I argue that a common philosophical approach to the interpretation of physical theories—particularly quantum field theories—has led philosophers astray. It has driven many to declare the quantum field theories employed by practicing physicists, so-called ‘effective field theories’, to be unfit for philosophical interpretation. In particular, such theories have been deemed unable to support a realist interpretation. I argue that these claims are mistaken: attending to the manner in which these theories are employed in physical practice, I show that interpreting effective (...) field theories yields a robust foundation for a more refined approach to scientific realism in the context of quantum field theory. The paper concludes by briefly sketching some general morals for interpretive practice in the philosophy of physics. (shrink)
The recent discovery of the Higgs at 125 GeV by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the LHC has put significant pressure on a principle which has guided much theorizing in high energy physics over the last 40 years, the principle of naturalness. In this paper, I provide an explication of the conceptual foundations and physical significance of the naturalness principle. I argue that the naturalness principle is well-grounded both empirically and in the theoretical structure of effective field theories, and (...) that it was reasonable for physicists to endorse it. Its possible failure to be realized in nature, as suggested by recent LHC data, thus represents an empirical challenge to certain foundational aspects of our understanding of QFT. In particular, I argue that its failure would undermine one class of recent proposals which claim that QFT provides us with a picture of the world as being structured into quasi-autonomous physical domains. (shrink)
My aim in this paper is twofold: to distinguish two notions of naturalness employed in beyond the standard model physics and to argue that recognizing this distinction has methodological consequences. One notion of naturalness is an “autonomy of scales” requirement: it prohibits sensitive dependence of an effective field theory’s low-energy observables on precise specification of the theory’s description of cutoff-scale physics. I will argue that considerations from the general structure of effective field theory provide justification for the role this notion (...) of naturalness has played in BSM model construction. A second, distinct notion construes naturalness as a statistical principle requiring that the values of the parameters in an effective field theory be “likely” given some appropriately chosen measure on some appropriately circumscribed space of models. I argue that these two notions are historically and conceptually related but are motivated by distinct theoretical considerations and admit of distinct kinds of solution. (shrink)
This is an introduction to renormalization group methods in quantum field theory aimed at philosophers of science. review path integral methods, the relationship between early renormalization theory and renormalization group methods, and conceptual shifts in thinking about quantum field theory spurred by the development of renormalization group methods.
What happens to the causal structure of a world when time is reversed? At first glance it seems there are two possible answers: the causal relations are reversed, or they are not. I argue that neither of these answers is correct: we should either deny that time-reversed worlds have causal relations at all, or deny that causal concepts developed in the actual world are reliable guides to the causal structure of time-reversed worlds. The first option is motivated by the instability (...) of time-reversed dynamical evolutions under interventions. The second option is motivated by a recognition of how contingent structural features of the actual world shape our causal concepts and reasoning strategies. (shrink)
It is often claimed that one cannot locate a notion of causation in fundamental physical theories. The reason most commonly given is that the dynamics of those theories do not support any distinction between the past and the future, and this vitiates any attempt to locate a notion of causal asymmetry—and thus of causation—in fundamental physical theories. I argue that this is incorrect: the ubiquitous generation of entanglement between quantum systems grounds a relevant asymmetry in the dynamical evolution of quantum (...) systems. I show that by exploiting a connection between the amount of entanglement in a quantum state and the algorithmic complexity of that state, one can use recently developed tools for causal inference to identify a causal asymmetry—and a notion of causation—in the dynamical evolution of quantum systems. (shrink)