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RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

Juan Ramón González Álvarez: on 3/11/18 at 1:42am UTC, wrote There is no problem with supporting research in fundamental physics. The...

Alyssa Ney: on 2/26/18 at 19:11pm UTC, wrote Dear Sherman, I completely agree, as you say, that "it would be nice if...

Alyssa Ney: on 2/26/18 at 19:08pm UTC, wrote Dear Satyavarapu, Thank you for reading! Best, Alyssa

Alyssa Ney: on 2/26/18 at 19:06pm UTC, wrote Dear Steven, OK, thank you for reading. Best, Alyssa

Alyssa Ney: on 2/26/18 at 19:06pm UTC, wrote Dear Francesco, Thanks for reading my essay and for these questions. I...

Alyssa Ney: on 2/26/18 at 18:57pm UTC, wrote Dear Andrei, Thank you for reading my essay. I will take a look! Best, ...

Alyssa Ney: on 2/25/18 at 18:05pm UTC, wrote Dear Heinrich, Thank you for reading my paper. I don't view my project as...

Alyssa Ney: on 2/25/18 at 17:57pm UTC, wrote Dear Tejinder, Thank you for reading my essay and for these wonderfully...


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FQXi FORUM
May 24, 2018

CATEGORY: FQXi Essay Contest - Spring, 2017 [back]
TOPIC: The Politics of Fundamentality by Alyssa Ney [refresh]
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Author Alyssa Ney wrote on Jan. 29, 2018 @ 21:34 GMT
Essay Abstract

Those wanting to realign science with our democratic and ethical ideals often challenge the view that physics has some unique status among the sciences, rejecting the claim that it is fundamental. The thought is that the privileging of certain theories as fundamental grants them a status that then allows them a free pass to funding, even in the absence of inductive support. I argue that properly construed, the claim that physics, or some part of physics, occupies a fundamental status is both theoretically reasonable and ethically defensible. However, a plausible understanding of the fundamentality of physics must move beyond interpretations of fundamentality as a kind of explanatory completeness. No present physical theory explains everything, nor is there a good argument to support the claim that any future physical theory will. Nonetheless, there is a significant kind of explanatory power we can claim even for our current physical theories, and this yields the sense in which they are fundamental. This notion I propose of fundamentality as explanatory maximality underwrites two compelling arguments for the continued support and development of research projects in physics, demonstrating that the claim that physics constitutes a fundamental science should be an important element of a vision for twenty-first century science.

Author Bio

Alyssa Ney is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Davis. She earned her MA and PhD in Philosophy from Brown University, and her BS in Physics and Philosophy from Tulane University. She is the author of Metaphysics: An Introduction (Routledge, 2014) and co-editor with David Z Albert of The Wave Function: Essays on the Metaphysics of Quantum Mechanics (Oxford, 2013). Her research focuses on the interpretation of quantum theories and the unity of science. She is past-president of the Society for the Metaphysics of Science and Associate Editor at The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.

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Andrew Beckwith wrote on Jan. 30, 2018 @ 00:41 GMT
In my view, we should answer this call to ensure our view of science and science

policy lines up with our values.1 And this involves recognizing that our views on the

question of whether one theory or another is fundamental may be used to motivate

policies concerning the allocation of resources. The claim that a certain theory or branch

of science is fundamental has a kind of power. But properly construed, the claim that

physics, or some part of physics, occupies a privileged status, thus earning the honorific

‘fundamental’ is both theoretically reasonable and ethically defensible, or so I will argue

here. So we shouldn’t shy away from making the claim that at least certain parts of

physics do constitute a fundamental

I.e. I see this in your essay and I ask if it is commensurate with a protocol of data analysis as you visualize it?

You can view my essay at December 21, and I would welcome your observations as to purported ethical issues there as well!!

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Author Alyssa Ney replied on Feb. 25, 2018 @ 17:29 GMT
Dear Andrew,

Thank you for reading my paper.

Did you have in mind a kind of data analysis that might be incompatible with the framework for discussing fundamentality I propose there?

Best,

Alyssa

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Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Jan. 30, 2018 @ 03:22 GMT
Dear Alyssa Ney,

Many participants in these contests are retired professionals, physicists and otherwise. In view of the nature of FQXi since its founding, politics of the establishment versus 'outsiders' is baked into the cake.

Those participants such as yourself, still employed in Academia, are exposed to a whole different order of politics, which the rest of us have little contact with. Thank you for exposing us to this aspect of 'fundamental'.

I agree that 'explanatory completeness' is almost certainly the grounds on which the war should be fought, both in FQXi and in Academia. I also agree with your emphasis on 'near' physics, as opposed to "truly fundamental theories [that] are merely idealized or several millennia away." You then wisely shift the burden from 'explanatory completeness' to 'explanatory maximality'. If this could somehow be quantified, it would probably serve FQXi well also, but the act of quantifying it would almost certainly generate another political war.

For an example of a war that's been fought for over a century, I invite you to read my essay.

Thanks for an enlightening read,

Edwin Eugene Klingman

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Author Alyssa Ney replied on Feb. 25, 2018 @ 17:37 GMT
Dear Edwin,

Thanks so much for reading my essay.

That's a great point that my proposed move from completeness to maximality introduces questions that would not otherwise be raised. But given that no (as you put it, near) theory is complete, if we are going to assess theories for fundamentality, then these are questions we ought to address. There seems to me nothing wrong with there being multiple criteria of explanatory power our best theories may meet, but we should have a clear means of justifying those we claim to underwrite the importance of continued support for physics.

Best,

Alyssa

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sherman loran jenkins wrote on Jan. 30, 2018 @ 09:05 GMT
Alyssa,

Excellent study. I agree with the sentiment of your essay about 96% of the way. And hope I can address the other 4%. Also may offer a theoretical physics research project that I certainly hope some of your students would approve funding.

Sherman

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Author Alyssa Ney replied on Feb. 25, 2018 @ 17:38 GMT
Thanks for reading, Sherman.

Best,

Alyssa

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Member Tejinder Pal Singh wrote on Jan. 30, 2018 @ 09:39 GMT
Dear Professor Ney,

Thank you for your beautiful essay, which I very much enjoyed reading!

I wanted to add a couple of remarks relating to how governments view funding for fundamental physics research, especially in the Indian context. I think physicists will agree that the turn-around time from a great physics discovery to its possible applications (if any) to technology is quite...

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Author Alyssa Ney replied on Feb. 25, 2018 @ 17:57 GMT
Dear Tejinder,

Thank you for reading my essay and for these wonderfully rich comments.

First I want to say that I was not trying to suggest that physics will not be able to explain dark matter. I believe that it will. I used dark matter to illustrate a case in which we are led to the postulation of a new kind of entity different than others that are well-understood. It's true that those preferring MOND would not view the situation this way, but the other mainstream proposals for dark matter do take it as a kind of nonbaryonic matter.

The points you bring up about the motivations nations have for funding physics research are well-taken. This is exactly why I think we need to do a better, more perspicuous job of stating the importance of basic research in physics beyond mere satisfaction of curiosity. Your comments make it clear that it is important to pursue arguments that are not merely clear and compelling, but also that will appeal to individual nations rather than only society as a whole, at least given current structures of funding. This is something I will think about more.

Best,

Alyssa

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Heinrich Luediger wrote on Jan. 30, 2018 @ 11:07 GMT
Dear Alyssa,

thanks for an encompassing postmodern view of science and physics in general. The shift from laws and causation to models and explanations in the early 20th century was the first of many truth-deflationary steps taken in the sciences which eventually led to the plain denial of theory (e.g. by R. Rorty) in favor of plain pragmatic temporalism, i.e. experimentalism. And today even the conservation laws of physics are no longer regarded as sacrosanct by some. That is, truth-deflation removes constraints and thus allows the introduction of ‘values’ into what once was a rigid, self-contained science. Although I entirely disagree with ideas of physicalism (the world isn’t vertical, but horizontal), your proposal of ‘explanatory maximality’ is another truth-deflationary step suited to align physics to the unbound creativity of the social sciences.

Heinrich

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Author Alyssa Ney replied on Feb. 25, 2018 @ 18:05 GMT
Dear Heinrich,

Thank you for reading my paper.

I don't view my project as taking another step toward deflation, but rather as trying to move the pendulum back a bit in the other direction. While we must recognize the truth in late twentieth-century critiques of reductionism, such as the fact that there are no explanatorily complete physical laws, there is an important sense in which physics does occupy a special status among the sciences. We simply need to state this sense in an accurate way.

That said, there is room in this position for, as you put it, the unbounded creativity of the social sciences. I try to address this in another paper of mine "Physicalism, Not Scientism" I have available on philpapers.org. It is coming out later this year in an Oxford volume on Scientism.

Best,

Alyssa

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Marcel-Marie LeBel wrote on Jan. 30, 2018 @ 16:10 GMT
Alyssa,

Physics studies our experience of the universe, but the universe is not made of experience. It is made of real stuff. This is a reversal of the objective - subjective points of view. All that we think is objective we make up ourselves as experience. The object of this experience (underlying reality) is in fact what is real (objective = object).

As far as the OBJECT is concerned, “substance” and “cause” or what the universe is made of and what motivates its spontaneous evolution is out of reach of physics, by definition, and out of metaphysics menu, by ... ignorance, choice, .... (take your pick).

Best of luck,

Marcel,

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Andrei Kirilyuk wrote on Jan. 30, 2018 @ 17:48 GMT
Hello Alyssa,

You wrote: "No present physical theory explains everything, nor is there a good argument to support the claim that any future physical theory will".

You may be interested in the explicit "falsification" of this statement, containing both the "theory" in question and its "good argument", in my essay here and references therein (see also my web page). I am not trying to impose anything, but the provably complete, mathematically rigorous and multiply verified theory I propose provides essential reinforcement for your conclusions. I also like the spirit of realism and logical sense in your approach.

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Author Alyssa Ney replied on Feb. 26, 2018 @ 18:57 GMT
Dear Andrei,

Thank you for reading my essay. I will take a look!

Best,

Alyssa

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Francesco D'Isa wrote on Feb. 1, 2018 @ 21:33 GMT
Dear Alyssa Ney,

thank you for your interesting essay, you offer some goods points to think about!

I was wondering how you dismiss the possibility of emergent properties that physics can't explain: do you suppose that it doesn't matter as long as physics has "the greatest degree of scope, accuracy, and precision of all theories that have so far been formulated?"

Moreover, couldn't this definition be circular, since "scope, accuracy, and precision" are parameters that perfectly suits physics? We could (for example, it's not my opinion) tell that religion X has maximality because it has "the greatest degree of comfort, simplicity and holyness of all theories that have so far been formulated".

all the best,

Francesco D'Isa

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Author Alyssa Ney replied on Feb. 26, 2018 @ 19:06 GMT
Dear Francesco,

Thanks for reading my essay and for these questions.

I don't dismiss the possibility of emergent properties in this paper. My only discussion of emergence in this essay is to warn against conflating emergence with reduction.

As for whether my interpretation of what it means to say physics is fundamental is circular... The focus on scope, accuracy, and precision, as opposed to comfort, simplicity, and holiness, comes from my interest in providing a sense of fundamentality that can underwrite the arguments for support of physics. A theory that is comfortable, simple, and holy may have benefits for some purposes, but I don't see how these characteristics would translate to making that theory more useful for developing new technologies.

Best,

Alyssa

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Steven Andresen wrote on Feb. 6, 2018 @ 05:25 GMT
Dear Alyssa Ney

Just letting you know that I am making a start on reading of your essay, and hope that you might also take a glance over mine please? I look forward to the sharing of thoughtful opinion. Congratulations on your essay rating as it stands, and best of luck for the contest conclusion.

My essay is titled

“Darwinian Universal Fundamental Origin”. It stands as a novel test for whether a natural organisational principle can serve a rationale, for emergence of complex systems of physics and cosmology. I will be interested to have my effort judged on both the basis of prospect and of novelty.

Thank you & kind regards

Steven Andresen

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Author Alyssa Ney replied on Feb. 26, 2018 @ 19:06 GMT
Dear Steven,

OK, thank you for reading.

Best,

Alyssa

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Feb. 7, 2018 @ 12:45 GMT
Prof Alyssa Ney

Wonderful words sir,.......I argue that properly construed, the claim that physics, or some part of physics, occupies a fundamental status is both theoretically reasonable and ethically defensible. However, a plausible understanding of the fundamentality of physics must move beyond interpretations of fundamentality as a kind of explanatory completeness. No present physical...

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta replied on Feb. 7, 2018 @ 12:47 GMT
Prof Alyssa Ney

Sorry mam, by mistake I called sir....

Best

=snp

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Author Alyssa Ney replied on Feb. 26, 2018 @ 19:08 GMT
Dear Satyavarapu,

Thank you for reading!

Best,

Alyssa

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sherman loran jenkins wrote on Feb. 11, 2018 @ 23:24 GMT
Alyssa,

Your students in “Understanding Scientific Change” may be inclined to support research in physics and cosmology if they see a very real parallel between what may be the last signals from technically advanced beings millions of light years distant and the size and distribution of planets in our own solar system. I am not aware of any proposed research project asking for government funds to analyze “Gamma Ray Burst Light Curves” with the thought in mind that the multiple peaks in many GRBs may correlate with the mass and distance between planets in distant planetary systems. The students and “hypothetical” funding agencies should know that the length of a gamma ray signal corresponds to the size of the source. That is, a gamma ray pulse from a “Hydrogen Bomb” is very short. But the pulse from a small planet converting to energy would be on the order of the time of a light pulse traveling the diameter of the planet. And it is easy to see that many Gamma Ray Burst Light Curves match with a light speed shock wave radiating across a hypothetical star/planet system. Would WE want to know that self annihilation by “gamma ray photon torpedo” was common in the Universe or would WE collectively prefer to “see what happens?”

That said. It would be nice if more people realized basic research results in unexpected value in many ways.

Sherman

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Author Alyssa Ney replied on Feb. 26, 2018 @ 19:11 GMT
Dear Sherman,

I completely agree, as you say, that "it would be nice if more people realized basic research results in unexpected value in many ways." The challenge for us then is providing concrete cases where this has occurred. The case you describe is of course fascinating to think about and I hope it would be for my students as well. I will teach the course again this spring.

Best,

Alyssa

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Steven Andresen wrote on Feb. 22, 2018 @ 07:25 GMT
Dear Alyssa

If you are looking for another essay to read and rate in the final days of the contest, will you consider mine please? I read all essays from those who comment on my page, and if I cant rate an essay highly, then I don’t rate them at all. Infact I haven’t issued a rating lower that ten. So you have nothing to lose by having me read your essay, and everything to...

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Kamal L Rajpal wrote on Feb. 22, 2018 @ 17:54 GMT
I have read your Essay and suggest that for conceptual views on Dark Matter, please read: http://vixra.org/pdf/1303.0207v3.pdf

Quantum Mechanics claims that an electron can be both spin-up and spin-down at the same time. In my conceptual physics Essay on Electron Spin, I have proved that this is not true. Please read: https://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/3145

Kamal Rajpal

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Juan Ramón González Álvarez wrote on Mar. 11, 2018 @ 01:42 GMT
There is no problem with supporting research in fundamental physics. The problem is on funding that pseudoreligion that has taken over fundamental physics in last years, mostly driven by string theory and related nonsense. So she is rigth on that we would spend resources on people finding cures for diseases rather than wasting resources on supporting this pseudoreligion camouflaged as...

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