A Physics-Based Metaphysics is a Metaphysics-Based Metaphysics

Abstract

The common practice of advancing arguments based on current physics in support of metaphysical conclusions has been criticized on the grounds that current physics may well be wrong. A further criticism is leveled here: current physics itself depends on metaphysical assumptions, so arguing from current physics is in fact arguing from yet more metaphysics. It is shown that the metaphysical assumptions underlying current physics are often deeply embedded in the formalism in which theories are presented, and hence impossible to dismiss as mere motivational or interpretative speculation. It is then shown that such assumptions, when made explicit, can wreck havoc on otherwise-sensible philosophical arguments. It is argued in conclusion that this situation is both unlikely to be reparable just by being more careful, and unlikely to go away as further, presumably more subtle physical theories are developed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Wheeler was a student of Niels Bohr and a close colleague of Albert Einstein; his work stands at a confluence between Einstein's Spinozan inclination to view the world sub specie aeternitatis and Bohr's emphasis, following Ernst Mach, on physical observables as the only reality that can be discussed.

  2. 2.

    Zurek was one of Wheeler's postdocs. That quantum Darwinism is an essentially Wheelerian doctrine is made clear by Zurek's (2002) use of Wheeler's iconic image of the universe observing itself, first published in Patton and Wheeler (1975).

  3. 3.

    This is known among physicists as the “shut up and calculate” approach to quantum theory (Mermin 1989).

  4. 4.

    A possible example of the former can be found in de Boer and Fields (2011).

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Correspondence to Chris Fields.

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Fields, C. A Physics-Based Metaphysics is a Metaphysics-Based Metaphysics. Acta Anal 29, 131–148 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12136-013-0204-6

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Keywords

  • Monism
  • Pluralism
  • Substantivalism
  • Mereology
  • Quantum entanglement
  • Quantum field theory