Under so-called primitive ontology approaches, in fully describing the history of a quantum system, one thereby attributes interesting properties to regions of spacetime. Primitive ontology approaches, which include some varieties of Bohmian mechanics and spontaneous collapse theories, are interesting in part because they hold out the hope that it should not be too difficult to make a connection between models of quantum mechanics and descriptions of histories of ordinary macroscopic bodies. But such approaches are dualistic, positing a quantum state as (...) well as ordinary material degrees of freedom. This paper lays out and compares some options that primitive ontologists have for making sense of the quantum state. (shrink)
This essay revisits some classic problems in the philosophy of space and time concerning the counting of possibilities. I argue that we should think that two Newtonian worlds can differ only as to when or where things happen and that general relativistic worlds can differ in something like the same way—the first of these theses being quaintly heterodox, the second baldly heretical, according to the mores of contemporary philosophy of physics.
It is often said that the Aharonov-Bohm effect shows that the vector potential enjoys more ontological significance than we previously realized. But how can a quantum-mechanical effect teach us something about the interpretation of Maxwell's theory—let alone about the ontological structure of the world—when both theories are false? I present a rational reconstruction of the interpretative repercussions of the Aharonov-Bohm effect, and suggest some morals for our conception of the interpretative enterprise.
It is sometimes claimed that the Bayesian framework automatically implements Ockham's razor---that conditionalizing on data consistent with both a simple theory and a complex theory more or less inevitably favours the simpler theory. It is shown here that the automatic razor doesn't in fact cut it for certain mundane curve-fitting problems.
Physicists who work on canonical quantum gravity will sometimes remark that the general covariance of general relativity is responsible for many of the thorniest technical and conceptual problems in their ﬁeld.1 In particular, it is sometimes alleged that one can trace to this single source a variety of deep puzzles about the nature of time in quantum gravity, deep disagreements surrounding the notion of ‘observable’ in classical and quantum gravity, and deep questions about the nature of the existence of spacetime (...) in general relativity. (shrink)
A piece of folklore enjoys some currency among philosophical Bayesians, according to which Bayesian agents that, intuitively speaking, spread their credence over the entire space of available hypotheses are certain to converge to the truth. The goals of the present discussion are to show that kernel of truth in this folklore is in some ways fairly small and to argue that Bayesian convergence-to-the-truth results are a liability for Bayesianism as an account of rationality, since they render a certain sort of (...) arrogance rationally mandatory. (shrink)
This paper is concerned with the relation between two notions: that of two solutions or models of a theory being related by a symmetry of the theory and that of solutions or models being physically equivalent. A number of authors have recently discussed this relation, some taking an optimistic view, on which there is a suitable concept of the symmetry of a theory relative to which these two notions coincide, others taking a pessimistic view, on which there is no such (...) concept. The present paper arrives at a cautiously pessimistic conclusion. (shrink)
The classical field theories that underlie the quantum treatments of the electromagnetic, weak, and strong forces share a peculiar feature: specifying the initial state of the field determines the evolution of some degrees of freedom of the theory while leaving the evolution of some others wholly arbitrary. This strongly suggests that some of the variables of the standard state space lack physical content-intuitively, the space of states of such a theory is of higher dimension than the corresponding space of genuine (...) physical possibilities. The structure of such theories can helpfully be characterized in terms of the action of symmetry groups on their space of states; and the conceptual problems surrounding their strange behavior can be sharpened in light of the observation that it is usually possible to eliminate the redundant variables associated with these symmetries-which turn out to be precisely those variables whose evolution is unconstrained by the dynamical laws of the theory. This paper discusses this approach, uses it to frame questions about the interpretation of classical gauge theories, and to reflect (pessimistically) on our prospects of reaching satisfactory answers to these questions. (shrink)
Batterman has recently argued that fundamental theories are typically explanatorily inadequate, in that there exist physical phenomena whose explanation requires that the conceptual apparatus of a fundamental theory be supplemented by that of a less fundamental theory. This paper is an extended critical commentary on that argument: situating its importance, describing its structure, and developing a line of objection to it. The objection is that in the examples Batterman considers, the mathematics of the less fundamental theory is definable in terms (...) of the mathematics of the fundamental theory and that only the latter need be given a physical interpretation---so we can view the desired explanation as drawing only upon resources internal to the more fundamental physical theory. (The paper also includes an appendix surveying some recent results on quantum chaos.). (shrink)
This is a short, nontechnical introduction to features of time in classical and relativistic physics and their representation in the four-dimensional geometry of spacetime. Topics discussed include: the relativity of simultaneity in special and general relativity; the ‘twin paradox’ and differential aging effects in special and general relativity; and time travel in general relativity.
Gordon Belot investigates the distinctive notion of geometric possibility that relationalists rely upon. He examines the prospects for adapting to the geometric case the standard philosophical accounts of the related notion of physical possibility, with particular emphasis on Humean, primitivist, and necessitarian accounts of physical and geometric possibility. This contribution to the debate concerning the nature of space will be of interest not only to philosophers and metaphysicians concerned with space and time, but also to those interested in laws of (...) nature, modal notions, or more general issues in ontology. (shrink)
Intuitively, a classical field theory is background-in- dependent if the structure required to make sense of its equations is itself subject to dynamical evolution, rather than being imposed ab initio. The aim of this paper is to provide an explication of this intuitive notion. Background-independence is not a not formal property of theories: the question whether a theory is background-independent depends upon how the theory is interpreted. Under the approach proposed here, a theory is fully background-independent relative to an interpretation (...) if each physical possibility corresponds to a distinct spacetime geometry; and it falls short of full background-independence to the extent that this condition fails. (shrink)
The twin goals of this essay are: to investigate a family of cases in which the goal of guaranteed convergence to the truth is beyond our reach; and to argue that each of three strands prominent in contemporary epistemological thought has undesirable consequences when confronted with the existence of such problems. Approaches that follow Reichenbach in taking guaranteed convergence to the truth to be the characteristic virtue of good methods face a vicious closure problem. Approaches on which there is a (...) unique rational doxastic response to any given body of evidence can avoid incoherence only by rendering epistemology a curiously limited enterprise. Bayesian approaches rule out humility about one’s prospects of success in certain situations in which failure is typical. (shrink)
There are many parts of science in which a certain sort of underdetermination of theory by evidence is known to be common. It is argued that reflection on this fact should serve to shift the burden of proof from scientific anti-realists to scientific realists at a crucial point in the debate between them.
Stephen Hawking has argued that universes containing evaporating black holes can evolve from pure initial states to mixed final ones. Such evolution is non-unitary and so contravenes fundamental quantum principles on which Hawking's analysis was based. It disables the retrodiction of the universe's initial state from its final one, and portends the time-asymmetry of quantum gravity. Small wonder that Hawking's paradox has met with considerable resistance. Here we use a simple result for C*-algebras to offer an argument for pure-to-mixed state (...) evolution in black hole evaporation, and review responses to the Hawking paradox with respect to how effectively they rebut this argument. (shrink)
A vast amount of ink has been spilled in both the physics and the philosophy literature on the measurement problem in quantum mechanics. Important as it is, this problem is but one aspect of the more general issue of how, if at all, classical properties can emerge from the quantum descriptions of physical systems. In this paper we will study another aspect of the more general issue-the emergence of classical chaos-which has been receiving increasing attention from physicists but which has (...) largely been neglected by philosophers of science. (shrink)
The paper is about the physical theories which result when one identifies points in phase space related by symmetries; with applications to problems concerning gauge freedom and the structure of spacetime in classical mechanics.
We discuss the relationship between the interpretative problems of quantum gravity and those of general relativity. We argue that classical and quantum theories of gravity resuscitate venerable philosophical questions about the nature of space, time, and change; and that the resolution of some of the difficulties facing physicists working on quantum theories of gravity would appear to require philosophical as well as scientific creativity.
I argue that the conviction, widespread among philosophers, that substantivalism enjoys a clear superiority over relationalism in both Newtonian and relativistic physics is ill-founded. There are viable relationalist approaches to understanding these theories, and the substantival-relational debate should be of interest to philosophers and physicists alike, because of its connection with questions about the correct space of states for various physical theories.
I will discuss only one of the several entwined strands of the philosophy of space and time, the question of the relation between the nature of motion and the geometrical structure of the world.1 This topic has many of the virtues of the best philosophy of science. It is of long-standing philosophical interest and has a rich history of connections to problems of physics. It has loomed large in discussions of space and time among contemporary philosophers of science. Furthermore, there (...) is, I think, widespread agreement that recent insights here have lead to a genuine deepening of our understanding. (shrink)
Two symmetry arguments are discussed, each purporting to show that there is no more room for a preferred division of spacetime into instants of time in general relativistic cosmology than in Minkowski spacetime. The first argument is due to Gödel, and concerns the symmetries of his famous rotating cosmologies. The second turns upon the symmetries of a certain space of relativistic possibilities. Both arguments are found wanting.
Bayesians often assume, suppose, or conjecture that for any reasonable explication of the notion of simplicity a prior can be designed that will enforce a preference for hypotheses simpler in just that sense. But it is shown here that there are simplicity-driven approaches to curve-fitting problems that cannot be captured within the orthodox Bayesian framework.
In Ockham's Razors: A User's Guide, Elliott Sober argues that parsimony considerations are epistemically relevant on the grounds that certain methods of model selection, such as the Akaike Information Criterion, exhibit good asymptotic behaviour and take the number of adjustable parameters in a model into account. I raise some worries about this form of argument.
This chapter is concerned with the representation of time and change in classical (i.e., non-quantum) physical theories. One of the main goals of the chapter is to attempt to clarify the nature and scope of the so-called problem of time: a knot of technical and interpretative problems that appear to stand in the way of attempts to quantize general relativity, and which have their roots in the general covariance of that theory. The most natural approach to these questions is via (...) a consideration of more clear cases. So much of the chapter is given over to a discussion of the representation of time and change in other, better understood theories, starting with the most straightforward cases and proceeding through a consideration of cases that lead up to the features of general relativity that are responsible for the problem of time. (shrink)
There is a widespread impression that General Relativity, unlike Quantum Mechanics, is in no need of an interpretation. I present two reasons for thinking that this is a mistake. The first is the familiar hole argument. I argue that certain skeptical responses to this argument are too hasty in dismissing it as being irrelevant to the interpretative enterprise. My second reason is that interpretative questions about General Relativity are central to the search for a quantum theory of gravity. I illustrate (...) this claim by examining the interpretative consequences of a particular technical move in canonical quantum gravity. (shrink)
Schervish (1985b) showed that every forecasting system is noncalibrated for uncountably many data sequences that it might see. This result is strengthened here: from a topological point of view, failure of calibration is typical and calibration rare. Meanwhile, Bayesian forecasters are certain that they are calibrated---this invites worries about the connection between Bayesianism and rationality.
An elementary notion of gauge equivalence is introduced that does not require any Lagrangian or Hamiltonian apparatus. It is shown that in the special case of theories, such as general relativity, whose symmetries can be identiﬁed with spacetime diffeomorphisms this elementary notion has many of the same features as the usual notion. In particular, it performs well in the presence of asymptotic boundary conditions.
Recently Carolyn Brighouse and Jeremy Butterfield have argued that David Lewis's counterpart theory makes it possible both to believe in the reality of spacetime points and to consider general relativity to be a deterministic theory, thus avoiding the ‘hole argument’ of John Earman and John Norton. Butterfield's argument relies on Lewis's own counterpart-theoretic analysis of determinism. In this paper, I argue that this analysis is inadequate. This leaves a gap in the Butterfield–Brighouse defence against the hole argument.
An explication is offered of Reid’s claim (discussed recently by Yaffe and others) that the geometry of the visual field is spherical geometry. It is shown that the sphere is the only surface whose geometry coincides, in a certain strong sense, with the geometry of visibles.
ABSTRACTA popular strategy for understanding the probabilities that arise in physics is to interpret them via reductionist accounts of chance—indeed, it is sometimes claimed that such accounts are uniquely well-suited to make sense of the probabilities in classical statistical mechanics. Here it is argued that reductionist accounts of chance carry a steep but unappreciated cost: when applied to physical theories of the relevant type, they inevitably distort the relations of probability that they take as input.
This short and engaging book, based upon Sklar’s 1998 Locke Lectures, addresses three sorts of considerations which have been thought to undercut any claim physics has, or could have, to be getting at the truth. The overarching theme is that these considerations gain their plausibility from being deployed in arguments concerning the representational fidelity of particular physical theories, and that much is lost in the philosophical process of globalisation which converts them into doubts about the representational fidelity of all physical (...) theory. Theory and Truth ought to generate some overdue discussion among philosophers of physics and general philosophers of science concerning the relation between their respective specialties. (shrink)
Abstract In the philosophical literature, there are two common criteria for a physical theory to be deterministic. The older one is due to the logical empiricists, and is a purely formal criterion. The newer one can be found in the work of John Earman and David Lewis and depends on the intended interpretation of the theory. In this paper I argue that the former must be rejected, and something like the latter adopted. I then discuss the relevance of these points (...) to the current debate over the hole argument. (shrink)
A conservation principles tell us that some quantity, quality, or aspect remains constant through change. Such principles appear already in ancient and medieval natural philosophy. In one important strand of Greek cosmology, the rotatory motion of the celestial orbs is eternal and immutable. In optics, from at least the time of Euclid, the angle of reflection is equal to the angle of incidence when a ray of light is reflected. According to some versions of the medieval impetus theory of motion, (...) impetus remains in a projected body (and the associated motion persists) permanently unless the body is subject to outside interference. These examples could be multiplied. But it was in the seventeenth century that conservation principles began to play an absolutely central role in scientific theories. Each of Galileo Galilei, René Descartes, Christiaan Huygens, Gottfried Leibniz, and Isaac Newton founded his approach to physics upon the principle of inertia—that unless interfered with a body will undergo uniform rectilinear motion. A multitude of other conservation principles gained currency during the seventeenth century—some still with us, some long ago left behind. Descartes provides an interesting example of an author who attempted to derive all of his physical principles from conservation laws (Principles of Philosophy, see especially articles 36 to 42 of Part II). Descartes believed that the principles of his physics could be derived from the immutability of God, supplemented only by very weak assumptions about the existence of change in the world. He claims, in fact, that we ought to postulate the strongest conservation laws consistent with such change. These include. (shrink)
1. It is natural to wonder what our multitude of successful physical theories tell us about the world—singly, and as a body. What are we to think when one theory tells us about a flat Newtonian spacetime, the next about a curved Lorentzian geometry, and we have hints of others, portraying discrete or higher-dimensional structures which look something like more familiar spacetimes in appropriate limits?
Bayesians often assume, suppose, or conjecture that for any reasonable explication of the notion of simplicity a prior can be designed that will enforce a preference for hypotheses simpler in just that sense. Further, it is often claimed that the Bayesian framework automatically implements Occam's razor—that conditionalizing on data consistent with both a simple theory and a complex theory more or less inevitably favours the simpler theory. But it is shown here that there are simplicity-driven approaches to curve-fitting problems that (...) cannot be captured within the orthodox Bayesian framework and that the automatic razor does not function for such problems. (shrink)
These notes discuss some aspects of the sort of symmetry considerations that arise in philosophy of physics. They describe and provide illustration of: (i) one common sort of symmetry argument; and (ii) a construction that allows one to eliminate symmetries from a given structure.
Substantivalists claim that spacetime enjoys an existence analogous to that of material bodies, while relationalists seek to reduce spacetime to sets of possible spatiotemporal relations. The resulting debate has been central to the philosophy of space and time since the Scientific Revolution. Recently, many philosophers of physics have turned away from the debate, claiming that it is no longer of any relevance to physics. At the same time, there has been renewed interest in the debate among physicists working on quantum (...) gravity, who claim that the conceptual problems which they face are intimately related to interpretative questions concerning general relativity . My goal is to show that the physicists are correct--there is a close relationship between the interpretative issues of classical and quantum gravity. ;In the first part of the dissertation I challenge the received view that substantivalism has a commanding advantage over relationalism on grounds internal to GR. I argue that this view is based on a misconception of the relationships between realism and substantivalism, and between empiricism and relationalism. This has led to a narrow conception of relationalism. Once this is relinquished it can be seen that none of the standard arguments in favor of substantivalism are cogent. ;In the second part of the dissertation, I consider the way in which considerations arising out of quantum gravity bear upon the substantival-relational debate. I develop a framework in which to discuss the interpretative problems of gauge theories and place GR in this context. From this perspective, I provide a taxonomy of interpretative options, and show how the hole argument arises naturally as a consequence of gauge freedom. This means that certain substantivalist interpretations of GR render the theory indeterministic. In the final chapter, I argue that, far from being a drawback, this presents an opportunity for substantivalists. Examples from quantum mechanics, quantum field theory, and quantum gravity, are used to demonstrate that the ambiguities inherent in quantization can lead to an interpretative interplay between theories. In the case of quantum gravity, this means that substantivalism and relationalism suggest, and are suggested by, distinct approaches to quantizing GR. (shrink)