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Title: Inter-theory relations in physics : case studies from quantum mechanics and quantum field theory
Author: Rosaler, Joshua S.
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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I defend three general claims concerning inter-theoretic reduction in physics. First, the popular notion that a superseded theory in physics is generally a simple limit of the theory that supersedes it paints an oversimplified picture of reductive relations in physics. Second, where reduction specifically between two dynamical systems models of a single system is concerned, reduction requires the existence of a particular sort of function from the state space of the low-level (purportedly more accurate and encompassing) model to that of the high-level (purportedly less accurate and encompassing) model that approximately commutes, in a specific sense, with the rules of dynamical evolution prescribed by the models. The third point addresses a tension between, on the one hand, the frequent need to take into account system-specific details in providing a full derivation of the high-level theory’s success in a particular context, and, on the other hand, a desire to understand the general mechanisms and results that under- write reduction between two theories across a wide and disparate range of different systems; I suggest a reconciliation based on the use of partial proofs of reduction, designed to reveal these general mechanisms of reduction at work across a range of systems, while leaving certain gaps to be filled in on the basis of system-specific details. After discussing these points of general methodology, I go on to demonstrate their application to a number of particular inter-theory reductions in physics involving quantum theory. I consider three reductions: first, connecting classical mechanics and non-relativistic quantum mechanics; second,connecting classical electrodynamics and quantum electrodynamics; and third, connecting non-relativistic quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics. I approach these reductions from a realist perspective, and for this reason consider two realist interpretations of quantum theory - the Everett and Bohm theories - as potential bases for these reductions. Nevertheless, many of the technical results concerning these reductions pertain also more generally to the bare, uninterpreted formalism of quantum theory. Throughout my analysis, I make the application of the general methodological claims of the thesis explicit, so as to provide concrete illustration of their validity.
Supervisor: Wallace, David ; Saunders, Simon Sponsor: Clarendon Fund ; Oxford University Press ; ORS
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Theoretical physics ; Philosophy of physics ; Philosophy of science ; reduction ; emergence ; inter-theory relations ; correspondence principle ; quantum mechanics ; quantum field theory ; classical mechanics ; Everett ; Bohm ; de Broglie-Bohm ; measurement problem ; decoherence