Foundations of Physics

, Volume 49, Issue 10, pp 1111–1142 | Cite as

The Geometry of Reduction: Compound Reduction and Overlapping State Space Domains

  • Joshua RosalerEmail author


The relationship whereby one physical theory encompasses the domain of empirical validity of another is widely known as “reduction.” Elsewhere I have argued that one influential methodology for showing that one physical theory reduces to another, associated with the so-called “Bronstein cube” of theories, rests on an oversimplified and excessively vague characterization of the mathematical relationship between theories that typically underpins reduction. I offer what I claim is a more precise characterization of this relationship, which here is based on a more basic notion of reduction between distinct models (one from each theory) of a single physical system. Reduction between two such models, I claim, rests on a particular type of approximation relationship between group actions over the models’ state spaces, characterized by a particular function between the model state spaces and a particular subset of the more encompassing model’s state space. Within this approach, I show formally in what sense and under what conditions reduction is transitive, so that reduction of a model 1 to another model 2 and reduction of model 2 to a third model 3 entails direct reduction of model 1 to model 3. Building on this analysis, I consider cases in which reduction of a model 1 to a model 3 may be effected via distinct intermediate models 2a and 2b, and motivate a set of formal consistency requirements between distinct “reduction paths” having the same models as their “end points”. These constraints are explicitly shown to hold in the reduction of a model of non-relativistic classical mechanics (model 1) to a model of relativistic quantum mechanics (model 3), which may be effected by a composite reduction that proceeds either via a model of non-relativistic quantum mechanics (model 2a) or a model of relativistic classical mechanics (model 2b). I offer some brief speculations as to whether and how this sort of consistency requirement might serve to constrain the reductions relating other theories and models, including the relationship that the Standard Model and general relativity must bear to any viable unification of these frameworks.



This work was supported by the DFG, Grant FOR 2063.

The author gratefully acknowledges support from the DFG


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Theoretical Particle Physics and Cosmology, RWTHAachen UniversityAachenGermany

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