David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Synthese 50 (1):125 - 145 (1982)
The main question addressed in this essay is whether quarks have been observed in any sense and, if so, what might be meant by this use of the term, observation. In the first (or introductory) section of the paper, I explain that well-known researchers are divided on the answers to these important questions. In the second section, I investigate microphysical observation in general. Here I argue that Wilson's analogy between observation by means of high-energy accelerators and observation by means of microscopes is misleading, for at least three reasons. Moreover, so long as high-energy observation is accomplished by means of spark or bubble chambers, then sentences about these observations do not meet Maxwell's criterion, that observation statements are quickly decidable. I argue, however, that this criterion is not a good norm for what is observable in high-energy physics, both because it would result in our describing a great many allegedly observed particle events as unobserved or theoretical, and because it fails to distinguish the reasons why some observation statements might not be quickly decidable. Most important, Maxwell's criterion fails because, contrary to Hanson's analysis, it presupposes that seeing does not involve both seeing as and seeing that.With this background concerning what is meant by general microphysical observation, in the third section of the essay, I discuss what might be meant by a more particular type of observation, that of the quark via scattering events. I employ Feinberg's distinction concerning observation of manifest, versus existent, particles and claim that the alleged indirect observation of quarks as existent particles is really based on a retroductive inference. I explain which premise in the retroductive argument appears most open to the charge of being theoretical (in a damaging sense) and less substantiated by observation.
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