Infinite idealizations are assumptions that play an important role in physics, biology, economics, and many others sciences. Putative examples include an infinite population size in population genetics, an infinite number of components in the theory of phase transitions and an infinite number of persons consuming an infinite number of (infinitely divisible) goods in large-scale economic models. Although these idealizations are generally uncontroversial in the scientific community, they have been at the center of recent philosophical debates about reduction, explanation and the status of models in science. Yet, philosophers of the particular sciences addressing these issues have largely kept within the confines of their own specialist literature. One of our goals for the conference is to bring philosophers of physics, biology, economics, etc. together in conversation about infinite idealizations, thereby mapping what similarities and differences such idealizations may have across these fields.
Some of the questions this workshop aims to explore include (but are not limited to):
Are infinite idealizations compatible with reduction?
Can a model invoking an infinite idealization have explanatory power?
What explains the success of theories that appeal to infinite idealizations?
Are infinite idealizations compatible with scientific realism?
Are infinite idealizations substantially different from other idealizations?
Should infinite idealizations be understood as approximations?
In many ways, physics has developed hand-in-hand with mathematics. It seems almost impossible to imagine physics without a mathematical framework; at the same time, questions in physics have inspired so many discoveries in mathematics. But does physics simply wear mathematics like a costume, or is math a fundamental part of physical reality?
Why does mathematics seem so “unreasonably” effective in fundamental physics, especially compared to math’s impact in other scientific disciplines? Or does it? How deeply does mathematics inform physics, and physics mathematics? What are the tensions between them — the subtleties, ambiguities, hidden assumptions, or even contradictions and paradoxes at the intersection of formal mathematics and the physics of the real world?
This essay contest will probe the mysterious relationship between physics and mathematics.
Examples of foundational questions addressed by on-topic entries might include:
Why does mathematics seem so “unreasonably” effective in fundamental physics? (Or does it?)
Is there a “pre-established harmony” between them, because the world is fundamentally mathematical?
Are we pushed to call certain theories or disciplines more fundamental because they are in some sense more mathematical?
Or, are we just lacking the right mathematics to treat other fields with similar power and rigor as physics?
What would it mean for something in the physical world to be NOT describable or model-able in terms of mathematics?
Why does physical reality obey one particular set of mathematical laws and not others (Or does it?)
How deeply does mathematics inform physics? How deeply does physics inform mathematics?
How does the structure and availability of existing mathematics shape the formulation of physical theories?
Why do we prefer mathematically simple theories to complex ones? What even defines simplicity? And is there an objective measure of complexity?
May we be missing interesting physical theories because we are committed to particular mathematical frameworks, or because suitable ones have not yet been developed?
To what extent can or should we extrapolate our mathematical equations of physics beyond the domains where we have tested them?
How much of mathematics has been constructed as if it had been due to physics motivations?
Should frameworks that are internally consistent and display mathematical elegance, but which lie beyond experimental reach, be regarded as physical theories or rather as branches of mathematics or philosophy?
Out of the countably infinitely many true statements that could be derived from a given set of sufficiently rich axioms, how have we arrived at what we know as mathematics? How much is evolutionary history? Our mental makeup? Utility? Beauty? Something else?
What are the tensions between physics and mathematics?
Are there hidden subtleties or overt controversies in how or why mathematics is used in physics (or other sciences)?
What is randomness, and what is the nature of probability?
What is the fundamental origin of stochasticity, and does that affect how we think of probability? Is it quantumness? Or indexical uncertainty of various types? Or lack of knowledge?
Is there true randomness, or is it only apparent? Are there hidden patterns in things that seem random to us now?
Do incompleteness theorems such as Goedel’s play a role in physical theory? What do they allow, forbid, or elucidate?
How should we think of infinity? Is it a useful mathematical concept that does not really apply to physical reality? Or could real physical systems be infinite?
Are there mathematical contradictions or paradoxes that tell us something about physical reality?