Mario Hubert: When Fields Are Not Degrees of Freedom

Mario Hubert.
4:30-6:30pm Wednesday Nov 28; CUNY Graduate Center (365 5th Ave, NYC), room 5307.

Title: When Fields Are Not Degrees of Freedom (joint work with Vera Hartenstein).

Abstract: We show that in the Maxwell–Lorentz theory of classical electrodynamics most initial values for fields and particles lead to an ill-defined dynamics, as they exhibit singularities or discontinuities along light-cones. This phenomenon suggests that the Maxwell equations and the Lorentz force law ought rather to be read as a system of delay differential equations, that is, differential equations that relate a function and its derivatives at different times. This mathematical reformulation, however, leads to physical and philosophical consequences for the ontological status of the electromagnetic field. In particular, fields cannot be taken as independent degrees of freedom, which suggests that one should not add them to the ontology.

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Hanoch Ben-Yami: The Structure of Space and Time, and Physical Indeterminacy

Hanoch Ben-Yami (CEU)
4:30-6:30pm Tuesday Nov 20; 3rd floor seminar room, 5 Washington Place (NYU)

Title. The Structure of Space and Time, and Physical Indeterminacy.
Abstract. I introduce a sequence which I call indefinite: a sequence every element of which has a successor but whose number of elements is bounded; this is no contradiction. I then consider the possibility of space and time being indefinitely divisible. This is theoretically possible and agrees with experience. If this is space and time’s structure, then even if the laws of nature are deterministic, the behaviour of physical systems will be probabilistic. This approach might also shed light on directionality in time and other physical phenomena.

There will be dinner after the talk. If you are interested, please send an email with “Dinner” in the heading to (please note that all are welcome, but only the speaker’s dinner will be covered). If you have any other questions, please email

MAPS is supported by Rutgers, Columbia, NYU, and most recently, a generous gift from member Dan Pinkel.

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Alison Fernandes: Three Accounts of Laws and Time

Alison Fernandes (Trinity)
4-6pm Wednesday Oct 24; room 125, 7 E 12th Street (NYU)

Title: Three Accounts of Laws and Time.
Abstract: Loewer distinguishes two approaches to laws and time: Humean accounts, which deny primitive modality and explain temporal asymmetries in scientific terms, and non-Humean accounts that take temporal asymmetry and modality to be metaphysically fundamental. I’ll argue that Loewer neglects an important third approach: deny metaphysical claims about fundamentality, and explain temporal asymmetries as well as the function of modal entities in scientific terms. This pragmatist approach provides a clear ontology to science, and, and unlike the other two accounts, doesn’t use metaphysics in place of scientific explanation.

There will be dinner after the talk. If you are interested, please send an email with “Dinner” in the heading to (please note that all are welcome, but only the speaker’s dinner will be covered). If you have any other questions, please email

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CANCELLATION- Massimo Pigliucci: the variety of scientism and the limits of science

Due to illness, this talk has been cancelled. It will be rescheduled for a later date.

Massimo Pigliucci (CUNY)
4:30-6:30pm Tuesday Oct 16; 5703 CUNY Graduate Center (365 5th Ave.).

Title: The variety of scientism and the limits of science
Abstract: Science is by far the most powerful approach to the investigation of the natural world ever devised. Still, it has limits, and there are many areas and questions where the scientific approach is ill suited, or at best provides only pertinent information rather than full answers. The denial of this modest attitude about science is called scientism, which declares science to be the only form of human knowledge and understanding, attempting to subsume everything else, including all the humanistic disciplines, into “science” very broadly (mis-)construed. In this talk, I argue that this is a mistake, and that it moreover has the potential to undermine public trust in science itself.

There will be dinner after the talk. If you are interested, please send an email with “Dinner” in the heading to (please note that all are welcome, but only the speaker’s dinner will be covered). If you have any other questions, please email

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Daniel Sudarsky: a philosophical mantle on the primordial tensor modes in inflation

Daniel Sudarsky (UNAM)
4:30-6:30pm Tuesday Sept 25; 3rd floor seminar room, NYU philosophy department (5 Washington Place).

Title: A philosophical mantle on the primordial tensor modes in inflation.
Abstract: Inflationary cosmology’s account for the emergence of the seeds of structure in the universe out of primordial quantum fluctuations is empirically successful as far as the so called scalar modes is concerned, but not so regarding the tensor modes. On the other hand, the usual account has some serious conceptual problems, connected to the quantum macro-objectification question. In the search for an approach to resolve the latter, we find substantially modified predictions (with respect to the standard ones) for one of the observables, specifically the estimates for the amplitude and shape of the  spectrum primordial gravity waves. This is an interesting example, where considerations that might have initially thought to be “just of philosophical interest” actually led to  novel and (so far better) predictions for empirical facts.

There will be dinner after the talk. If you are interested, please send an email with “Dinner” in the heading to (please note that all are welcome, but only the speaker’s dinner will be covered). If you have any other questions, please email

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Pre-Workshop Workshop

On Wednesday May 16, the day before the Rutgers-Columbia QFT Workshop, MAPS will host a pre-workshop workshop at the NYU philosophy department, in room 202 (5 Washington Place, New York, NY). See the schedule below for more details.


J. Brian Pitts (Cambridge).

Title: Even Observables Change in Hamiltonian General Relativity.

Abstract: The Hamiltonian formulation of Einstein’s General Relativity is the one most readily suited for merger with quantum mechanics. But since the 1950s there has been a worry that change has disappeared, especially from the physically real “observables”.  The freedom to change time coordinates, already important in Special Relativity and greatly amplified in General Relativity, also seems to disappear from the Hamiltonian formulation.  These issues yielded a memorable 2002 exchange between Earman and Maudlin.

This talk, building on a reforming literature from the 1980s onward, discusses how the radical relativity of simultaneity, change, and even change in observables are to be found.  Key moves include recognizing that the Hamiltonian formulation is a special case of the more familiar and fundamental Lagrangian formulation (implying that radical conceptual novelty cannot arise) and redefining observables such that equivalent theory formulations have equivalent observables.


Jeremy Butterfield (Cambridge).

Title: On Dualities and Equivalences Between Physical Theories.

Abstract: my main aim is to make a remark about the relation between (i) dualities between theories, as `duality’ is understood in physics and (ii) equivalence of theories, as `equivalence’ is understood in logic and philosophy. The remark is that in physics, two theories can be dual, and accordingly get called `the same theory’, though we interpret them as disagreeing—so that they are certainly equivalent, as `equivalent’ is normally understood. So the remark is simple: but, I shall argue, worth stressing—since often neglected.

My argument for this is based on the account of duality by De Haro and myself: which is illustrated here with several examples, from both elementary physics and string theory. Thus I argue that in some examples, including in string theory, two dual theories disagree in their claims about the world.

I also spell out how this remark implies a limitation of proposals (both traditional and recent) to understand theoretical equivalence as either logical equivalence or a weakening of it.


Chip Sebens (UCSD).
Time: 4-6pm.

Title: How Electrons Spin.

Abstract: There are a number of reasons to think that the electron cannot truly be spinning. Given how small the electron is generally taken to be, it would have to rotate superluminally to have the right angular momentum and magnetic moment.  Also, the electron’s gyromagnetic ratio is twice the value one would expect for an ordinary classical rotating charged body.  These obstacles can be overcome by examining the flow of mass and charge in the Dirac field (interpreted as giving the classical state of the electron). Superluminal velocities are avoided because the electron’s mass and charge are spread over sufficiently large distances that neither the velocity of mass flow nor the velocity of charge flow need to exceed the speed of light.  The electron’s gyromagnetic ratio is twice the expected value because its charge rotates twice as fast as its mass.

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Elise Crull: Questioning the Evidence for Cosmic Expansion

Elise Crull (CCNY)
4-6pm, Tuesday April 10, CUNY room 5307 (365 5th Ave, New York NY).

Title: Questioning the Evidence for Cosmic Expansion.

Abstract: expansion is a key feature of the standard cosmological model, yet evidence for it is not as strong as often believed. The only direct evidence is galactic red-shifting, but reasoning from these data to expansion is not straightforward. I argue that the relationship is better understood as inference to the best explanation, and granting this, that expansion is not the obvious best explanation. This is demonstrated by investigating the fitness of the ΛCDM model as against static models under various indirect tests.

In this talk I shall focus on time dilation studies: if expansion is happening, then general relativity suggests that clocks in substantially red-shifted galaxies ought to run slow with respect to the local frame. I briefly discuss the potential threat of selection bias in Type Ia supernovae time dilation tests, and evaluate the research methods employed by those assessing the mysterious lack of time dilation in gamma-ray bursts and quasars.

If expansion is not the best explanation for the relevant data, then one can motivate certain normative claims about methodological shifts in contemporary cosmology. To wit—more thought should be dedicated to alternate explanations for red-shifting phenomena, and to the development and careful analysis of indirect tests for expansion as against alternative cosmological models.

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