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An Awkward Symmetry: The Tension between Particle Ontologies and Permutation Invariance

Philosophy of Science 78 (1):39-59 (2011)
Abstract
Physical theories continue to be interpreted in terms of particles. The idea of a particle required modification with the advent of quantum theory, but remains central to scientific explanation. Particle ontologies also have the virtue of explaining basic epistemic features of the world, and so remain appealing for the scientific realist. However, particle ontologies are untenable when coupled with the empirically necessary postulate of permutation invariance—the claim that permuting the roles of particles in a representation of a physical state results in a representation of the same physical state. I demonstrate that any theory which is permutation invariant in this sense is incompatible with a particle ontology.
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