Project on Infinite Idealization in Physics
I am working on a project on infinite idealizations in physics based on my dissertation and previous publications. The main case studies include first-order phase transitions, critical phenomena, spontaneous symmetry breaking, the Aharonov-Bohm effect, and the emergence of anyons in the fractional quantum Hall effect. I suggest that infinite idealizations play an exploratory role in science and make connections to issues regarding scientific understanding, scale, and emergence.
Science and Art: Representation, Fictions, and the Imagination
There are interesting analogies to be drawn between the literature in philosophy of science and the literature in aesthetics and philosophy of art on issues such as representation, fictions, and the imagination. Part of my research consists in identifying such analogies, as well as making connections with thought experiments and impossible objects.
Mathematical Explanation, Indispensability, and Nominalism
The so-called easy road to nominalism, espoused by nominalistic scientific realists, would allow the nominalist to embrace scientific realism, reject platonism about mathematical objects, and to do so without undertaking the daunting task of excising mathematics from our best physical theories (as famously attempted Hartry Field). I am working on making connection between infinite and ostensibly essential idealizations in physics, on the one hand, and mathematical explanation, the enhanced indispensability argument, and the easy road nominalism debate, on the other hand. The main idea is that there is a kind of explanatory symmetry between indispensible idealizations and mathematical objects in certainty explanatory contexts.
On the Back Burner
Coulomb’s Torsion Balance, Galileo’s Inclined Plane, and the Philosophy of Experimentation
I have recreated various important experiments in the history of science such as Galileo’s inclined plane along with colleagues Eric Hatleback and Paolo Palmieri in order to gain insight into the history and philosophy of experimentation. The main project that I spearheaded includes inquiring into the material intricacies of Charles Augustin Coulomb’s electric torsion balance experiment, which led to the famous “Coulomb’s Law” in electrostatics. Specifically, contemporary scholars are engaged in a debate over whether the results that Coulomb presented in his 1785 and 1787 memoirs to the Paris Academy of Sciences were attained experimentally or theoretically. We study Coulomb’s famous 1785 electric torsion balance experiment through analysis of relevant texts and, more importantly, through a replication that is more faithful to Coulomb’s original design than previous attempts. We show that, despite recent claims, (1) it has so far proved impossible to obtain the same results reported by Coulomb in his paper of 1785, (2) Coulomb’s published results are most likely atypical, and (3) electric torsion balance experiments degenerate quickly when parameters are altered by small amounts. Preprint: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/11048