This paper examines contemporary attempts to explicate the explanatory role of mathematics in the physical sciences. Most such approaches involve developing so-called mapping accounts of the relationships between the physical world and mathematical structures. The paper argues that the use of idealizations in physical theorizing poses serious difficulties for such mapping accounts. A new approach to the applicability of mathematics is proposed.
This paper looks at emergence in physical theories and argues that an appropriate way to understand so-called ``emergent protectorates'' is via the explanatory apparatus of the renormalization group. It is argued that mathematical singularities play a crucial role in our understanding of at least some well-defined emergent features of the world.
This paper examines the role of mathematical idealization in describing and explaining various features of the world. It examines two cases: first, briefly, the modeling of shock formation using the idealization of the continuum. Second, and in more detail, the breaking of droplets from the points of view of both analytic fluid mechanics and molecular dynamical simulations at the nano-level. It argues that the continuum idealizations are explanatorily ineliminable and that a full understanding of certain physical phenomena cannot be obtained (...) through completely detailed, nonidealized representations. (shrink)
This paper attempts to address the problem of the applicability of mathematics in physics by considering the (narrower) question of what make the so-called special functions of mathematical physics special. It surveys a number of answers to this question and argues that neither simple pragmatic answers, nor purely mathematical classificatory schemes are sufficient. What is required is some connection between the world and the way investigators are forced to represent the world.
This article attempts to address the problem of the applicability of mathematics in physics by considering the (narrower) question of what make the so-called special functions of mathematical physics special. It surveys a number of answers to this question and argues that neither simple pragmatic answers, nor purely mathematical classificatory schemes are sufficient. What is required is some connection between the world and the way investigators are forced to represent the world.
This paper discusses the alleged reduction of Thermodynamics to Statistical Mechanics. It includes an historical discussion of J. Willard Gibbs' famous caution concerning the connections between thermodynamic properties and statistical mechanical properties---his so-called ``Thermodynamic Analogies.'' The reasons for Gibbs' caution are reconsidered in light of relatively recent work in statistical physics on the existence of the thermodynamic limit and the explanation of critical behavior using the renormalization group apparatus. A probabilistic understanding of the renormalization group arguments allows for a kind (...) of unification of Gibbs' approach with contemporary understanding of the reduction problem. (shrink)
This paper considers the relationship between continuum hydrodynamics and discrete molecular dynamics in the context of explaining the behavior of breaking droplets. It is argued that the idealization of a fluid as a continuum is actually essential for a full explanation of the drop breaking phenomenon and that, therefore, the less "fundamental," emergent hydrodynamical theory plays an ineliminable role in our understanding.
Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics are related to one another through the so-called "thermodynamic limit'' in which, roughly speaking the number of particles becomes infinite. At critical points (places of physical discontinuity) this limit fails to be regular. As a result, the "reduction'' of Thermodynamics to Statistical Mechanics fails to hold at such critical phases. This fact is key to understanding an argument due to Craig Callender to the effect that the thermodynamic limit leads to mistakes in Statistical Mechanics. I discuss (...) this argument and argue that the conclusion is misguided. In addition, I discuss an analogous example where a genuine physical discontinuity---the breaking of drops---requires the use of infinite idealizations. (shrink)
This paper concerns the scale related decoupling of the physics of breaking drops and considers the phenomenon from the point of view of both hydrodynamics and molecular dynamics at the nanolevel. It takes the shape of droplets at breakup to be an example of a genuinely emergent phenomenon---one whose explanation depends essentially on the phenomenological (non-fundamental) theory of Navier-Stokes. Certain conclusions about the nature of "fundamental" theory are drawn.
I respond to Belot's argument and defend the view that sometimes `fundamental theories' are explanatorily inadequate and need to be supplemented with certain aspects of less fundamental `theories emeritus'.
This paper addresses issues surrounding the concept of geometric phase or "anholonomy". Certain physical phenomena apparently require for their explanation and understanding, reference to toplogocial/geometric features of some abstract space of parameters. These issues are related to the question of how gauge structures are to be interpreted and whether or not the debate over their "reality" is really going to be fruitful.
A traditional view of mathematical modeling holds, roughly, that the more details of the phenomenon being modeled that are represented in the model, the better the model is. This paper argues that often times this ‘details is better’ approach is misguided. One ought, in certain circumstances, to search for an exactly solvable minimal model—one which is, essentially, a caricature of the physics of the phenomenon in question.
Robert Batterman examines a form of scientific reasoning called asymptotic reasoning, arguing that it has important consequences for our understanding of the scientific process as a whole. He maintains that asymptotic reasoning is essential for explaining what physicists call universal behavior. With clarity and rigor, he simplifies complex questions about universal behavior, demonstrating a profound understanding of the underlying structures that ground them. This book introduces a valuable new method that is certain to fill explanatory gaps across disciplines.
Discussions of the foundations of Classical Equilibrium Statistical Mechanics (SM) typically focus on the problem of justifying the use of a certain probability measure (the microcanonical measure) to compute average values of certain functions. One would like to be able to explain why the equilibrium behavior of a wide variety of distinct systems (different sorts of molecules interacting with different potentials) can be described by the same averaging procedure. A standard approach is to appeal to ergodic theory to justify this (...) choice of measure. A different approach, eschewing ergodicity, was initiated by A. I. Khinchin. Both explanatory programs have been subjected to severe criticisms. This paper argues that the Khinchin type program deserves further attention in light of relatively recent results in understanding the physics of universal behavior. (shrink)
Game theoretic explanations of the evolution of human behavior have become increasingly widespread. At their best, they allow us to abstract from misleading particulars in order to better recognize and appreciate broad patterns in the phenomena of human social life. We discuss this explanatory strategy, contrasting it with the particularist methodology of contemporary evolutionary psychology. We introduce some guidelines for the assessment of evolutionary game theoretic explanations of human behavior: such explanations should be representative, robust, and flexible. Distinguishing these features (...) sharply can help to clarify the import and accuracy of game theorists' claims about the robustness and stability of their explanatory schemes. Our central example is the work of Brian Skyrms, who offers a game theoretic account of the evolution of our sense of justice. Modeling the same Nash game as Skyrms, we show that, while Skyrms' account is robust with respect to certain kinds of variation, it fares less well in other respects. (shrink)
This paper addresses a relatively common scientific (as opposed to philosophical) conception of intertheoretic reduction between physical theories. This is the sense of reduction in which one (typically newer and more refined) theory is said to reduce to another (typically older and coarser) theory in the limit as some small parameter tends to zero. Three examples of such reductions are discussed: First, the reduction of Special Relativity (SR) to Newtonian Mechanics (NM) as (v/c)20; second, the reduction of wave optics to (...) geometrical optics as 0; and third, the reduction of Quantum Mechanics (QM) to Classical Mechanics (CM) as0. I argue for the following two claims. First, the case of SR reducing to NM is an instance of a genuine reductive relationship while the latter two cases are not. The reason for this concerns the nature of the limiting relationships between the theory pairs. In the SR/NM case, it is possible to consider SR as a regular perturbation of NM; whereas in the cases of wave and geometrical optics and QM/CM, the perturbation problem is singular. The second claim I wish to support is that as a result of the singular nature of the limits between these theory pairs, it is reasonable to maintain that third theories exist describing the asymptotic limiting domains. In the optics case, such a theory has been called catastrophe optics. In the QM/CM case, it is semiclassical mechanics. Aspects of both theories are discussed in some detail. (shrink)
This paper considers definitions of classical dynamical chaos that focus primarily on notions of predictability and computability, sometimes called algorithmic complexity definitions of chaos. I argue that accounts of this type are seriously flawed. They focus on a likely consequence of chaos, namely, randomness in behavior which gets characterized in terms of the unpredictability or uncomputability of final given initial states. In doing so, however, they can overlook the definitive feature of dynamical chaos--the fact that the underlying motion generating the (...) behavior exhibits extreme trajectory instability. I formulate a simple criterion of adequacy for any definition of chaos and show how such accounts fail to satisfy it. (shrink)
This paper discusses the problem of finding and defining chaos in quantum mechanics. While chaotic time evolution appears to be ubiquitous in classical mechanics, it is apparently (...) absent in quantum mechanics in part because for a bound, isolated quantum system, the evolution of its state is multiply periodic. This has led a number of investigators to search for semiclassical signatures of chaos. Here I am concerned with the status of semiclassical mechanics as a distinct third theory of the asymptotic domain between classical and quantum mechanics. I discuss in some detail the meaning of such crucial locutions as the "classical counterpart to a quantum system" and a quantum system's "underlying classical motion". A proper elucidation of these concepts requires a semiclassical association between phase space surfaces and wave-functions. This significance of this association is discussed in some detail. (shrink)
I discuss recent work in ergodic theory and statistical mechanics, regarding the compatibility and origin of random and chaotic behavior in deterministic dynamical systems. A detailed critique of some quite radical proposals of the Prigogine school is given. I argue that their conclusion regarding the conceptual bankruptcy of the classical conceptions of an exact microstate and unique phase space trajectory is not completely justified. The analogy they want to draw with quantum mechanics is not sufficiently close to support their most (...) radical conclusion. (shrink)
I discuss a broad critique of the classical approach to the foundations of statistical mechanics (SM) offered by N. S. Krylov. He claims that the classical approach is in principle incapable of providing the foundations for interpreting the "laws" of statistical physics. Most intriguing are his arguments against adopting a de facto attitude towards the problem of irreversibility. I argue that the best way to understand his critique is as setting the stage for a positive theory which treats SM as (...) a theory in its own right, involving a completely different conception of a system's state. As the orthodox approach treats SM as an extension of the classical or quantum theories (one which deals with large systems), Krylov is advocating a major break with the traditional view of statistical physics. (shrink)