Description

This course offers an introduction to the philosophy of physics, which deals with methodological, epistemological, and metaphysical issues in physics. It consists of four parts offering a rich menu in philosophically deep questions arising in modern physics: space, time, quantum mechanics, and advanced topics of contemporary physics.

The first part on space treats Zeno's paradoxes of motion, and questions concerning the topology, dimensions, and geometry of space, as well as the nature of space itself. The second part on time deals with traditional questions in the philosophy of time and with time travel. It also introduces spacetime, and its nature according to special and general relativity. The third part focuses on the vexing issues arising in quantum mechanics, such as the measurement problem and quantum non-locality, and includes a discussion of determinism and indeterminism in modern physics. The fourth---shorter---part addresses the more advanced topics of fine-tuning and anthropic reasoning in cosmology as well as of the disappearance of space and time in quantum gravity.

Accessibility and Prerequisites. I intend the course to be self-contained. While some background in physics, mathematics, and philosophy will be helpful, I will not assume any specific knowledge beyond high school mathematics. In the part on quantum mechanics, we will go through some of the technicalities necessary to understand foundational questions. In particular, I will assume you can follow the formalism developed in chapter 2 of David Albert's textbook, which covers some very basic linear algebra, most of which is really not that hard.

This course will be taught in English.

Required Texts

  • Nick Huggett. Everywhere and Everywhen: Adventures in Physics and Philosophy. Oxford University Press (2010).
  • David Z Albert. Quantum Mechanics and Experience. Harvard University Press (1992).
  • Most reading materials are available through icorsi.

Course Requirements and Evaluation

The grade for this course will be determined by the total points a student earns from the three types of evaluation: homework assignments, short class presentation, and final paper. For more details, see the syllabus available in the right column.

Homework assignments will be distributed in class and listed here.

Please note that the final exam has been replaced by a final paper. The deadlines for the paper will be as follows:

  • Summer session deadline: 25 June 2018
  • Fall session deadline: 17 September 2018

Please find the paper prompt for the essay here:

Course Materials

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

Schedule (Spring 2018)

For the schedule of the course (including the readings), please refer to the syllabus. Here is a schedule of the short class presentations:

Date Topic Presenter(s)
22.03. Poincaré dodecahedron universe
22.03. How to determine the dimension of a space
22.03. Whitrow's or Hawking's explanation of tridimensionality Gaetano Masciullo
23.03. Poincaré's three-dimensional ball
23.03. Kant's handedness argument David Anzalone
26.03. Presentism
26.03. McTaggart's argument
27.03. Bilking argument
27.03. Lewis's argument
27.03. Consistency constraints
09.04. Relativity of simultaneity Paul Stucki
09.04. Twin paradox Paul Stucki
10.04. Hole argument Daniele Garancini
23.04. Principles of quantum mechanics
24.04. Two-path experiments
24.04. Bohmian mechanics
24.04. Everettian or many-worlds interpretations
07.05. Greenberger-Horne-Zeilinger scheme
08.05. Space invaders
08.05. Norton's dome
08.05. (In)determinism in quantum mechanics
08.05. Free Will Theorem
28.05. Anthropic principles
28.05. Inverse gambler's fallacy charge Andrea Hefti
29.05. Empirical incoherence
29.05. Lewis and theoretical terms