PHIL 146: Philosophy of Physics






2:00p - 3:20p



Instructor: Craig Callender

Office: HSS 8077


Office hrs: Tues 1-2

Phone 822-4911






Description.  This course will be an elementary introduction to some foundational problems in classical and quantum  mechanics.  We will focus on the so-called 'measurement problem' (aka Schrödinger's cat paradox), which has plagued quantum mechanics since the theory took its modern form in 1925. The problem is more or less that of specifying the right metaphysics (broadly conceived) of the quantum world.  The last twenty years have witnessed the rise and development of several competing ways of solving this problem.  We'll spend some time studying and assessing these different solutions, e.g., Bohmian mechanics, spontaneous localization, modern Everettian views.  Each of these solutions describes a strikingly different quantum world.  Though distinct measured along almost any dimension, these different quantum worlds do have one feature in common: they are all startlingly weird, if not preposterous.  We'll spend time studying the curiosities associated with each theory.

Along the way, we will meet what physicists recently voted the most beautiful experiment of all time and also what is perhaps the most surprising feature of quantum mechanics: the experimental vindication of its prediction of action-at-a-distance or non-locality.  We will also begin with some discussions of determinism and indeterminism.  Assuming there is time, we may also discuss less orthodox questions such as 'how many spatial dimensions does quantum mechanics say we live in?', 'what is quantum teleportation?'.  Many topics in general philosophy of science will also arise (e.g., realism, under-determination.).

Accessibility. I intend the course to be self-contained.  In the beginning weeks we will go through much of the technicalities necessary to understand foundational questions in quantum mechanics.  In particular, I will assume you can follow the formalism developed in chapter 2 of David Albert's Quantum Mechanics and Experience, plus whatever little extra I do in lecture.  What that means is that you'll need to understand the very basic linear algebra introduced by Albert (most of which is self-evident and which you learned tacitly as a fetus).  That said, some of the articles we will read use calculus, algebra, and probability theory.  So if papers with the occasional derivative, integral and velocity in it cause you panic, then perhaps this course is not for you.


Reading.  The main text for the course is David Albert's Quantum Mechanics and Experience, which you can buy from Amazon or the bookstore for a reasonable price in paperback.  Otherwise all reading will be articles/chapters available via the electronic library reserves.  If you haven't done any physics or natural science at all, or since high school, or just did it but have a poor memory, I suggest buying Giancarlo Ghirardi's Sneaking a Look at God's Cards, 2004, which was just translated from the Italian and is excellent.  If you already know about vectors and such and want a really elegant presentation of the quantum formalism, I highly recommend the first 4 chapters of R.I.G. Hughes The Structure and Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.


Grading.  The grade will be calculated through midterm and final examinations, as well as frequent homeworks (and possibily quizzes).  The midterm, final and homeworks will each determine one third of the grade.  The homeworks/quizzes will be set so as to maximize damage to one’s grade if one’s attendance is anything but regular.




1. Classical Mechanics and Determinism


            Earman, John. 1985. “Defining Determinism”, chapter 2 of A Primer on Determinism, D. Reidel, pp. 4-22.

Pérez Laraudogoitia, J., 1996, ‘A Beautiful Supertask’, Mind, 105, pp. 81-83

Hoefer, C. “Causal DeterminismStanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy


2. Some Startling Experiments and the Formalism Needed to Describe Them


Albert, chapters 1 and 2

3. The Measurement Problem: Schrödinger's Cat, Wigner's Friend, Decoherence


Albert, chapter 4

Barrett, J. The Quantum Mechanics of Minds and Worlds, section 8.3, pp. 227-232.


4. Collapse Theories


            Albert, chapter 5


5. The Dynamics By Itself


            Albert, chapter 6


6. Bohm’s Theory


11/9     Albert, chapter 7


11/11   Veteran’s Day


7. Non-Locality and Bell’s Theorem


11/16  Lange, M. “Locality and Scientific Explanation” An Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics, ch. 4, pp. 94-110

            Fine, A. “Einstein’s Critique of Quantum Theory”, ch. 3 of The Shaky Game, pp. 26-39


11/18   Class cancelled, due to Philosophy of Science Association Mtg


11/23   Maudlin, T. Quantum Non-locality and Relativity, ch. 1

Bell, J.S. "Bertlmann's Socks and the nature of Reality" in Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics, Cambridge, pp. 139-158.


8. Quantum Computing


12/2     Ghirardi, G. “Quantum Computers” ch. 13 of Sneaking a Look at God's Cards, 2004, 313-330.



Sample Final Exam