Model-dependent realism is a controversial philosophical approach to scientific inquiry, which accepts that reality can always be interpreted in a number of different ways, and focuses on how well our models of phenomena are. It claims that it is meaningless to talk about the “true reality” of the model as we can never be absolutely certain of anything (see solipsism). The only meaningful thing is the usefulness of the model. The term itself was coined by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in their 2010 book, The Grand Design.
Model-dependent realism asserts that all we can know about “reality” consists of networks of world pictures that explain observations by connecting them by rules to concepts defined in models.
A world picture consists of the combination of a set of observations accompanied by a conceptual model and by rules connecting the model concepts to the observations. Different world pictures that describe particular data equally well all have equal claims to be valid. There is no requirement that a world picture be unique, or even that the data selected include all available observations. The universe of all observations possibly may be covered by a network of overlapping world pictures and, where overlap occurs; multiple, equally valid, world pictures exist.
As a philosophical position, model-dependent realism is similar to Constructivist epistemology.
It is not a strict form of metaphysical realism (the world is as it is, independently of how humans take it to be), and contains features of the anti-realist position that the world is mind-dependent. Like some anti-realist positions, model-dependent realism accepts conceptual relativism, the view that having multiple world-pictures that include the same observations is not a difficulty. However, the notion that the “world is as it is, independently of how humans take it to be” is not abandoned explicitly, but replaced by the notion that whatever the world may be, all we can know of it is conceptually relative, a network of overlapping world pictures.