Category Archives: Physics

Infinite Idealizations in Science [CFP]

8-9 June, 2016 · LMU, Munich

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?

find out more….

Orra W. Hitchcock, Lady Slippers, c. 1817-1818, watercolor on paper. Deerfield Academy Archives [https://acdc.amherst.edu/collection/asc]

 

Ludwig Boltzmann: on nature

We are please to share here this post in regard to a book on Boltzmann’s philosophical writings, gifted to us not so long ago, curated by the great intellectual Prof. F. Ordoñez (UAM). The following quote, repeated quite often by Boltzmann in his conferences, touched us profoundly:

“Señoras y señores, es mi tarea en el presente curso de conferencias ofrecerles a ustedes muchas cosas; intricados teoremas, conceptos ultrarefinados y complicadas pruebas. Perdónenme si hasta ahora no les he ofrecido algo de esto. Todavía no he definido, como habría sido conveniente, el concepto de mi ciencia, esto es, la física teórica, ni he desarrollado el plan según el cual intento tratar esta materia en estas conferencias. Hoy no quise presentar todo esto a ustedes; creo que más tarde, en el transcurso de nuestro trabajo, podremos aclarar mejor estas cosas. Hoy simplemente quise presentar algo más sencillo, aunque para mí esto resulta ser todo lo que tengo, es decir, yo mismo y toda mi forma de pensar y sentir.

Del mismo modo, durante estas conferencias tendré que pedirles muchas cosas: atención concentrada, incesante diligencia y trabajo incansable. Perdónenme, por lo tanto, si antes de embarcarme en uno de estos temas les pido a cambio algo que es lo más importante para mí, es decir, su confianza, afecto y amor; en una palabra, lo más precioso que pueden dar, es decir, ustedes mismos.”

Ludwig Boltzmann, "Una conferencia inaugural de la naturaleza", 1903. 
In: Boltzmann, L., Escritos de mecánica y termodinámica, Alianza Editorial, 
traducción e introducción por Francisco J. Odón Ordoñez.

[bio]

To understand who was Ludwig Boltzmann, it is useful to note two descriptions reported at the beginning of Broda’s famous book, Ludwig Boltzmann: Man, Physicist, Philosopher. (i) In J. Bronowski’s electric view of human thought The Ascent of Man, Ludwig Boltzmann is praised in the following words: “And yet one man, at the critical turn of the century, stood up for the reality of atoms on fundamental grounds of theory. He was Ludwig Boltzmann, at whose memorial I pay homage. Boltzmann was irascible, extraordinary, difficult man, an early follower of Darwin, quarrelsome and delightful, and everything that a human being should be.” (ii) Paul Feyerabend notes in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “In his realization of the hypothetical character of all our knowledge, Boltzmann was far ahead of his time and perhaps even our time.

Born in Vienna on February 20, 1844. Earned his physics PhD degree in 1866 at the University of Vienna.

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Known as both a physicist and philosopher, Ludwig Boltzmann is best known for his contributions to atomistic theories and the development of statistical mechanics. Although he did not consider himself a philosopher and was critical of philosophy as a science, late in his career he did contribute to the realm of philosophy within natural science and even lectured in some philosophy classes at the University of Vienna. He received his doctorate in 1866 and in 1869 was appointed to the chair of theoretical physics at the University of Graz. His restlessness and impassioned temperament led him to move many times throughout his career. He went to the University of Vienna in 1873 as the chair of mathematics, but would return to Graz in 1876 to marry Henriette von Aigentler, a woman he had met during his first service in 1869. His position in Graz came only after a highly controversial contest between himself and Ernst Mach. After successfully gaining the position he stayed a number of years before taking the position of Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Munich in 1890. After only four years though, he returned to Vienna as chair of theoretical physics. It was here that his relationship with Ernst Mach became further strained, as the men had both personal and professional differences that Boltzmann could not handle. He left for Leipzig in 1900, but once again professional rivals would bring him back to Vienna.

As an avid atomist, Boltzmann’s fervent belief in his work led him into many heated debates with his colleagues. In Leipzig, Boltzmann had many passionate arguments with fellow professor Wilhelm Ostweld, an energist. Although Boltzmann was able to successfully defend his atomistic position, the strain of this rivalry led to his attempted suicide. Therefore, when Mach left his post at Vienna in 1901, Boltzmann was able to return to Vienna with hopes of a less strained tenure. It was at this time that his interest in philosophy began to take form. Boltzmann’s philosophy is difficult to pinpoint or define, due in part to his reluctance to accept philosophy as a legitimate part of his research. While he condemned the works of Hegel and Schopenhauer along with metaphysical ideas, he believed that a dialogue between philosophy and natural science could produce interesting and important achievements. He was particularly interested in the theoretical ideas of both fields. For Boltzmann, theories were a way to simplify and understand basic physical concepts; in this realm one could consider him an objectivist and perhaps also a relativist in his philosophical ideas. Boltzmann’s refutation of universals and belief in particulars is perhaps one reason why it is difficult to reduce his ideas down to one defining point.

Although his interests in philosophy were far reaching, even delving into the function of language; ultimately he was a theoretician and physicist. It was in this aspect of his life that he so vehemently worked. Tragically, though, his failure for immediate success and acceptance by the scientific community took their toll on Boltzmann. His frustrations with his work along with poor health led to his suicide in 1906 while on vacation near Trieste. Unfortunately, this happened before new discoveries were made which would prove his atomistic theories correct. Ludwig Boltzmann remains an important physicist and as more about his philosophical ideas surface, we will be able to better understand his impact on philosophical thought.

– extracted from Christina Weber

Ludwig Boltzmann was greatly demoralized due to the harsh criticism of his work. He committed suicide on September 5, 1906 at Duino, Italy by hanging himself. He was 62 years old.


[selected philosophical oeuvres]

  • Populäre Schriften. Leipzig, J.A. Barth, 1905. (reprinted in 1919 and 1925)
  • Wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen. 3 vols. Ed. Fritz Hasenöhrl. Leipzig, J.A. Barth,
    1909. (Collection of Boltzmann’s scientific articles in scientific journals.)
  • Theoretical Physics and Philosophical Problems. Ed. Brian McGuinness. Trans. Paul
    Foulkes. Dordrecht, Reidel Publishing Co., 1974.

There has been much recent interest in the suggestion that quantum mechanics might be better understood in terms of its causal structure. Novel formalism has provided a new perspective on the discrepancy between the causal structure of the classical and quantum worlds.

This conference brings together both physicists and philosophers with an interest in exploring the consequences of this new approach to causality in a quantum world. The conference is part of the research project The Causal Power of Information in a Quantum World.

The project investigates the theses that physically embodied information acquires causal power in the effective operation of intelligent agents, either natural or artificial, and that new kinds of causal relations will naturally arise when information and control is embodied in quantum systems.

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If you wish to attend, please fill out the registration form no later than July 31 2015. Speakers do not need to fill this form.

SCIENTIFIC COMMITTEE

Gerard Milburn, Phil Dowe, Andrew White, Matt Farr, Peter Evans, Alessandro Fedrizzi, Fabio Costa, Christina Giarmatzi, Sally Shrapnel.

Energies in the Arts Conference

At the outset of the 21st century any discussion of energy is inextricably linked to the politics of power and environmental catastrophe. The conference extends this understanding of energy to encompass a broader field in the arts. Art’s relationship with energy extends well beyond light and colour to the kinetic, sonic, electronic, metabolic, physical, physiological, neurological, solar and sensory. Scratch below the surface of global communications and you will find flashes and systems of energy.

The conference will be presented to overlap with the Energies: Haines & Hinterding exhibition.  Attendants willhave the possibility to meet international scholars and artists and experience their latest research and practice.

 

Keynote speakers include

Professor Linda Dalrymple Henderson, Department of Art and Art History, The University of Texas in Austin
Martin Howse, artist, Berlin
Professor Marcus Boon, Department of English, York University, Toronto
David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, artists, Lawson

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Thu 13 & Fri 14 Aug, 10am – 5pm, MCA , Veolia Lecture Theatre
Sat 15 Aug, 10am – 4pm , UNSW Art & Design

 

more info

conference program

[new book] Ignazio Licata · “Sistemi Caotici”

We are delighted to announce that Prof. Ignazio Licata, member of our honorary board, has just published a new book on chaotic systems.

I. Licata, "Sistemi caotici", Aracne Editrice LR

“L’effetto farfalla, i frattali e l’immaginario generato dalla teoria del caos sono ormai una consolidata presenza nella cultura contemporanea. Durante gli anni Ottanta tra gli stessi specialisti si era diffusa l’idea che la fisica non–lineare potesse costituire la base di una teoria dell’organizzazione che avrebbe permesso di estendere il sogno determinista di predire praticamente qualunque cosa, dai sistemi biologici ai mercati finanziari. Passò dunque l’idea che l’incertezza era vinta, tranne qualche remota zona quantistica. È maturata piuttosto la convinzione che la non–linearità è un ingrediente nei processi di amplificazione dell’informazione e della formazione di strutture, ma va immersa in una più generale teoria dell’emergenza, ancora in costruzione, che riguarda le relazioni sistema–ambiente, il ruolo delle fluttuazioni dissipative, l’ergodicità e l’interfaccia classico–quantistico. Adesso che il tempo degli slogan è passato, ci sembra utile offrire al lettore e agli studenti un’introduzione sobria alla fisica del caos.”

Ignazio Licata
Sistemi Caotici
ISBN 978-88-548-8444-1, 17 x 24 cm, 80 pp, 8 € (pdf for 4,80€)

 

 

Trick or Truth: the Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics [ESSAY CONTEST]

ESSAY CONTEST @ FOUNDATIONAL QUESTIONS INSTITUTE.

DEADLINE March 4th!

      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?

find out more on FQXi website..

 

 

“Rethinking Foundations of Physics” [workshop] · 28 March -4 April 15 · Austria

Description:

Traditional conferences and subject-specific workshops offer little room for in-depth discussions about the foundations of physics in an open, creative, and speculative way. This workshop offers a platform for young scientists to engage in such discussions.

The major part of the workshop will consist of discussion sessions in small groups, aiming at new approaches and ways of thinking about specific topics in fundamental physics. The discussion sessions will be led by the talks of some of the participants (there will be not more than three talks per day). The topics of discussions will be selected based on the expertise and interests of all participants and, similarly to the topics of talks, will be centered around some of the following questions:

  •  What are the mathematical, conceptual, and experimental paradigms underlying modern formulations of QM, GR, and QFT?
  • Can they be relaxed or changed? And how?
  • Which mathematics and principles could be relevant for new foundations?
  • Are there promising nonstandard experimental possibilities?

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Conceptual and technical challenges of quantum gravity: Rome, 8-12 September 2014.

This conference will provide an opportunity for an encounter between different approaches and different perspectives on the quantum-gravity problem. Its main goal is to contribute to a higher level of shared knowledge among the quantum-gravity communities pursuing each specific research program.

We plan to have plenary talks on many different approaches, including in particular string theory, loop quantum gravity, spacetime noncommutativity, causal dynamical triangulations, asymptotic safety and causal sets. We shall also welcome contributions from the perspective of philosophy of science.

In addition we shall have several shorter talks organized in parallel sessions labelled not by specific approaches, but rather by “themes” that can cross the boundaries between different approaches, such as black-hole information, locality, dimensional reduction and phenomenology.

It is our intention to make this meeting particularly enjoyable for students and junior postdocs, since exposure to different perspectives is most significant at early stages of one’s path in quantum gravity.

 

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