Emergence and interacting hierarchies in shock physics

European Journal for Philosophy of Science 6 (1):91-122 (2016)
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It is argued that explanations of shock waves display explanatory emergence in two different ways. Firstly, the use of discontinuities to model jumps in flow variables is an example of “physics avoidance”. This is where microphysical details can be ignored in an abstract model thus allowing us access to modal information which cannot be attained in principle in any other way. Secondly, Whitham’s interleaving criterion for continuous shock structure is an example of the way different characteristic scales interact in shock dynamics. To fully explain the shock structure one must take account of these different scales, and by doing so explanations of shock structure have irreducible aspects. Lastly, the implications of this explanatory irreducibility are examined in the context of explanatory indispensability arguments used in realism debates elsewhere in the philosophy of science. It is concluded that explanatory emergence on its own only supports an epistemic form of emergence. Yet this epistemic emergence is fully objective



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