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Theses Doctoral

Scientific Realism Made Effective: Realism, Reduction, and the Renormalization Group in Quantum Field Theory

Williams, Porter Doniphan

This dissertation explores philosophical issues that arise in the practice of contemporary particle physics. The first chapter is a historical sketch of how the particle physics community came to believe that the quantum field theories used in particle physics are best understood as effective field theories -- quantum field theories that become inapplicable at some short distance scale and incorporate this inevitable breakdown in their mathematical framework. The second chapter argues that, contrary to the claims of many philosophers, the unique mathematical resources and empirical successes of effective field theories means that they can and should be equipped with a realist interpretation. The third chapter turns to an issue that has been at the center of particle physics for the last 40 years, the problem of naturalness, and draws on the renormalization group to provide a univocal understanding of ``naturalness'' that can make sense of the way it is employed in physical practice. Finally in the fourth chapter I critically examine recent philosophical work which argues that different physical scales in quantum field theory enjoy a sense of autonomy, arguing that the formal results on which this recent work is based cannot support the conclusions with which they have been saddled.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Albert, David Z.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 14, 2016