Jill North offers answers to questions at the heart of the project of interpreting physics. How do we figure out the nature of the world from a mathematically formulated theory? What do we infer about the world when a physical theory can be mathematically formulated in different ways? The notion of structure is crucial to North's answers.
We are used to talking about the “structure” posited by a given theory of physics, such as the spacetime structure of relativity. What is “structure”? What does the mathematical structure used to formulate a theory tell us about the physical world according to the theory? What if there are different mathematical formulations of a given theory? Do different formulations posit different structures, or are they merely notational variants? I consider the case of Lagrangian and Hamiltonian classical mechanics. I argue that, (...) contrary to standard wisdom, these are not genuinely equivalent theories: they differ in statespace structure. I suggest that we should be realists about statespace structure. (shrink)
I argue that the fundamental space of a quantum mechanical world is the wavefunction's space. I argue for this using some very general principles that guide our inferences to the fundamental nature of a world, for any fundamental physical theory. I suggest that ordinary three-dimensional space exists in such a world, but is non-fundamental; it emerges from the fundamental space of the wavefunction.
We should see the debate over the existence of spacetime as a debate about the fundamentality of spatiotemporal structure to the physical world. This is a non-traditional conception of the debate, which captures the spirit of the traditional one. At the same time, it clarifies the point of contention between opposing views and offsets worries that the dispute is stagnant or non-substantive. It also unearths a novel argument for substantivalism, given current physics. Even so, that conclusion can be overridden by (...) future physics. I conclude that this debate is a substantive one, which the substantivalist is currently winning. (shrink)
Or better: time asymmetry in thermodynamics. Better still: time asymmetry in thermodynamic phenomena. “Time in thermodynamics” misleadingly suggests that thermodynamics will tell us about the fundamental nature of time. But we don’t think that thermodynamics is a fundamental theory. It is a theory of macroscopic behavior, often called a “phenomenological science.” And to the extent that physics can tell us about the fundamental features of the world, including such things as the nature of time, we generally think that only fundamental (...) physics can. On its own, a science like thermodynamics won’t be able to tell us about time per se. But the theory will have much to say about everyday processes that occur in time; and in particular, the apparent asymmetry of those processes. The pressing question of time in the context of thermodynamics is about the asymmetry of things in time, not the asymmetry of time, to paraphrase Price ( , ). I use the title anyway, to underscore what is, to my mind, the centrality of thermodynamics to any discussion of the nature of time and our experience in it. The two issues—the temporal features of processes in time, and the intrinsic structure of time itself—are related. Indeed, it is in part this relation that makes the question of time asymmetry in thermodynamics so interesting. This, plus the fact that thermodynamics describes a surprisingly wide range of our ordinary experience. We’ll return to this. First, we need to get the question of time asymmetry in thermodynamics out on the table. (shrink)
We often use symmetries to infer outcomes’ probabilities, as when we infer that each side of a fair coin is equally likely to come up on a given toss. Why are these inferences successful? I argue against answering this with an a priori indifference principle. Reasons to reject that principle are familiar, yet instructive. They point to a new, empirical explanation for the success of our probabilistic predictions. This has implications for indifference reasoning in general. I argue that a priori (...) symmetries need never constrain our probability attributions, even when it comes to our initial credences. (shrink)
In a recent paper, Malament (2004) employs a time reversal transformation that differs from the standard one, without explicitly arguing for it. This is a new and important understanding of time reversal that deserves arguing for in its own right. I argue that it improves upon the standard one. Recent discussion has focused on whether velocities should undergo a time reversal operation. I address a prior question: What is the proper notion of time reversal? This is important, for it will (...) affect our conclusion as to whether our best theories are time-reversal symmetric, and hence whether our spacetime is temporally oriented. *Received February 2007; revised March 2008. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, Yale University, P.O. Box 208306, New Haven, CT 06520-8306; e-mail: [email protected]. (shrink)
Huw Price argues that there are two conceptions of the puzzle of the time‐asymmetry of thermodynamics. He thinks this puzzle has remained unsolved for so long partly due to a misunderstanding about which of these conceptions is the right one and what form a solution ought to take. I argue that it is Price's understanding of the problem which is mistaken. Further, it is on the basis of this and other misunderstandings that he disparages a type of account which does, (...) in fact, hold promise of a solution. (shrink)
I discuss the nature of the puzzle about the time‐asymmetry of radiation and argue that its most common formulation is flawed. As a result, many proposed solutions fail to solve the real problem. I discuss a recent proposal of Mathias Frisch as an example of the tendency to address the wrong problem. I go on to suggest that the asymmetry of radiation, like the asymmetry of thermodynamics, results from the initial state of the universe.
This book is a stimulating and engaging discussion of philosophical issues in the foundations of classical electromagnetism. In the rst half, Frisch argues against the standard conception of the theory as consistent and local. The second half is devoted to the puzzle of the arrow of radiation: the fact that waves behave asymmetrically in time, though the laws governing their evolution are temporally symmetric. The book is worthwhile for anyone interested in understanding the physical theory of electromagnetism, as well for (...) the views it presents on philosophical issues such as causation, counterfactuals, laws, scienti c theories, models, and explanation. While philosophers of physics tend to focus on quantum mechanics and relativity, Frisch’s book shows that there are deep foundational issues in classical physics, equally worthy of attention. That said, let me lodge disagreement on some key points. Frisch argues from an alleged inconsistency in classical electromagnetism— that Maxwell’s equations, the Lorentz force law, and the conservation of energy cannot be jointly true—to the conclusion that the standard view of scienti c theories as a formalism plus an interpretation is incorrect. Consistency is a necessary condition of any view on which scienti c theories give us an account of “ways the world could be” (Frisch, , ). Since classical electromagnetism is successfully used by practicing physicists, consistency must be just one criterion of theory choice weighed equally among others. This is an intriguing idea, but I am not sure that consistency can be given up so easily. That road leads dangerously close to accepting orthodox ‘Copenhagen’ quantum mechanics. Surely the inconsistency of.. (shrink)
Max Jammer’s recent book, Concepts of Simultaneity: From Antiquity to Einstein and Beyond, traces the history of our ideas on simultaneity as they evolved alongside sweeping changes in our understanding of physics. One of the interesting lessons of the book is that, even as our physical theories have become increasingly successful, the question of the proper understanding or interpretation of those theories remains extremely puzzling. The central issue is this: Is the simultaneity of events a real feature of the world? (...) Or does it depend on the particular choice of reference frame, with any such frame as good as any other? In ancient times, Jammer suggests, most people took the notion of simultaneity for granted: Two events were simultaneous if they happened at the same time. Simultaneity was considered an objective feature of the world. This simple idea appeared con rmed by classical Newtonian mechanics. In Newtonian physics different inertial reference frames (ones that move at a constant velocity relative to one another) are equally good (the laws of motion hold in all of them), even though some attributes of an object, say velocity or momentum, differ from one reference frame to another. However, some features, such as simultaneity, hold in all allowable reference frames and are thus frame independent and in some sense more objective. But what if two events whose simultaneity is in question took place far from each other? How would you know whether they were simultaneous? One solution (available for the last few centuries anyway) is for the observers of each event to look at their (previously synchronized) clocks. The question then becomes, How can clocks that are distant from one.. (shrink)