Kimpton-Nye, S. (2020) 'The Nature of Contingency: Quantum Physics as Modal Realism'. Review of The Nature of Contingency: Quantum Physics as Modal Realism, by Alastair Wilson. The Philosophical Quarterly, pqaa043.
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The paper describes three extant attempts to identify the global external symmetries within a Humean framework with theorems of some or other deductive systematisation of the world: respectively, the best system, a meta-best system and a maximally simple system. Each has merits, but also serious flaws. Instead, Toby proposes a view of global external symmetries as consequences of the structure of Humean-consistent world-making relations.
Interventionism analyses causal influence in terms of correlations of changes under a distribution of testing and controlling interventions. But the correspondence between correlated changes and causal influence is not obvious. Toby probes its plausibility with a problem-case involving variables related as derivative to integral, such that one must change given an intervention on the other. Under the orthodox criteria there do not seem to be suitable interventions which reveal the expected causal relationships. He consider various responses, including permitting control interventions to be chancy, restricting the available models and mitigating variation of off-path variables. None of these work. Toby then presents a fourth response which modifies the interventionist criteria in order to permit dependent interventions. The correspondence between correlated changes and causal influence is thereby saved by giving up on the independency of interventions. Toby argue that this is perfectly reasonable.
There seems to be an important relationship between physical properties (such as charge and mass) and laws of nature (such as Coulomb’s law and the law of universal gravitation). As David Lewis noted, the discovery of laws of nature and physical properties seems to go hand in hand: “For instance the discovery of the phenomena of electromagnetism and the laws governing them was inseparable from the discovery of the previously unknown, and very likely fundamental, properties of positive and negative charge” (Lewis 2009, 205). According to one particularly influential line of thought, properties explain laws because laws constitute the essences of properties (e.g., Bird 2007): what it is to instantiate the property charge, for example, is to behave in accordance with Coulomb’s law. Call this dispositional essentialism. In Philosophical Studies, Sam argues that there is something right and something wrong here: properties explain the laws of nature but not because laws constitute property essences. In fact, orthodox dispositional essentialism renders properties incapable of explaining laws and fails to achieve continuity with science. Sam thus develop and defend an alternative account of the explanatory relationship between properties and laws, which he argues, is explanatorily fruitful and continuous with actual scientific practice.
Unity of science was once a very popular idea among both philosophers and scientists. But it has fallen out of fashion, largely because of its association with reductionism and the challenge from multiple realisation. Pluralism and the disunity of science are the new norm, and higher-level natural kinds and special science laws are considered to have an important role in scientific practice. What kind of reductionism does multiple realisability challenge? What does it take to reduce one phenomenon to another? How do we determine which kinds are natural? What is the ontological basis of unity? In this Element, Tuomas Tahko examines these questions from a contemporary perspective, after an historical overview. The upshot is that there is still value in the idea of a unity of science. We can combine a modest sense of unity with pluralism and give an ontological analysis of unity in terms of natural kind monism.
Electrical conductors come in a great variety of shapes and sizes, made out of many different kinds of material. The multiple realisation question is: how come all these different kinds of material can conduct electricity? Or (in the jargon), how come electrical conductors are multiply realised? Traditionally this question has been taken to pose a challenge to those (the reductionists) who seek to explain everything from the bottom up. The issue is that if you explain how carbon fibre conducts electricity and how copper conducts electricity you would have missed something important: what do these conductors have in common such that they all conduct electricity? In this Philosophy paper, Alex develops a framework for addressing these questions that can work even for those cases where it's been claimed that reductionist approaches fail. Overall, he claim that multiple realisation is commonplace, that it can be explained by a reductionist approach, but that it requires a unique explanatory strategy.
This British Journal for the Philosophy of Science paper sees Vanessa join former MetaScience project Research Associate, Alexander Franklin (KCL), in looking at three problems regarding the way that molecular structure relates to quantum physics. They argue that all three problems are in fact special cases of the measurement problem. They show how standard solutions of the measurement problem can resolve the problems of molecular structure. These solutions shed light on the nature of molecular structure, as well as on chemistry’s relation to quantum mechanics.
One of the most popular views about chemistry's relation to quantum mechanics is Robin Hendry's account of strong emergence. Hendry argues that a molecule's structure strongly emerges because structure partially determines how the underlying quantum mechanical entities are behaving (this is referred to as downward causation). In this paper, Vanessa presents the main features of Hendry's account. She identifies four possible versions of downward causation and argues that only under a reflexive diachronic version of downward causation, the strong emergence of molecular structure is possible. Moreover, she identifies three challenges that Hendry's account faces in its current form. First, the empirical evidence that is invoked to support strong emergence equally undermines the way in which Hendry believes chemical properties are related to quantum mechanical ones (i.e. in terms of supervenience). Secondly, it is not clear why presupposing facts about molecular structure in quantum mechanics is a suggestion of the emergence of molecular structure. Thirdly, given the different understandings of causation that are available in the philosophical literature, Vanessa argues that it is crucial to clarify how downward causation is understood in Hendry’s account. This is because there are some understandings of causation that would render the strong emergence of molecular structure, untenable.
This paper is based on a pilot study for the MetaScience project. The project concerns inter-level relationships between the natural sciences and here the target is the interface between biology and chemistry, specifically, biochemical kinds such as proteins. These kinds pose interesting problems for philosophers of science, as they can be studied from the points of view of both biology and chemistry. The relationship between the biological functions of biochemical kinds and the microstructures that they are related to is the key question. This leads us to a more general discussion about ontological reductionism, microstructuralism, and multiple realization at the biology–chemistry interface. On the face of it, biochemical kinds seem to pose a challenge for ontological reductionism and hence motivate a dual theory of chemical and biological kinds, a type of pluralism about natural kinds. But it will be argued that the challenge, which is based on multiple realization, can be addressed. The upshot is that there are reasonable prospects for ontological reductionism about biochemical kinds, which corroborates natural kind monism.
This essay in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences explores virtue ethics as a moral framework during the COVID-19 pandemic. The global spread of SARS-CoV-2 has led to the imposition of severely restrictive measures by governments in the Western hemisphere. We feel a contrast between these measures and our freedom. This contrast, they argue, is a false perception. It only appears to us because we look at the issue through our contemporary moral philosophy of utilitarianism and an understanding of freedom as absence of constraints. Both these views can be substituted with more sophisticated alternatives, namely an ethics of virtue and a notion of freedom of the will. These offer a fuller picture of morality and enable us to cooperate with the current restrictions by consciously choosing to adhere to them instead of perceiving them as draconian and immoral. The authors ask whether we should collaborate with the restrictions and argue that considerations of virtue will lead to an affirmative answer. More broadly, virtue ethics permits to deal with the practical concerns about how an individual should behave during this pandemic, given the current lockdown measures or lack thereof.
Sam's review of Alastair Wilson’s new book “The Nature of Contingency: Quantum Physics as Modal Realism”, published in The Philosophical Quarterly. According to Everettian Quantum Mechanics, the world we see around us is one among a great many others, in fact, there is a world for every quantum-mechanically possible sequence of events. Wilson argues that modality, i.e., possibility, necessity and related notions, can be analysed in terms of the many worlds of Everettian Quantum mechanics. Roughly speaking, an event is possible if, and only if, it occurs in some Everett world and it is necessary if, and only if, it occurs in all Everett worlds. I sketch the outline of the book, chapter by chapter, which I think is a very important contribution to the philosophy of modality and an impressive showcase for naturalistic metaphysics – a type of metaphysics that is continuous with science.
In this entry, Vanessa details how chemistry’s relation to physics has been understood in philosophy. Chemistry’s relation to physics, and in particular to quantum mechanics, is one of the most discussed issues in the philosophy of chemistry literature. This article situates this discussion around the dilemma between reduction and emergence. While there is a broad consensus that chemistry is not epistemically reducible to quantum mechanics, some have argued that there are epistemic and metaphysical connections between the two sciences which can be spelled out by an alternative form of reduction or unity. On the other side of the spectrum, there are philosophers who argue for the autonomy of chemistry from quantum mechanics in terms of different accounts of pluralism and emergence. The aim of this article is to present all existing views on this debate.
In Foundations of Chemistry, Vanessa argues that there is an idealisation made in chemistry and in quantum mechanics which has not been identified as such. Specifically, when chemistry and quantum mechanics each describe an isolated molecule they each assume that the molecule is stable and has structure. This is an idealisation because (i) stability and structure are partially determined by factors that concern the context in which a molecule is considered (namely thermodynamic conditions, time-range of experiment, environment, etc.); and, (ii) the stability and structure of a molecule can only be empirically identified with reference to those factors. Identifying this assumption as an idealisation can be particularly useful to the investigation of the relation between chemistry and quantum mechanics, as existing philosophical positions on this issue focus on how successfully (or not) the two theories describe the structure of stable isolated molecules. Moreover, this idealisation can inform one’s understanding of the nature of stability and structure, as well as of the function of idealisations in chemistry and in quantum mechanics.
In this paper, which is an exercise in formal ontology – an area of research concerning fundamental ontological categories and their relations – Markku Keinänen and Tuomas examine the tempting idea that there could be just one fundamental ontological category. The most famous attempts to get by with just one ontological category are versions of ‘universal bundle theory’, where property universals bundled together constitute all the familiar objects, making it unnecessary to commit to category of ‘substance’. One of the most developed versions of this idea is L.A. Paul’s mereological bundle theory. Keinänen & Tahko argue that Paul’s attempt to construct a one category ontology may be challenged with some of her own arguments. In the positive part of the paper, a two category ontology with property universals and kind universals is outlined. Keinänen & Tahko also examine Paul’s arguments against a version of universal bundle theory that takes spatiotemporal co-location instead of compresence or coinstantiation as the feature by which we can identify genuine bundles. The novel theory, bundle theory with kinds, is compared with Paul’s mereological bundle theory and applied to a case study concerning entangled fermions and co-located bosons.
This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, grant agreement No 771509. All project outputs are published Open Access. Website photo credit: Matt Lincoln Photography
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