Laws, Methods, and Minds in Cosmology 2017-10-17T13:40:32+00:00

Project Description

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Laws, Methods, and Minds in Cosmology

Physical cosmology has enjoyed several decades of rapid progress and remarkable success, leading to a new understanding of the cosmos and our place in it. This success, however, comes with new puzzles.

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATORS:

  • Chris Smeenk (Rotman Institute of Philosophy, Western University)

  • James Owen Weatherall (University of California, Irvine)

PROJECT DATES:

2015 – present

PROJECT FUNDING:

John Templeton Foundation

Western University

PROJECT SUMMARY:

Cosmology is different from other areas of the physical sciences, both in its subject matter – the universe as a whole – and in the tools we use to study it. Standard experimental and theoretical methods used throughout the rest of the physical sciences have little traction in cosmology, where we have only one universe to study and many of the features of greatest interest are removed from us in space and time. These methodological difficulties, coupled with the profound importance of understanding the history and structure of the universe, make cosmology an urgent subject for philosophical research.

The principal goal of the current project is to develop the emerging field of philosophy of cosmology. This grant will support a planning phase, devoted to refining a novel research agenda for this field and consolidating an interdisciplinary team. One part of the project will synthesize and review previous contributions to the field, leading to an overall “landscape” review document, and topical review articles. We have provisionally identified three general research topics as targets for further work: (a) the epistemic and methodological challenges to traditional conceptions of scientific practice posed by the unusual features of cosmology; (b) the nature of evidence in cosmology, and particularly the status of anthropic arguments; and (c) the role and epistemic status of spacetime geometry in general relativity and other physical theories on which cosmological models are based. The project includes three workshops designed to bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars, with a focus on evaluating these and other topics as appropriate focal points for further research.