspondence between phenomena and specific solutions found by data science methods; rather, it is the internal structure of data science methods that is open to precise forms of understanding.


This article was originally published in Lato Sensu: Revue De La Société De Philosophie Des Sciences, volume 8, issue 2, in 2021.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.