Hans Halvorson (Princeton): Explanation via surplus structure

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Date(s) - 17/03/2014
5:15 pm - 6:45 pm

Lakatos (LAK) 2.06


Our attempts to model physical systems seem to be cursed by the problem of surplus structure: our mathematical representations of such
systems contain structure which apparently has no analogue in the
system under study. When interpreting our theories, then, we invoke
some notion of “physical equivalence” of models in order to wash out
this surplus structure.

At least that’s how the story is typically told. I will argue, in
contrast, that surplus structure can itself be explanatory.

For concreteness, I will focus on the case of surplus structure in
quantum field theory. I will show that explanations in QFT trade on
the fact that there are multiple “representations” that are
nonetheless mathematically isomorphic.

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