Cosmology has been transformed from a speculative backwater into a central testing ground for new ideas in fundamental physics. Cosmological theories describe the large scale structure of the universe and its evolution, and cosmologists can now lay claim to a well-supported standard model. These exciting developments present philosophers with a unique opportunity. The rapid progress in cosmology does not derive from a consensus regarding aims and method; instead, progress has occurred despite disagreements on fundamentals. Cosmologists directly confront a number of philosophical questions: the nature and limits of scientific explanation, underdetermination of theory by evidence, applicability of probabilities, and the nature of physical laws. These questions have led to lively debates among cosmologists. These debates tend to tackle the questions piecemeal, but they are interesting and challenging in part because they are so tightly intertwined. Philosophers can contribute by approaching these problems systematically, drawing on broader intellectual resources such as existing work in philosophy of science and comparisons with other scientific fields.
Chris Smeenk (Rotman Institute of Philosophy, Western University)
Philosophy of cosmology is a worthwhile and challenging topic due to the differences between cosmology and other areas of physics. Cosmology deals with the universe as a whole, a unique object. According to the big bang models, the universe is not eternal to the past, and many observed features of the universe reflect its starting point or initial state. This contrast with other areas of physics leads to three central problems that any systematic philosophy of cosmology must address. First, what are the implications of the uniqueness of the universe? We cannot run experiments regarding creation of the universe nor can we compare our universe to other possible universes. What does this imply regarding the possibility of discovering new laws of physics in cosmology? Second, how should we apply probabilistic reasoning in cosmology? This is important because probabilistic reasoning has played a central role in motivating current ideas. Many theories have been accepted because they render observed features of the universe “highly probable,” clearly assuming that there is some meaning assigned to the probability of a particular type of universe. Third, how should we understand the “initial conditions” of the universe? Other physical theories typically describe the dynamical evolution of systems over time given some initial conditions, treated as contingent brute facts. But cosmologists have proposed “theories of initial conditions” that do not take this form. This project will make an innovative contribution to debates in contemporary cosmology by addressing these inter-related problems and proposing a coherent answer to all three.
The project will make two novel contributions to philosophy. It will provide a case study relevant to a number of topics in the general philosophy of science. The case of cosmology also sheds light on a number of long-standing problems in philosophy of physics, such as the problem of time’s arrow.
Benétreau-Dupin, Yann. “Blurring Out Cosmic Puzzle,” Philosophy of Science (PSA 2014), forthcoming 2015 (preprint)
“Einstein’s Role in the Creation of Relativistic Cosmology.” To appear in The Cambridge Companion to Einstein, edited by M. Janssen and C. Lehner. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (forthcoming 2014, preprint).
“Predictability crisis in early universe cosmology,” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Modern Physics. (Forthcoming 2014, available online.)
“Time in Cosmology,” in The Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Time, ed. by A. Bardon and H. Dyke. (preprint)
Benétreau-Dupin, Yann. “Blurring Out Cosmic Puzzles,” Imprecise Probabilities in Statistics and Philosophy workshop, MCMP, June 2014, and PSA 2014
Benétreau-Dupin, Yann. “Cosmic Surprise, Anthropic Reasoning and Bayesian Analysis,” Foundations of Physics 2013, MCMP, July 2013
Benétreau-Dupin, Yann. “Methodological Implications of the Uniqueness of the Universe for Modern Cosmology,” CSHPS 2012 (abstract)
“Bayesian Anthropics” and “Predictions in Eternal Inflation,” Oxford Workshop: Anthropics, Selection Effects, and Fine-Tuning in Cosmology.