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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Marc B. Lange
PHIL 482
Seattle Campus

Philosophy of Physical Science

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.

Class Description

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.

Recommended preparation

Class Assignments and Grading

The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Beverly A Wessel
Date: 02/12/2003