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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Adam Becker: Why the Copenhagen Interpretation Doesn’t Work and Why It’s Popular Anyhow

Adam Becker (University of California, Berkeley).
5-7pm Tuesday April 3, NYU Philosophy department, room 101 (5 Washington Place, New York, NY).


Title: Why the Copenhagen Interpretation Doesn’t Work and Why It’s Popular Anyhow.

Abstract: conventional wisdom holds that since the advent of the first full theories of quantum mechanics in the mid-1920s, the Copenhagen interpretation has been the default interpretation of quantum mechanics, and has enjoyed the support of a majority of physicists ever since. This is not the case. While it is indeed true that a majority of physicists have long professed that they subscribe to the Copenhagen interpretation, the plain fact of the matter is that there is no single coherent position known as the Copenhagen interpretation, nor has there ever been one. Moreover, none of the positions that go by the name “Copenhagen interpretation” do a good job of solving the measurement problem, the central interpretive problem at the heart of quantum foundations. Nor do they evade the nonlocality that is dictated by Bell’s theorem. In this talk, I will give an overview of the history of the Copenhagen interpretation from 1926 to the present, explain its multiple inconsistencies and failures, and attempt an answer at a persistent puzzle: why does the Copenhagen interpretation remain popular among physicists despite its manifest flaws and the existence of multiple superior alternatives?

About the speaker: Adam Becker is the author of What is Real? The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics. He has a PhD in physics from the University of Michigan and he is the recipient of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Book Grant. He is currently a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Office for History of Science and Technology.

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Rachel Rosen: Consistency Conditions on Fundamental Physics

Rachel Rosen (Columbia University).
2-4pm, Tuesday March 20, Columbia University Knox Hall C01 (606 W 122 St).

Title: Consistency Conditions on Fundamental Physics.

Abstract: as our understanding of the universe and its basic building blocks extends to shorter and shorter distances, experiments capable of probing these scales are becoming increasingly difficult to construct. Fundamental particle physics faces a potential crisis: an absence of data at the shortest possible scales. Yet remarkably, even in the absence of experimental data, the requirement of theoretical consistency puts stringent constraints on viable models of fundamental particles and their interactions. In this talk I’ll present some of these constraints and discuss their applications for cosmology, string theory and more.

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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