Dirac and the dispensability of mathematics

In this paper, 1 examine the role of the delta function in Dirac’s formulation of quantum mechanics (QM), and I discuss, more generally, the role of mathematics in theory construction. It has been argued that mathematical theories play an indispensable role in physics, particularly in QM [Colyvan, M. (2001). The inrlispensability of mathematics. Oxford University Press: Oxford]. As I argue here, at least in the case of the delta function, Dirac was very clear about its rlispensability. I first discuss the significance of the delta function in Dirac’s work, and explore the strategy that he devised to overcome its use. l then argue that even if mathematical theories turned out to be indispensable, this wouidn’t justify the commitment to the existence of mathematical entities. In fact, even in successful uses of mathematics, such as in Dirac’s discovery of antimatter, there’s no need to believe in the existence of the corresponding mathematical entities. An interesting picture about the application of mathematics emerges from a careful examination of Dirac’s work.
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsb.2005.03.002
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References found in this work BETA
W. V. Quine (1961). On What There Is. In Tim Crane & Katalin Farkas (eds.), From a Logical Point of View. Harvard University Press. pp. 21--38.
Jody Azzouni (1998). On "on What There Is". Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 79 (1):1–18.
F. A. Muller (1999). The Equivalence Myth of Quntum Mechanics (Addendum). Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B 30 (4):543-545.

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Amie L. Thomasson (2008). Existence Questions. Philosophical Studies 141 (1):63 - 78.
J. Azzouni & O. Bueno (2016). True Nominalism: Referring Versus Coding. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 67 (3):781-816.

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