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!
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!
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.
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.
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: https://doi.org/10.1093/bjps/55.2.195