Marc B. Lange
Study of philosophical issues raised by theories in physics or chemistry, such as whether space (time) is a substance, how causation and locality are treated in quantum mechanics, temporal anistropy and time travel, the nature of a field of force, the reduction of chemistry to physics. Prerequisite: one PHIL course.
This course will be an introduction to some interrelated issues in the philosophy of physics. The main issue to be discussed is spatio-temporal locality: whether or not there can be a gap in space or time between a cause and its effect (i.e., whether there is any 'action at a distance' in nature). This question will be refined carefully and then pursued in connection with classical physics, relativity theory, and quantum mechanics, with particular attention to the notion of a field in classical electromagnetism. Related questions that will be discussed include what energy is in classical physics (a substance? a property? something localized in space and time? a theoretical device?), what "e = mc2" means in relativity (that energy is really material? that matter is really energy?), whether potentials as well as fields are real entities, and the strange "passion at a distance" that arises in entangled states in quantum mechanics. Students will not be expected to know any physics to speak of (beyond what is normally taught in high school -- which obviously does not include quantum mechanics!) at the start of the course. But it would be unrealistic to expect a philosophy of physics course to involve little or no physics. Students will have to be willing to be taught the necessary physics, and to work through a certain amount of algebra and (very pre-digested) vector calculus. There will be several short papers that lectures will prepare students to write. Prerequisite: one PHIL course. Recommended: one previous course or concurrent enrollment in physics, chemistry, or astronomy. Meets I&S or NW requirement. No freshmen.
Class Assignments and Grading