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Zenith Grant Awardee

Daniele Oriti



Stephan Hartmann, LMU-Munich

Project Title

The Epistemic Nature of Physical Laws: From Intelligent Agents to Quantum Gravity and Cosmology

Project Summary

According to the popular view, laws of nature are objective and exist independently of intelligent agents like us. This view has a long tradition in philosophy and seems to be in line with the scientific practice: doing science means to discover the laws which exist out there. But where do they actually exist? In Plato's heaven? This does not seem to be very plausible. And does the popular view really explain best how science works and proceeds? The goal of this project is to argue for a radically different and new conception of laws of nature according to which the laws of nature are the product of the imagination of creative scientists who interact with nature. While laws play an important role in this process, we argue that they are intricately related to us: "No la ws without intelligent agents"–or so we will argue. We will also show that the agency account of laws provides a better explanation for how fundamental physics works and that it helps us addressing a number of outstanding questions: Can we do physics without spacetime? What is causality? Is it all about information processing? How does spacetime emerge, then? What is cosmology, for an emergent universe?

Technical Abstract

What are laws of nature? Do they exist independently of the things in the world which they govern (as necessitarians believe)? Or are they simply convenient descriptions of the pat terns one finds in the world (as regularity theorists believe)? In both accounts the physical laws are independent of the human mind. This project is based on a different, epistemic perspective and aims at a new account of an important philosophical issue. Our central tenet is that the laws of physics result from the construction of curious intelligent agents: The laws encode our knowledge about the objects in the world and their relations and help us to successfully interact with them. This project develops and defends this thesis ("the agency account of laws"), stressing the important and not eliminable link between us and the universe, i.e. the link between human intelligence and the laws of nature. It then confronts this thesis with three case studies from (i) the foundations of quantum mechanics, (ii) quantum gravity, and (iii) fundamental cosmology. These case studies are a crucial part of this project: They inspire our philosophical thinking which, in turn, provides a perspec tive to address some of the physics problems we encounter. 

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