FraMEPhys Reading Groups: Autumn 2019

This term our main project reading group runs weekly, 9.30-11am on Wednesdays, in ERI 159 on the University of Birmingham’s Edgbaston campus (G3 on the campus map). We’re alternating readings between articles on causal modelling and on philosophy of probability, though there’s frequently overlap!

Wk 3 (16th Oct) – Brad Weslake, “Exclusion Excluded”

Wk 4 (23rd Oct) – Wood and Spekkens, ‘The lesson of causal discovery algorithms for quantum correlations: Causal explanations of Bell-inequality violations require fine-tuning’

Wk 5 (30th Oct) – Katie Elliot, ‘Explaining (One Aspect of ) the Principal Principle without (Much) Metaphysics’

Wk 6 (6th Nov) – Reading week – no meeting

Wk 7 (13th Nov) – Probability, TBC

Wk 8 (20th Nov) – Causal modelling, TBC

Wk 9 (27th Nov) – Probability, TBC

Wk 10 (4th Dec) – Causal modelling, TBC

Wk 11 (11th Dec) – Probability, TBC

FraMEPhys Podcast: Emily Adlam, “A Tale of Two Anachronisms”

We have an exciting new podcast to release this week – Dr Emily Adlam from BCRP, Leipzig. In the talk Emily identifies two central elements of current theorizing in physics – objective chance, and temporal locality – which she argues are problematic and may be holding back the progress of physics at a deep level. Watch here and make up your own mind!

Emily’s talk was originally given on 11 February 2019 as part of our Spring 2019 FraMEPhys Seminar series.

Michael Townsen Hicks joins FraMEPhys as Research Fellow

The FraMEPhys team is now complete with the appointment of Michael Townsen Hicks as Research Fellow until August 2022. Mike is a multitalented metaphysician, epistemologist, philosopher of science and philosopher of physics with postdoc experience in Oxford and Cologne and PhD from Rutgers, under Barry Loewer. Mike specializes in particular in Humean accounts of laws and chances in science; he is currently working on the way in which metaphysical explanation features in these accounts, and on the explanatory role of symmetry principles.

With Mike’s appointment, the FraMEPhys team is now complete and fully geared up to tackle our main case studies – the geometry of spacetime in 2020, closed timelike curves in 2021, and entanglement in 2022.

FraMEPhys Podcast: Patricia Palacios, “Redefining Equilibrium in Long-Range Interacting Systems”

Our next FraMEPhys podcast is from our Spring 2019 FraMEPhys Seminar series, with Patricia Palacios (Salzburg) talking about the dynamics of galaxies, and how they could lead us to new definitions of equilibrium. Happy listening!

We also now have a page hosting all the FraMEPhys podcasts – more will be appearing at regular intervals through the autumn.

Skow on Causation and Explanation

As part of FraMEPhys, the project team have been scouring the recent literature on causation and explanation. A new output of this literature review has just been published in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews: Alastair Wilson’s review of Bradford Skow’s new book Causation, Explanation and the Metaphysics of Aspect.

Executive summary for metaphysicians in a hurry: Skow constructs a coherent and systematic picture of causation which centres active entities, which makes the distinction between causes and background conditions a metaphysically substantive one, and which aligns the metaphysics of causation closely (perhaps too closely) with the grammatical form of causal-explanatory sentences in English.

25 June: Matt Farr, “Do we need to explain initial conditions?”

Our final visitor in the 2019 FraMEPhys Seminar series was Dr Matt Farr (Cambridge) on Tuesday 25 June 2019.

Matt’s title and abstract were as follows: 

Do we need to explain initial conditions?
It is common to think of the universe as a grand time-directed process that started out in some initial state — call this the ‘time-directed universe’ hypothesis (TDU). On TDU, the initial state is explanatorily unique — it is the only one that did not evolve from some prior set of conditions. Some have appealed to this explanatory uniqueness to suggest that it is misguided to seek an explanation as to why the early universe was extremely low-entropy, and so argue that TDU plays an important explanatory role in physics. But what if we reject TDU? This talk considers the options for those that assume a temporally adirectional metaphysics, which I call the ‘C theory’. Given the C theory holds there is no intrinsic difference between ‘initial’ and ‘final’ states of physical systems, it is unclear what we are to make of the explanatory demands of the low entropy early universe. I assess a series of options for the C theory, arguing that the rejection of TDU leaves us no worse off with regard to explaining the low entropy early universe.

Before the talk, there was a reading group with the speaker. The paper we discussed was “Measures, Explanations and the Past: Should ‘Special’ Initial Conditions be Explained?” by Craig Callender, available here: