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ABSTRACT


Einstein is best known for his contributions to the physics of spacetime, the Special and General Theories of Relativity. However, he also played an important role in the development of quantum mechanics, the other great theoretical advance in twentieth century physics. Einstein’s famous response to quantum mechanics was that “God does not play dice.” As the quote suggests, quantum mechanics made Einstein uncomfortable. I will discuss the reasons for his unease—the role of chance, the failure of the theory to represent reality, and “spooky” action at a distance.

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Doreen Fraser is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Waterloo. The central focus of her current research is the project funded by a SSHRC Standard Research Grant, which is entitled “A Philosophical Investigation of Issues Raised by Particle Physics.” A turning point in the recent history of physics was the realization that an identification can be made between the theories of statistical mechanics and particle physics. The discovery that the same mathematical formalism can be used in both statistical mechanics and particle physics is surprising because these theories were taken to describe unrelated aspects of the physical world. While the importance of the analogy between statistical mechanics and particle physics is beyond doubt, the nature of the analogy between the two theories stands in need of further analysis. What has been shown is that the two theories share the same mathematical form, which establishes a formal analogy. The pressing question that remains is this: Is there a more substantial physical analogy between particle physics and statistical mechanics underlying this formal analogy? The answer to this question is important to both philosophers and theoretical physicists because it has deep ramifications for our understanding of the nature of elementary particles, the discipline of particle physics, and the enterprise of scientific theorizing more generally. The goals of this project are twofold: first, to analyze the analogy between statistical mechanics and particle physics and, second, to apply this analysis to address philosophical issues raised by particle physics as well as broader epistemological issues.

Read more about Doreen Fraser.

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This event is co-sponsored with the London Public Library and the Western Department of Philosophy.