Discerning Fermions

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 59 (3):499 - 548 (2008)
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Abstract

We demonstrate that the quantum-mechanical description of composite physical systems of an arbitrary number of similar fermions in all their admissible states, mixed or pure, for all finite-dimensional Hilbert spaces, is not in conflict with Leibniz's Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles (PII). We discern the fermions by means of physically meaningful, permutation-invariant categorical relations, i.e. relations independent of the quantum-mechanical probabilities. If, indeed, probabilistic relations are permitted as well, we argue that similar bosons can also be discerned in all their admissible states; but their categorical discernibility turns out to be a state-dependent matter. In all demonstrated cases of discernibility, the fermions and the bosons are discerned (i) with only minimal assumptions on the interpretation of quantum mechanics; (ii) without appealing to metaphysical notions, such as Scotusian haecceitas, Lockean substrata, Postian transcendental individuality or Adamsian primitive thisness; and (iii) without revising the general framework of classical elementary predicate logic and standard set theory, thus without revising standard mathematics. This confutes: (a) the currently dominant view that, provided (i) and (ii), the quantum-mechanical description of such composite physical systems always conflicts with PII; and (b) that if PII can be saved at all, the only way to do it is by adopting one or other of the thick metaphysical notions mentioned above. Among the most general and influential arguments for the currently dominant view are those due to Schrodinger, Margenau, Cortes, Dalla Chiara, Di Francia, Redhead, French, Teller, Butterfield, Giuntini, Mittelstaedt, Castellani, Krause and Huggett. We review them succinctly and critically as well as related arguments by van Fraassen and Massimi

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Author Profiles

F. A. Muller
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Simon Saunders
Oxford University

References found in this work

Theories and things.W. V. Quine (ed.) - 1981 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Philosophy of Mathematics and Natural Science.Hermann Weyl - 1949 - Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. Edited by Olaf Helmer-Hirschberg & Frank Wilczek.
Identity in physics: a historical, philosophical, and formal analysis.Steven French & Decio Krause - 2006 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Decio Krause.
The identity of indiscernibles.Max Black - 1952 - Mind 61 (242):153-164.
Primitive thisness and primitive identity.Robert Merrihew Adams - 1979 - Journal of Philosophy 76 (1):5-26.

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