The Nature of Contingency: Quantum Physics as Modal Realism

A major new publication from FraMEPhys is out now – Alastair Wilson’s book The Nature of Contingency: Quantum Physics as Modal Realism was published on 11 February 2020 by Oxford University Press. Chapter 6, which focuses on anthropic explanations of fine-tuning in a quantum multiverse context, is a core part of the FraMEPhys project. All of the book explores the broader FraMEPhys theme of how we should link up physics with metaphysics.

Here’s the blurb:

This book defends a radical new theory of contingency as a physical phenomenon. Drawing on the many-worlds approach to quantum theory and cutting-edge metaphysics and philosophy of science, it argues that quantum theories are best understood as telling us about the space of genuine possibilities, rather than as telling us solely about actuality. When quantum physics is taken seriously in the way first proposed by Hugh Everett III, it provides the resources for a new systematic metaphysical framework encompassing possibility, necessity, actuality, chance, counterfactuals, and a host of related modal notions.Rationalist metaphysicians argue that the metaphysics of modality is strictly prior to any scientific investigation; metaphysics establishes which worlds are possible, and physics merely checks which of these worlds is actual. Naturalistic metaphysicians respond that science may discover new possibilities and new impossibilities. This book’s quantum theory of contingency takes naturalistic metaphysics one step further, allowing that science may discover what it is to be possible. As electromagnetism revealed the nature of light, as acoustics revealed the nature of sound, as statistical mechanics revealed the nature of heat, so quantum physics reveals the nature of contingency.

For more background info, and the goofiest photo of the author we could find, check out the launch Twitter thread. Previews of the content can be found here, here or here.

The book can be bought from OUP, or from Amazon, or from other academic booksellers. Currently there are hardback and ebook editions; a paperback is in the pipeline!

Summer Course in Budapest: The History and Philosophy of the Concepts of Scientific Law and Probability

This summer the Central European University will host a Summer University Course in History and Philosophy of the Concepts of Scientific Law and Probability – the application deadline is 14th February.

COURSE DIRECTOR: Barry Loewer (Rutgers University)

FACULTY: Nina Emery (Mount Holyoke College); Michael Esfeld (University of Lausanne); Alan Hajek (Australian National University); Ferenc Huoranszki (Central European University); Carl Hoefer (University of Barcelona); Berna Kilinc (Bogazici University); Dustin Lazarovici (University of Lausanne); and Glenn Shafer (Rutgers Business School)

The purpose of the course is to acquaint course participants with recent work on the history and metaphysics of the concept of scientific law and related concepts that are central to the development and understanding of science. These concepts are important to philosophical accounts of both science and to metaphysics. While there has been a great deal of active research on writing on the metaphysics of laws and also on the history of the concept of laws there has been little interaction between researchers involved in each project. Such interaction will greatly enhance work on both projects. One of the goals of the summer course is to initiate and encourage such interaction.

18 Feb: Luke Fenton-Glynn (UCL), "Probabilistic Actual Causation"

Next up in our 2020 FraMEPhys Seminar series, Luke Fenton-Glynn (UCL) will give a talk entitled “Probabilistic Actual Causation” at the University of Birmingham in Tuesday 18 February, 2-4pm in ERI 149 (G3 on the campus map).

ABSTRACT: Actual (token) causation – the sort of causal relation asserted to hold by claims like the Chicxulub impact caused the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, Mr. Fairchild’s exposure to asbestos caused him to suffer mesothelioma, and the H7N9 virus outbreak was caused by poultry farmers becoming simultaneously infected by bird and human ’flu strains – is of significance to scientists, historians, and tort and criminal lawyers. Progress has been made in explicating the actual causal relation in the deterministic case by means of the use of structural equations models and causal graphs. I seek to make similar progress concerning the probabilistic case by using probabilistic causal models and associated causal graphs

Earlier on the same day, from 1130-1230 in ERI 159, Luke will be present at a reading group where we will have a preliminary discussion of the above paper prior to the talk. All are welcome to either or both meetings.

SMS6 in Bristol, September 7-9: – Call for Papers and Symposia

Call for Submissions: Individual Papers & Symposia
SMS 2020: Sixth Annual Conference of the Society for Metaphysics of Science
7-9 September 2020  – University of Bristol, UK
Submission deadline: 3 April 2020
New this year: Symposium Sessions and Remote Sessions


The Society for the Metaphysics of Science (SMS) will be holding its sixth annual conference on 7-9 September, 2020 at the University of Bristol, UK. Our keynote speaker will be Samir Okasha (University of Bristol). In addition, Kerry McKenzie (University of California, San Diego) will deliver a presidential address. The conference programme this year incorporates two innovations: parallel symposium sessions including a mixture of invited and submitted symposia, and remote sessions with talks presented via videolink and live-streamed online.

Submissions are invited on all aspects of the metaphysics of science, broadly construed. Submissions may be of individual papers, or of symposia.

Individual paper presentations will be 30 minutes, with a 10 minute commentary, 5 minute reply, and 15 minute Q&A. Submissions should be full papers in PDF format, of no more than 4500 words (references and footnotes not included), and should include an abstract of 150-250 words and a word count.  All papers must employ gender-neutral language and be prepared for anonymous review. During the submission process, authors will be able to indicate whether they wish to present in person or remotely via video-link, or are willing to consider both options; this information will not be used in the paper assessment process.

Symposium sessions will be 120 minutes, and should involve multiple presenters, typically 3-4, organised around a topic of interest. Symposia will only be accepted for presentation in person. Proposals for symposia should be uploaded as a single PDF file that includes:
– The title of the proposed symposium
– A short descriptive summary of the proposal (100-200 words)
– A description of the topic and a justification of its current importance to the discipline (500-1000 words)
– Titles and abstracts of all papers, with 250-500 words for the title and abstract of each paper
– A list of participants and either an abbreviated curriculum vitae or short biographical description (not to exceed 1 page) for each participant, including any non-presenting co-authors.
– Institutional affiliation and e-mail addresses for all participants, including any non-presenting co-authors.

At most one contributed paper and one symposium on which you are the presenting author can be submitted. However, if both submissions are successful a presenting author will have to choose between them. A researcher may appear as co-author on more than one paper or symposium talk, but may present at SMS 2020 only once.

Submissions must be made using the EasyChair online submission system at https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=sms6

The submission deadline is 3 April 2020 (midnight GMT).  Notifications of acceptance will be delivered by 20 May. Selected speakers should confirm their participation before 20 June.

Programme Committee
Chair: Alastair Wilson (University of Birmingham & Monash University)
Sam Baron (Australian Catholic University)
Silvia de Bianchi (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)
Pierrick Bourrat (Macquarie University)
Eddy Keming Chen (University of California, San Diego)
Michael Townsen Hicks (University of Birmingham)
Vera Hoffmann-Kolss (University of Bern)
Liz Irvine (Cardiff University)
Andrej Jandrić (University of Belgrade)
Radmila Jovanović (University of Belgrade)
Katie Robertson (University of Birmingham)
Kate Vredenburgh (London School of Economics)

Local Arrangements Chair
Tuomas Tahko (University of Bristol)

4 February 2020: Andreas Hüttemann, "Laws and their Modal Surface Structure"

For the second FraMEPhys meeting of 2020, Prof. Dr. Andreas Hüttemann (University of Cologne) gave a talk on “Laws and their Modal Surface Structure” at the University of Birmingham (Muirhead Tower, 427).

ABSTRACT: Law statements or generalisations are involved in one way or another in explanation, confirmation, manipulation or prediction. I argue that these practices require a particular reading of the generalisations involved, namely as making claims about the behaviour of systems. These practices therefore presuppose the existence of systems or things (pace Ladyman, Ross etc.). 
Furthermore, I look at the metaphysical surface structure associated with laws. I use the term “surface structure” to indicate that this structure may or may not be reduced to non-modal facts – as the Humean has it. I will side-line the debate about whether Humeanism is a tenable philosophical position. The positive claim I advance is that the modal surface structure can be explicated in terms of invariance relations – where I take invariance to be a modal notion.

Earlier on the same day, from 1130-1230 in ERI 159, Prof. Dr. Hüttemann attended a reading group where we discussed his “Reduction and Monism“.

21 January 2020: David Papineau, "The Seductions of Interventionism"

At the first FraMEPhys meeting of 2020 (21 January), Professor David Papineau (King’s College London) gave a talk on “The Seductions of Interventionism” at the University of Birmingham.

ABSTRACT: The philosophy of causation is changing. The new ‘interventionism’ promises to dissolve many longstanding problems. Based on the work of Judea Pearl, and transmitted to philosophy by Jim Woodward, this approach builds a bridge between the philosophical analysis of causation and techniques used in statistical causal modelling. It is certainly welcome that philosophers of causation are finally trying to make sense of these statistical techniques. But in the process of transmission a number of ungrounded ideas have been installed as philosophical orthodoxy. In this talk I shall expose two: first, the idea that we need to appeal to ‘interventions’ or actions to understand causation; second, the idea that correlational facts alone are insufficient to determine causal structure.

Talk Handout (4 pages)

Earlier on the same day, Professor Papineau took part in reading group on his paper ‘Causation as a Guide to Life‘, which discussed some of the themes from his talk.

Jobs at Epistemology-of-LHC Project

The Research Unit “The Epistemology of the LHC”, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), invites applications for:

2 Postdoctoral and 5 Doctoral positions in the fields of philosophy of science, history of science, social studies of science, and physics.

Established in 2016, the Research Unit has forged a unique cooperation between physicists, philosophers, historians, and social scientists. Its aim is to collectively investigate the epistemology of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. With its six individual projects cooperating closely and its teams located at universities across Germany and Austria, the Research Unit covers a broad variety of issues concerning the forefront of research on experimental and theoretical physics at one of the largest scientific facilities worldwide. It addresses key questions in philosophy, history, and the social sciences from an interdisciplinary perspective.

After a successful first phase, the Research Unit has been extended for a second phase of 36 months. We would like to fill the following positions:

Project (A1) “The formation and development of the concept of virtual
particles”:

  • 1 postdoctoral position at the RWTH Aachen University.

Project (A2) “The hierarchy, fine tuning, and naturalness problem from a
philosophical perspective”:

  • 1 position for a doctoral researcher at the University of Wuppertal.

Project (A3) “LHC and gravity”:

  • 1 position for a doctoral researcher at the University of Bonn and the
    RWTH Aachen University.

Project (B1) “The impact of computer simulations and machine learning on
the epistemic status of LHC data”:

  • 1 position for a doctoral researcher at the KIT (Karlsruhe).

Project (B2) “Model building and dynamics”:

  • 1 position for a doctoral researcher at the University of Bonn.

Project (B3) “Producing novelty and securing credibility in LHC experiments”:

  • 1 position for a doctoral researcher at the University of Klagenfurt
    (Austria).
  • 1 postdoctoral position at the University of Klagenfurt (Austria).

Each project is directed jointly by a principal investigator from physics and investigators from the philosophy of science, history of science, or social studies of science (STS).

We are looking for candidates from the aforementioned fields who are interested in engaging in interdisciplinary work and who have experience in one or more of the relevant fields of expertise. We are committed to diversity and equal opportunity, and would like to encourage applications from scholars who would diversify the Research Unit, and the academic community more generally.

Positions are funded for three years and will typically start on May 1,
2020. Deadline for applications: January 31, 2020.

Descriptions of the individual projects can be found at: http://www.lhc-epistemologie.uni-wuppertal.de/.

Please send applications electronically to lhc.epistemology@uni-wuppertal.de. Applications should include a letter of motivation with a ranked list of the project(s) (A1-A3, B1-B3) applied for, a curriculum vitae, a list of publications and presentations, copies of your degree certificates, and the names and addresses of referees (two for the postdoctoral positions and one for the doctoral positions) who can be contacted directly.