David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 15 (1):51 – 63 (2001)
The theoretical physicist Paul Dirac rejected, explicitly on aesthetic grounds, a successful theory known as quantum electrodynamics (QED), which is the prototype for the family of theories known as quantum field theories (QFTs). Remarkably, the theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg, also largely on aesthetic grounds, supports QED and other QFTs. In order to evaluate these opposing aesthetic views a short introduction to the physical properties of QFTs is presented together with a detailed analysis of the aesthetic claims of Dirac and Weinberg. It turns out that Dirac rejected QED, without regard to its success, because this theory fails to yield to what he perceived as beautiful mathematics, whereas Weinberg's support of QFTs is founded primarily on the physical concepts of the theories. In particular, he relies on symmetries that are the basis for the construction of the extremely successful current fundamental theories of particles physics. This success was decisive in leading to Weinberg's conviction of the beauty of QFTs. As a result of the evaluation of these approaches, the factors causing scientists to perceive a theory as being a fundamentally beautiful theory are discussed in detail.
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