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A Proposal for a Coherent Ontology of Fundamental Entities

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Abstract

We argue that the distinction between framework and interaction theories should be taken carefully into consideration when dealing with the philosophical implications of fundamental theories in physics. In particular, conclusions concerning the nature of reality can only be consistently derived from assessing the ontological and epistemic purport of both types of theories. We put forward an epistemic form of realism regarding framework theories, such as Quantum Field Theory. The latter, indeed, informs us about the general properties of quantum fields, laying the groundwork for interaction theories. Yet, concerning interaction theories, we recommend a robust form of ontological realism regarding the entities whose existence is assumed by these theories. As an application, we refer to the case of the Standard Model, so long as it has proved to successfully inform us about the nature of various sorts of fundamental particles making up reality. In short, although we acknowledge that both framework and interaction theories partake in shaping our science-based view of reality, and that neither would do by itself the work we expect them to accomplish together, our proposal for a coherent ontology of fundamental entities advances a compromise between two forms of realism about theories in each case.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    It should be stressed that in Boltzmann’s time there was not direct evidence of the existence of atoms or of molecules. It was a very successful hypothesis that obtained experimental corroboration later on.

  2. 2.

    Eddington nicely expresses a strong confidence in thermodynamics (Eddington 2012):

    ...If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwells equations–then so much the worse for Maxwells equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation–well, these experimentalists bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

  3. 3.

    This view is generally agreed upon in the physics literature, and it is expressed as follows by Weinberg (2005):

    The reason that our field theories work so well is not that they are fundamental truths, but that any relativistic quantum theory will look as a field theory at sufficiently low energy.

  4. 4.

    The de Broglie-Bohm interpretation appeals to extra elements apart from those present in the Copenhagen interpretation. Accordingly, it cannot be considered an interpretation of the theory. It rather stands as a version of the theory or as a different theory. Nevertheless, even in this case, both the mathematical and the empirical results are the same. This is also true for other versions—as opposed to interpretations—of QM.

  5. 5.

    See the large number of independent interpretations of the same formal theory as they appear summarized on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Laudisa and Rovelli 2013; Faye 2014; Vaidman 2016; Goldstein 2013; Griffiths 2014).

  6. 6.

    It is worth noting that these internal symmetries are reflected in the spectrum of the theory, and hence as multiplets of particles with the same—or nearly the same—mass, due to a theorem by Weyl (Weinberg 2005). This is indeed the way in which these symmetries were detected (and, more adequately, deduced) in the first place (Kragh 2002).

  7. 7.

    The purported ontological merit of symmetries is frequently taken for granted. For a discussion of this matter and a proposal that recognizes the ontological priority of conserved quantities over symmetries, see (Romero-Maltrana 2015).

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Author information

Correspondence to Diego Romero-Maltrana.

Additional information

The authors acknowledge the financial support given by FONDECYT Grant Nos. 1150661 and 11160324.

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Romero-Maltrana, D., Benitez, F. & Soto, C. A Proposal for a Coherent Ontology of Fundamental Entities. Found Sci 23, 705–717 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10699-018-9548-0

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Keywords

  • Principle theory
  • Constructive Theory
  • Ontology
  • Quantum Field Theory
  • Particles