•  689
    Recent work on emergence in physics has focused on the presence of singular limit relations between basal and upper-level theories as a criterion for emergence. However, over-emphasis on the role of singular limit relations has somewhat obscured what it means to say that a property or behaviour is emergent. This paper argues that singular limits are not central to emergence and develops an alternative account of emergence in terms of the failure of basal explainability. As a consequence, emergen…Read more
  •  650
    A signal development in contemporary physics is the widespread use, in explanatory contexts, of highly idealized models. This paper argues that some highly idealized models in physics have genuine explanatory power, and it extends the explanatory role for such idealizations beyond the scope of previous philosophical work. It focuses on idealizations of nonlinear oscillator systems.
  •  203
    Emergence in physics
    Philosophy Compass 4 (5): 846-858. 2009.
    This paper begins by tracing interest in emergence in physics to the work of condensed matter physicist Philip Anderson. It provides a selective introduction to contemporary philosophical approaches to emergence. It surveys two exciting areas of current work that give good reason to re-evaluate our views about emergence in physics. One area focuses on physical systems wherein fundamental theories appear to break down. The other area is the quantum-to-classical transition, where some have claimed…Read more
  •  181
    Emergence and singular limits
    Synthese 184 (3): 341-356. 2012.
    Recent work by Robert Batterman and Alexander Rueger has brought attention to cases in physics in which governing laws at the base level “break down” and singular limit relations obtain between base- and upper-level theories. As a result, they claim, these are cases with emergent upper-level properties. This paper contends that this inference—from singular limits to explanatory failure, novelty or irreducibility, and then to emergence—is mistaken. The van der Pol nonlinear oscillator is used to …Read more
  •  95
    Expanding the Scope of Explanatory Idealization
    Philosophy of Science 78 (5): 830-841. 2011.
    Many explanations in physics rely on idealized models of physical systems. These explanations fail to satisfy the conditions of standard normative accounts of explanation. Recently, some philosophers have claimed that idealizations can be used to underwrite explanation nonetheless, but only when they are what have variously been called representational, Galilean, controllable or harmless idealizations. This paper argues that such a half-measure is untenable and that idealizations not of this sor…Read more
  •  89
    Quantum java: The upwards percolation of quantum indeterminacy
    with Bruce Glymour and Marcelo Sabatés
    Philosophical Studies 103 (3). 2001.
  •  82
    Conceptual foundations of field theories in physics
    Philosophy of Science 67 (3): 522. 2000.
    This discussion provides a brief commentary on each of the papers presented in the symposium on the conceptual foundations of field theories in physics. In Section 2 I suggest an alternative to Paul Teller's (1999) reading of the gauge argument that may help to solve, or dissolve, its puzzling aspects. In Section 3 I contend that Sunny Auyang's (1999) arguments against substantivalism and for "objectivism" in the context of gauge field theories face serious worries. Finally, in Section 4 I claim…Read more
  •  78
    Bayesianism and diverse evidence
    Philosophy of Science 62 (1): 111-121. 1995.
    A common methodological adage holds that diverse evidence better confirms a hypothesis than does the same amount of similar evidence. Proponents of Bayesian approaches to scientific reasoning such as Horwich, Howson and Urbach, and Earman claim to offer both a precise rendering of this maxim in probabilistic terms and an explanation of why the maxim should be part of the methodological canon of good science. This paper contends that these claims are mistaken and that, at best, Bayesian accounts …Read more
  •  64
    Field theories have been central to physics over the last 150 years, and there are several theories in contemporary physics in which physical fields play key causal and explanatory roles. This paper proposes a novel field trope-bundle (FTB) ontology on which fields are composed of bundles of particularized property instances, called tropes and goes on to describe some virtues of this ontology. It begins with a critical examination of the dominant view about the ontology of fields, that fields ar…Read more
  •  61
    Nick Huggett and Robert Weingard (1994) have recently proposed a novel approach to interpreting field theories in physics, one which makes central use of the fact that a field generally has an infinite number of degrees of freedom in any finite region of space it occupies. Their characterization, they argue, (i) reproduces our intuitive categorizations of fields in the classical domain and thereby (ii) provides a basis for arguing that the quantum field is a field. Furthermore, (iii) it accompli…Read more
  •  44
    Causal Relations and Explanatory Strategies in Physics
    International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 29 (1): 75-89. 2015.
    Many philosophers now regard causal approaches to explanation as highly promising, even in physics. This is due in large part to James Woodward's influential argument that a wide variety of scientific explanations are causal, based on his interventionist approach to causation. This article argues that some derivations describing causal relations and satisfying Woodward's criteria for causal explanation fail to be explanatory. Further, causal relations are unnecessary for a range of explanations,…Read more
  •  40
    Unifying Scientific Theories: Physical Concepts and Mathematical Structures
    Canadian Journal of Philosophy 32 (1): 117-138. 2002.
    Philosophers of science have long been concerned with these questions. In the 1980s, influential work by Clark Glymour, Michael Friedman, John Watkins, and Philip Kitcher articulated general accounts of theory unification that attempted to underwrite a connection between unification, truth, and understanding. According to the ‘unifiers,’ as we may call them, a theory is unified to the extent that it has a small theoretical structure relative to the domain of phenomena it covers, and there are ge…Read more
  •  27
    This paper explores the role of physically impossible idealizations in model-based explanation. We do this by examining the explanation of gravitational waves from distant stellar objects using models that contain point-particle idealizations. Like infinite idealizations in thermodynamics, biology and economics, the point-particle idealization in general relativity is physically impossible. What makes this case interesting is that there are two very different kinds of models used for predicting …Read more
  •  19
    Explanatory integration
    European Journal for Philosophy of Science 1-19. 2017.
    The goal of this paper is to show how scientific explanation functions in the context of idealized models. It argues that the aspect of explanation most urgently requiring investigation is the nature of the connection between global theories and explanatory local models. This aspect is neglected in traditional accounts of explanation. The paper examines causal, minimal model, and structural accounts of model-based explanation. It argues that they too fail to offer an account of the connection wi…Read more
  •  12
    Explanatory integration
    European Journal for Philosophy of Science 8 (3): 347-365. 2018.
    The goal of this paper is to show how scientific explanation functions in the context of idealized models. It argues that the aspect of explanation most urgently requiring investigation is the nature of the connection between global theories and explanatory local models. This aspect is neglected in traditional accounts of explanation. The paper examines causal, minimal model, and structural accounts of model-based explanation. It argues that they too fail to offer an account of the connection wi…Read more
  •  10
    Review (review)
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 46 (4): 624-627. 1995.
  •  8
    Point-particle explanations: the case of gravitational waves
    Synthese 196 (5): 1809-1829. 2019.
    This paper explores the role of physically impossible idealizations in model-based explanation. We do this by examining the explanation of gravitational waves from distant stellar objects using models that contain point-particle idealizations. Like infinite idealizations in thermodynamics, biology and economics, the point-particle idealization in general relativity is physically impossible. What makes this case interesting is that there are two very different kinds of models used for predicting …Read more
  • Ontological Commitment in Quantum Field Theory
    Dissertation, University of California, San Diego. 1994.
    There was a revolutionary theoretical development in high-energy physics in the 1970s: physicists developed what became known as the standard model. If we are to take seriously claims made about the explanatory power and especially the high degree of unity of the standard model then, the dissertation argues, we are committed to a robustly realistic interpretation of the standard model. The central theoretical tool of the standard model is quantum field theory. The dissertation analyzes the conce…Read more
  • Ontological Aspects of Quantum Field Theory (edited book)
    World Scientific. 2002.
    Quantum field theory provides the framework for many fundamental theories in modern physics, and over the last few years there has been growing interest in its historical and philosophical foundations. This anthology on the foundations of QFT brings together 15 essays by well-known researchers in physics, the philosophy of physics, and analytic philosophy.Many of these essays were first presented as papers at the conference?Ontological Aspects of Quantum Field Theory?, held at the Zentrum fr in…Read more