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A philosophical enquiry into a parsimonious ontology of the natural world

English title A philosophical enquiry into a parsimonious ontology of the natural world
Applicant Esfeld Michael
Number 175971
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Section de Philosophie Faculté des Lettres Université de Lausanne
Institution of higher education University of Lausanne - LA
Main discipline Philosophy
Start/End 01.11.2017 - 30.11.2021
Approved amount 798'660.00
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Keywords (6)

Relationalism about space; Humeanism; Ontic structural realism; Metaphysics of science; Philosophy of physics; Atomism

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Naturalisierte Metaphysik als minimale Ontologie der physikalischen Welt
Lay summary

Jede Theorie über die Welt betrachtet bestimmte Dinge als fundamental. Alle anderen Dinge im Gegenstandsbereich der Theorie werden dann durch die als fundamental betrachteten Dinge erklärt. Wenn es um die natürliche Welt geht, ist es sinnvoll, sich der Physik zuzuwenden, um Aussagen über fundamentale Dinge zu machen. Das jedenfalls ist der Ausgangspunkt des als naturalisierte Metaphysik bekannten Forschungsprogramms. Die Frage nach dem Fundamentalen kann dann so formuliert werden: Welche ontologischen Festlegungen sind minimal hinreichend, um zu verstehen, was uns die Physik über die Welt sagt? Das Projekt beantwortet diese Frage mit den folgenden beiden Hypothesen:

(1) Es gibt Abstandsrelationen, die einfache Objekte individuieren, nämlich Materiepunkte.

(2) Die Materiepunkte sind beständig, während die Abstandsrelationen sich ändern.

Diese Hypothesen auszuarbeiten erfordert zum einen eine detaillierte Argumentation, wie unsere physikalischen Theorien von ihnen aus verstanden werden können. Das geschieht in dem Projekt mit Fokus raum-zeitlichen Relationalismus sowohl in Bezug auf die Relativitäts- wie die Quantenphysik. Des Weiteren erfordert es eine Theorie dessen, wie Naturgesetze und wissenschaftliche Erklärungen auf diesen Hypothesen aufgebaut werden können. Das geschieht in diesem Projekt durch die weitere Entwicklung einer “Super-Humeanismus” genannten Position. Schliesslich geht das Projekt auch auf Grenzen naturwissenschaftlicher Erklärungen in Bezug auf Themen wie freien Willen oder generell das Mentale ein.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 29.09.2017

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Relational Quantum Mechanics and the PBR Theorem: A Peaceful Coexistence
OldofrediAndrea, CalosiClaudio (2021), Relational Quantum Mechanics and the PBR Theorem: A Peaceful Coexistence, in Foundations of Physics , 51, 82.
The Bundle Theory Approach to Relational Quantum Mechanics
OldofrediAndrea (2021), The Bundle Theory Approach to Relational Quantum Mechanics, in Foundations of Physics, 51, 1-22.
The Dissipative Approach to Quantum Field Theory: Conceptual Foundations and Ontological Implications
OldofrediAndrea, ÖttingerHans Christian (2021), The Dissipative Approach to Quantum Field Theory: Conceptual Foundations and Ontological Implications, in European Journal for Philosophy of Science, 11, 1.
A proposal for a minimalist ontology
Esfeld Michael (2020), A proposal for a minimalist ontology, in Synthese, 197(5), 1889-1905.
Stochasticity and Bell-type quantum field theory
Oldofredi Andrea (2020), Stochasticity and Bell-type quantum field theory, in Synthese, 197(2), 731-750.
Classical Logic in Quantum Context
OldofrediAndrea (2020), Classical Logic in Quantum Context, in Quantum Reports, 2(4), 600-616.
On the Classification between − Ontic and − Epistemic Ontological Models
OldofrediAndrea, LopezCristian (2020), On the Classification between − Ontic and − Epistemic Ontological Models, in Foundations of Physics, 50, 1315-1345.
Super-Humeanism and free will
Esfeld Michael (2019), Super-Humeanism and free will, in Synthese, 1-14.
Selective Realism and the Framework/Interaction Distinction: A Taxonomy of Fundamental Physical Theories
Benitez Federico (2019), Selective Realism and the Framework/Interaction Distinction: A Taxonomy of Fundamental Physical Theories, in Foundations of Physics, 49(7), 700-716.
We are All Bayesian, Everyone is Not a Bayesian
Andreoletti Mattia, Oldofredi Andrea (2019), We are All Bayesian, Everyone is Not a Bayesian, in Topoi, 38(2), 477-485.
Against the disappearance of spacetime in quantum gravity
Esfeld Michael (2019), Against the disappearance of spacetime in quantum gravity, in Synthese, 1-15.
Observability, Unobservability and the Copenhagen Interpretation in Dirac's Methodology of Physics
Oldofredi Andrea, Esfeld Michael (2019), Observability, Unobservability and the Copenhagen Interpretation in Dirac's Methodology of Physics, in Quanta, 8(1), 68-87.
Some remarks on the mentalistic reformulation of the measurement problem: a reply to S. Gao
Oldofredi Andrea (2019), Some remarks on the mentalistic reformulation of the measurement problem: a reply to S. Gao, in Synthese, 1.
Why Determinism in Physics Has No Implications for Free Will
Esfeld Michael (2019), Why Determinism in Physics Has No Implications for Free Will, in Organon F, 26(1), 62-85.
Particle Creation and Annihilation: Two Bohmian Approaches
Oldofredi Andrea (2018), Particle Creation and Annihilation: Two Bohmian Approaches, in Lato Sensu: Revue de la Société de philosophie des sciences, 5(1), 77-85.
No-Go Theorems and the Foundations of Quantum Physics
Oldofredi Andrea (2018), No-Go Theorems and the Foundations of Quantum Physics, in Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 49(3), 355-370.
On the possibility of a realist ontological commitment in quantum mechanics
OldofrediAndrea, EsfeldMichael (2018), On the possibility of a realist ontological commitment in quantum mechanics, in Tropos, 11(1), 11-33.
Observables and Unobservables in Quantum Mechanics: How the No-Hidden-Variables Theorems Support the Bohmian Particle Ontology
Lazarovici Dustin, Oldofredi Andrea, Esfeld Michael (2018), Observables and Unobservables in Quantum Mechanics: How the No-Hidden-Variables Theorems Support the Bohmian Particle Ontology, in Entropy, 20(5), 381-381.
Against levels of reality: the method of metaphysics and the argument for dualism
EsfeldMichael, Against levels of reality: the method of metaphysics and the argument for dualism, in Meir Hemmo (ed.), Springer, Cham.
Beables, Primitive Ontology and Beyond: How Theories Meet the World
OldofrediAndrea, Beables, Primitive Ontology and Beyond: How Theories Meet the World, in Allori Valoa (ed.), Springer, Cham.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Prof. Anna Marmodoro, Oxford/Durham Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Exchange of personnel
Prof. Barry Loewer, Rutgers University United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Prof. Howard Wiseman, Griffith University, Brisbane Australia (Oceania)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Exchange of personnel

Scientific events



Self-organised

Title Date Place
Structure, time and laws 07.11.2019 Lausanne, Switzerland
New topics in quantum foundations 22.11.2018 Lausanne, Switzerland
Essentialism and realism in the metaphysics of science 22.03.2018 Lausanne, Switzerland

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
200464 Parsimonious ontology and the relationship between science and persons 01.12.2021 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

This research project seeks to answer the following question: What is a most parsimonious ontology of the natural world that is able to cover modern physics in a scientific realist spirit? This project explores a proposal that is defined by the following two axioms: (1) There are distance relations that individuate simple objects, namely matter points. (2) The matter points are permanent, with the distances between them changing.The project belongs to foundational work in philosophy. It is concerned with the basic ontology of the natural world, using the traditional philosophical criterion of parsimony - together with the criteria of coherence and empirical adequacy - as the measure for ontology. Nonetheless, it falls within naturalized by contrast to a priori metaphysics, since it envisages working out the minimal ontological commitments required to understand modern physics in a scientific realist spirit. The guiding idea is that there is one type of a fundamental relation that unifies the world and that individuates simple objects (i.e. objects that have no parts or other intrinsic features). One thereby obtains variation within a configuration of objects. To achieve empirical adequacy, it is furthermore necessary to stipulate that the fundamental relations change. The first and foremost candidate for these relations are the spatial or spatio-temporal ones so that we get a relationalist theory of space and time. If these relations individuate basic objects, these objects are pointlike and featureless so that we get an atomist theory of matter. Everything else - including geometry and dynamical parameters up to fields and the wave function in quantum physics - then comes in through its role in describing the change in the fundamental relations instead of being an additional ingredient of the basic ontology. Based on the previous research of the applicant, the present project consists in pursuing this idea in three subprojects for which one postdoc and two PhD students will be employed.The first subproject is dedicated to elaborating on this ontology by bringing together ontic structural realism (structural individuation of objects) with relationalism about space and time, elaborating on the notion of a distance relation that fulfils only a minimal spatiality requirement and that is nonetheless able to individuate simple, discrete objects. The second subproject then considers how this ontology matches physics. It starts from the Leibniz-Newton debate and argues that a philosophical interpretation of Newtonian mechanics in relationalist terms - rather than constructing an alternative, relationalist theory - is sufficient to vindicate a parsimonious ontology of classical mechanics. The main issues then are whether this strategy can also be applied to relativistic physics, notably the general theory of relativity, whether the fundamental relations have to be shifted from spatial to spatio-temporal ones and how to deal with the tension between relativistic physics and quantum non-locality in this context. The third subproject has the aim to relate the parsimonious ontology developed here to the metaphysics of laws and explanation, examining whether this ontology is a sufficient basis for laws and explanations. This investigation takes up the framework of Humeanism (Ramsey-Lewis best system account of laws) and aims at developing a minimalist version of Humean supervenience, dubbed “Super-Humeanism”, with the mentioned ontology being the supervenience basis. It also aims at shedding new light on the debates about scientific realism and physicalism as well as to point out the limits of a parsimonious ontology e.g. when it comes to issues like determinism and free will.
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