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Prof. James Owen Weatherall, UC Irvine, "Physical Geometry and the Laws of Nature"

Thursday, November 30, 2023, 03:00pm - 05:00pm

Physical Geometry and the Laws of Nature

Abstract:

It is often claimed that a fundamental insight of general relativity is that spacetime is curved and, more generally, that relativity theory reveals that the geometry of space and time plays an important role in the physical world.  Likewise, Yang-Mills theory, the family of physical theories underlying modern particle physics, admits of a "geometric" interpretation on which certain spaces are to be seen as curved.  But what does it mean to attribute a geometrical structure to some part of the physical world and what sorts of commitments does doing so entail?  In this talk, I will argue that there is a deep link between attributions of physical geometry and the character of the laws of nature as understood in classical field theories.  I will situate this view within the recent debate between geometrical and dynamical approaches to general relativity, and I will discuss how it bears on older issues connected with varieties of substantivalism and the hole argument.  I will conclude by suggesting that there is a tension between Humean accounts of the laws of nature and robustly geometrical interpretations of our best physical theories.

Location Philosophy Seminar Room