Modelling (and I'm not talking about the catwalk variety!) is a long-standing method used to understand processes and phenomena. Astronomers created intricate mechanical models of the solar system, called orreries, to better understand how the planets moved relative to each other. For centuries boat builders used carefully made scale models to get the right "lines" for a hull and to test how they would behave in the water. Architects still construct scale models of major buildings to show what they will look like.
These models are all simplifications of the actual phenomena. Orreries usually assume that the planets travel in circular orbits instead of ellipses and boat models rarely have the fine detail of the planks. But these models can still be valuable. The well known industrial statistician George Box put it well when he said "all models are wrong but some models are useful".