BBLOC Philosophy of Physics Seminar Series

A termly research seminar on philosophy of physics, hosted at King’s College London. 

All are welcome to all events! If you plan to come to any of the events or would like more information, email Alex Franklin.

Katie Robertson – On the status of thermodynamics: the village witch’s trial
Thursday 9th December 2021, 4:30pm, King’s College London, Bush House (SE) 1.05, 30 Aldwych, WC2B 4BG

Abstract: Thermodynamics is an unusual physical theory; del Rio et al. describe thermodynamics as the `village witch’ of physics and say that “The other theories find her somewhat odd, somehow different in nature from the rest, yet everyone comes to her for advice, and no one dares to contradict her”. And the philosophical status of thermodynamics is disputed; Is it reduced? Autonomous? Anthropocentric? Universal? 

In this talk, I tackle two of these questions. First, I discuss the arguments for thermodynamics being not objective, or anthropocentric. I argue, contra Myrvold’s Maxwellian view of thermodynamics, that thermodynamics is not anthropocentric. I then block another road to subjectivity by arguing that the introduction of probability need not be justified by our ignorance of the exact microstate, as Jaynes argued. Instead, in agreement with Chen and Wallace, I argue that the statistical mechanical probabilities can be understood as quantum mechanical probabilities. But my account differs from Chen’s quantum Mentaculus in several respects. Finally, I consider the autonomy of thermodynamics. How can other physical theories ‘come to thermodynamics for advice’ — as we see with black hole thermodynamics guiding the search for a theory of quantum gravity — if thermodynamics is autonomous, and so floats free, of any underlying fundamental theory? 

Neil Dewar – Title TBC
Spring term 2022, King’s College London
More details soon



Emily Adlam – Spooky Action at a Temporal Distance
19th November 2020

Abstract: Since the discovery of Bell’s theorem, the physics community has come to take seriously the possibility that the universe might contain physical processes which are spatially nonlocal, but there has been no such revolution with regard to the possibility of temporally nonlocal processes. In this talk, I argue that the assumption of temporal locality is actively limiting progress in the field of quantum foundations. I investigate the origins of the assumption, arguing that it has arisen for historical and pragmatic reasons rather than good scientific ones, then explain why temporal locality is in tension with relativity and review some recent results which cast doubt on its validity.

James Read – Newtonian Equivalence Principles
21st May 2019

 Abstract: I present a unified framework for understanding equivalence principles in spacetime theories, applicable to both relativistic and Newtonian contexts. This builds on prior work by Knox (2014) and Lehmkuhl (forthcoming).

Knox, E. (2014). Newtonian spacetime structure in light of the equivalence principle. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science65(4), 863-880.

Lehmkuhl, D. The Equivalence Principle(s). Forthcoming in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Physics, edited by E. Knox and A. Wilson.

Tushar Menon | Faculty of Philosophy

Tushar Menon – Metaphysical Indeterminacy in Noncommutative Geometry
18th March 2021

Abstract: In this talk, I introduce a family of approaches to quantum geometry that collectively go under the name of `noncommutative geometries’ (NCGs), expressed in the formalism of spectral triples, developed by Alain Connes and collaborators. I will discuss an interesting interpretative puzzle to which spectral triples give rise: what we might call the `indeterminacy of location’ puzzle.

‘Indeterminacy of location’ applies to situations in which, for whatever reason, according to the theory, nature does not ascribe to an entity a determinate a matter of fact about its spatial location below a particular scale. The puzzle, accordingly, is to characterise this particular brand of indeterminacy and understand the consequent metaphysical commitments of NCGs regarding space. I demonstrate how we can marshal some standard metaphysical and semantic resources to solve this puzzle.

[This talk is based on work done in collaboration with Nick Huggett and Fedele Lizzi]