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Philosophy and History of Physics Reading Group

The reading group meets on Tuesdays, 4.30pm to 6.30pm in the Board Room. Organised by Joe Martin (jdm205) and Matt Farr (mwef2).

Michaelmas Term 2018

This Michaelmas, we'll be exploring the theme Physics and Empiricism. Our ultimate goal is to discuss ongoing debates about the role of empirical data in advancing the forefront of physics, for which we'll use two recent books:

Dawid is currently available as an e-book through the UL, and the Whipple has ordered several copies of the Hossenfelder book, which it will keep on hold.

Before we dive into the contemporary debate, however, we'd like to develop a historical perspective on empirical philosophy as it relates to physics, and to that end, we'll revisit some classics.

9 October

For the first session, we'll read excerpts from William Whewell's Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, in particular book 1, chapter 2 (pp. 16–50) and book 3, chapter 8 (pp. 245–54).

16 October

W. V. O. Quine, 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism', The Philosophical Review 60, no. 1 (1951): 20–43.

In addition, try to take a look at one (or both!) of the following:

23 October

Guest paper by Karim Thébault (University of Bristol):

On the Universality of Hawking Radiation
Sean Gryb, Patricia Palacios and Karim Thébault

In all major derivations of Hawking radiation there is an exponential red-shift between the late time radiation detected and the black hole horizon, where the radiation originates. Unruh has estimated that the 'frequencies which are needed to explain the radiation produced even one second after a solar mass black hole forms, correspond to energies which are e10^5 times the energy of the whole universe'. What we take to be the essential lesson is that, absent a well-trusted theory of quantum gravity, any derivation of Hawking radiation as a phenomena that depends on near horizon physics must be supplemented with an argument for the insensitivity of the effect to short distance physics. That is, we need an answer to the question 'is Hawking radiation universal?' (Jacobson 2005, p.80). We will seek to answer Jacobson's question as follows. In Section 3, we will consider what is meant by a universality argument. To do this we will examine, in some detail, the structure and limits of more familiar Wilsonian universality arguments found in the condensed matter context. Then in Section 4 we will consider three potential arguments for the universality of Hawking radiation that respectively draw upon: i) appeal to the universality of the Unruh effect combined with the equivalence principle; ii) the anomaly cancellation derivation; and iii) our ability to arbitrarily modify the dispersion relation of the scalar field used in the Hawking style derivation. Finally, Section 5 provides a detailed comparison between the two families of universality arguments. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we will conclude that none of the universality arguments for Hawking radiation that are available measure up to the standard set by Wilsonian universality arguments in condensed matter context physics. This largely negative conclusions offers a framework for future development.

30 October

  • Richard Dawid, String Theory and the Scientific Method (Cambridge, 2013), Introduction and Chapter 1
  • Sabine Hossenfelder, Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray (Basic, 2018), Preface and Chapter 1

6 November

13 November

27 November

The readings for this week are:

In addition, the proceedings of the 'Why Trust a Theory?' conference at LMU Munich are online. We will discuss the final roundtable discussion, 'Has Physics changed? – and should it?'.