Philosophy of Physics: 146

Locality and Determinism in Classical and Quantum Physics

Phil 146 introduces the student to the philosophical foundations of physics. Each year it focuses upon a different field of physics. This year we will examine the "connectedness" of physical events, both across time and across space. Given a complete specification of a physical system at one time or one location, what follows about the physical state of another related system at another time or location, respectively? If the world is deterministic, a full description of the state of the world at one time uniquely determines the physical state of the world at all other past and future times. If the world is local, there is no spooky action-at-a-distance. We will consider these two issues from the perspective of classical physics and then quantum physics. Classical mechanics is commonly thought to be deterministic and local, yet we will see that these claims require substantive philosophical judgments. We will meet some allegedly indeterministic classical mechanical systems, and when investigating classical electrodynamics, see that the locality question hangs on further philosophical questions regarding the reality of fields and energy. In quantum physics, answering the question necessitates learning about the infamous Schršdinger's cat paradox and Bell's theorem. To investigate our questions we will delve into the notorious question of the interpretation of quantum mechanics. We will end the course by bringing our classical and quantum topics together, in a sense, by examining the fascinating Aharonov-Bohm effect.


Instructor: Professor Craig Callender, 8077 HSS.  Office hrs: Tues 11:15-12:15 and by appointment.

Reader: Ioan Muntean

Lecture Coordinates: Sequo 147, TTH 12:30-1:50

Reading and Course Material

The lecture is primarily intended to set the scene and provide the stimulus for your own studies. You should do at least the required reading for every topic as preparation for the class in which you will discuss the material in depth. I hope that you will be interested enough to follow up some of the recommended reading on at least some of the topics -- this will more than repay the effort. From time to time I will mention possible supplementary readings and other relevant material. I have ordered two books for the course:

Marc Lange, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics: Locality, Fields, Energy, and Mass, Blackwell.

David Albert, Quantum Mechanics and Experience, Harvard.



One question students often have is how much technical background is needed for this course. Here two things need to be said. First, the course is entirely self-contained: all the math/physics necessary for doing well in the course will be taught in class. Many humanities majors, for instance, have excelled in this course. Second, that said, although we won't actually be doing many math problems, the student shouldn't be afraid of derivatives, integrals, cross products, etc. We will need some elementary linear algebra for quantum mechanics. If these concepts are new to you, the course will be that much more challenging. And if you are math-o-phobic, the course will be doubly challenging.


Your final grade will be determined as follows:


Midterm examination.


Final examination.


Homework Essays/Problems



This is a tentative syllabus that will probably change as the course goes on.


Topic and readings


Introduction: Classical Mechanics and Determinism


Hoefer, Carl "Causal Determinism" (but not sections 4.3 or 4.4)




What is Determinism? Is Classical Mechanics Deterministic?


Laraudagoitia "A Beautiful Supertask"




What is Spatiotemporal Locality?


Lange, chapter 1



Is Classical EM Local? Fields to the rescue?


Lange, chapter 2



Why Should We Care? Locality and Scientific Explanation


Lange, chapter 4


What is Energy?


Lange, chapter 5


What is Energy?


Lange, chapter 5


Are There Only Fields?


Lange, chapter 6








Quantum Mysteries: Superposition and Its Mathematics



Albert, chapters 1 and 2



Quantum Mysteries, continued


Albert, chapters 1 and 2.



The Measurement Problem


Albert, chapter 4.



Collapse Theories



Albert, chapter 5.


Collapse Theories


Albert, chapter 5.


Many Worlds Theories


Albert, chapter 6: 112-125.



Bohmian Mechanics


Albert, chapter 7.


Bohmian Mechanics


Albert, chapter 7.


Is Quantum Mechanics Non-local? Bell's Theorem


Lange, chapter 9



Thanksgiving holiday: No class




Quantum Non-locality


Lange, chapter 9, continued; Albert, chapter 3



More Non-locality: the AB Effect






The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is an excellent, peer-reviewed, free resource. Tim Maudlin's book, Quantum Non-locality and Relativity, is an excellent supplement too.