Schematizing the Observer and the Epistemic Content of Theories

Por • 10 mar, 2019 • Sección: Ambiente

Erik Curiel

I argue that, contrary to the standard view, one cannot understand the structure and nature of our knowledge in physics without an analysis of the way that observers (and, more generally, measuring instruments and experimental arrangements) are modeled in theory. One upshot is that standard pictures of what a scientific theory can be are grossly inadequate. In particular, standard formulations assume, with no argument ever given, that it is possible to make a clean separation between, on the one hand, one part of the scientific knowledge a physical theory embodies, viz., that encoded in the pure mathematical formalism and, on the other, the remainder of that knowledge. The remainder includes at a minimum what is encoded in the practice of modeling particular systems, of performing experiments, of bringing the results of theory and experiment into mutually fruitful contact—in sum, real application of the theory in actual scientific practice. This assumption comes out most clearly in the picture of semantics that naturally accompanies the standard view of theories: semantics is fixed by ontology’s shining City on the Hill, and all epistemology and methodology and other practical issues and considerations are segregated to the ghetto of the theory’s pragmatics. We should not assume such a clean separation is possible without an argument, and, indeed, I offer many arguments that such a separation is not feasible. An adequate semantics for theories cannot be founded on ontology, but rather on epistemology and methodology.

arXiv:1903.02182v1 [physics.hist-ph]

History and Philosophy of Physics (physics.hist-ph)

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