Synthese 196 (3):973-989 (2019)

If physics is a science that unveils the fundamental laws of nature, then the appearance of mathematical concepts in its language can be surprising or even mysterious. This was Eugene Wigner’s argument in 1960. I show that another approach to physical theory accommodates mathematics in a perfectly reasonable way. To explore unknown processes or phenomena, one builds a theory from fundamental principles, employing them as constraints within a general mathematical framework. The rise of such theories of the unknown, which I call blackbox models, drives home the unsurprising effectiveness of mathematics. I illustrate it on the examples of Einstein’s principle theories, the S-matrix approach in quantum field theory, effective field theories, and device-independent approaches in quantum information.
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-017-1490-0
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References found in this work BETA

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.Eugene Wigner - 1960 - Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics 13:1-14.
Dynamics of Reason.Michael Friedman - 2001 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 68 (3):702-712.
Quantum Nonlocality as an Axiom.Sandu Popescu & Daniel Rohrlich - 1994 - Foundations of Physics 24 (3):379-385.
Mechanisms, Principles, and Lorentz's Cautious Realism.Mathias Frisch - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 36 (4):659-679.
How Device-Independent Approaches Change the Meaning of Physical Theory.Alexei Grinbaum - 2017 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 58:22-30.

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Citations of this work BETA

On the Tension Between Physics and Mathematics.Miklós Rédei - 2020 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 51 (3):411-425.

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