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.

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)

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.

13 December: Barry Loewer, "The Mentaculus Vision"

For our last meeting of 2019, FraMEPhys will be hosting a talk by Professor Barry Loewer (Rutgers University) on Friday 13 December, from 2-4PM in Arts Lecture Room 5 (room 219). 

The Mentaculus Vision

Building on Boltzmann’s approach to statistical mechanics David Albert proposed a framework for a complete physical theory that entails a probability distribution over all physical possible worlds. Albert and Loewer call this framework “the Mentaculus.” In this paper I provide reasons to think that the Mentaculus entails probabilistic versions of the laws of thermodynamics and other special science laws, In addition it is the basis for a scientific account of the arrows of time and an account of counterfactuals that express causal relations. I then argue that the best way to understand the laws and probabilities that occur in the Mentaculus are along the lines of David Lewis’ best system account.

Noelia Iranzo Ribera in Amsterdam: “Interventions in the Spotlight”

FraMEPhys PhD researcher Noelia Iranzo Ribera was in Amsterdam last week to present a paper arising from her PhD research on interventionist theories of causation, at the 7th annual OZSW conference. Noelia’s title was “Interventions in the Spotlight: Delimiting Possibility in Woodward’s Interventionist Theory of Causation”.

In the paper Noelia examined the various different notions of possibility that might be used to make sense of the key notion of a possible intervention in Woodward’s theory. She argued that familiar notions of nomic possibility are too strong, but conceptual possibility is too weak, and offered an extra-weak notion of nomic possibility that might take their place.

FraMEPhys Podcast: Matt Farr, “Do We Need to Explain Initial Conditions?”

The final podcast from our Spring 2019 FraMEPhys Seminar series is now online. In it, Matt Farr from the University of Cambridge outlines his ‘C Theory’ of time and explores what it might mean to explain the initial conditions of the universe. Untearing paper, unmelting ice, disembodied brains and the Big Crunch at the end of the universe all feature!

For more talks like this one, see our project podcast page.