34I0149 (The Nature of Contingency)

The philosophy of physics deals with methodological, epistemological, and metaphysical issues in physics. This seminar has the dual purpose of systematically introducing the background necessary to do research in philosophy of physics as well as discussing current research in the field.

The focus of the seminar this semester will be on the metaphysics of quantum physics. We will read and discuss Alastair Wilson's new book on the nature of contingency. This book defends a novel theory of modality drawing on the many-worlds approach to quantum theory. Its central thesis is that this approach to quantum theory, which will be duly introduced, delivers a space of genuine possibilities and thus provides the resources for a new systematic framework for the metaphysics of modality. The regular seminar will be interspersed with talks by leading experts on their current research in the philosophy of physics.

While some background in physics, mathematics, and philosophy will be helpful, we will not assume any specific knowledge beyond high school mathematics.

This seminar will be in English.

Course Requirements

If this seminar is taken for credit, please let me know. You will have to fulfill requirements, depending on the module for which you are taking this course. For credit in philosophy:

MA6:
- travail écrit de recherche avec soutenance (env. 25 pages, 50'000 signes)
MA8:
- travail écrit de recherche (env. 12 pages, 24'000 signes) ou présentation orale durant le séminaire

Contact me if you need credit in physics or in another programme.

My expectation is that everyone prepares the assigned readings ahead of time, actively participates in the seminar (including those featuring a guest speaker), and accepts a reasonable share of presentation duties.

Course Materials

Course materials such as lecture notes, handouts, etc may be made available as they will be used in class.

The readings for this seminar will be from the following sources:

  • Wilson, Alastair (2020). The Nature of Contingency: Quantum Physics as Modal Realism. Oxford University Press.
  • All other reading materials will be made available on Moodle.

Schedule (Fall 2020)

This is the schedule for the seminar. It is subject to adjustment. For titles and abstracts of the guest seminars, visit genevasymmetrygroup.wordpress.com/. Reading marked with an asterisk (*) are not mandatory.

Date Readings Presenter(s)
24.09. *Wilson, Ch. 0 Christian Wüthrich
01.10. Wallace, The Emergent Multiverse, Ch. 2;
*Wallace, 'Philosophy of quantum mechanics', §2.4
08.10. Vervoort, 'The hypothesis of "hidden variables" as a unifying principle in physics' Guest seminar: Louis Vervoort
15.10. Wilson, Ch. 1, §§1.1-1.3, pp. 22-50
22.10. Wilson, Ch. 1, §§1.4-1.9, pp. 50-73
29.10. Wilson, Ch. 2, pp. 74-97
05.11. No seminar (semaine de lecture)
12.11. Curiel, TBD Guest seminar: Erik Curiel
19.11. Wilson, Ch. 3, §§3.1-3.5, pp. 98-119
26.11. Wilson, Ch. 3, §§3.6-3.9, pp. 119-144
03.12. Wilson, Ch. 4, pp. 145-171
10.12. Wilson, Ch. 5, pp. 172-184
17.12. Wilson, Ch. 6, Conclusion, pp. 185-199 Guest seminar: Al Wilson