Mark Wilson: “The Greediness of Scales” (CUNY Colloquium)

Mark Wilson (Pittsburgh) will be giving a colloquium at CUNY that will likely be of interest to many of you. His talk is on Wednesday, March 18 at the CUNY Graduate Center, Room(s) 9204/9205 from 4:15-6:15pm. Further information is below.

“The Greediness of Scales”

Mark Wilson, University of Pittsburgh

The methodological problem to be discussed is an old one that has influenced metaphysical thinking in the past considerably (especially Leibniz). In modern form, it runs like this. Scientists know a lot about the internal structures of complex materials upon different length scales and have framed very effective models of the key behaviors witnessed. But these treatments all employ differential equations which inherently operate upon an infinitesimal size scale, despite the fact that their targeted behaviors only emerge upon much longer characteristic lengths. Such modeling policies engender descriptive inconsistencies between the different treatments that prevents them from working together in a mutually beneficial way (upon a computer, say). Unfortunately, these clashes can’t be easily rectified without spoiling the utility of the models altogether. Recent advances in “multi-scale methods” have uncovered policies that evade these syntactic inconsistencies by persuading the different models to “talk to one another” in strikingly novel ways. These innovations raise important philosophical questions about “truth value” in physical theory and how directly such accounts relate to the world they describe. As such, philosophy of science is returned to the basic concerns that Leibniz weighed in his writings on “the labyrinth of the continuum.” In consequence, modern metaphysicians should recognize that “determining the ontology of a theory” may not follow the simple contours suggested by Quine in “On What There Is” and may require a deeper engagement with the actual details of effective applied mathematics.

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