Much apprehension has been expressed by philosophers about the method of renormalisation in quantum field theory, as it apparently requires illegitimate procedure of infinite cancellation. This has lead to various speculations, in particular in Teller (1989). We examine Teller's discussion of perturbative renormalisation of quantum fields, and show why it is inadequate. To really approach the matter one needs to understand the ideas and results of the ‘renormalisation group’, so we give a simple but comprehensive account of this topic. With this in hand, we explain how renormalisation can and should be understood. One thing that is revealed is that apparently very successful theories such as quantum electro-dynamics cannot be universally true; resolving the tension between success and falsity leads to a picture in which any theory may be viewed as irreducibly phenomenological. We explain how, and argue that the support for this view is tenuous at best.
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We are very grateful to Stephen Shenker in his patient efforts to help us understand this material, and to the helpful comments of Paul Teller and two anonymous referees. Some of the ideas presented here are based on material in the Ph.D. thesis of one of us (Huggett) submitted to Rutgers University.
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Huggett, N., Weingard, R. The renormalisation group and effective field theories. Synthese 102, 171–194 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01063904
- Field Theory
- Quantum Field Theory
- Renormalisation Group
- Effective Field
- Effective Field Theory