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Testing and trusting in physics

München, 12/01/2015

Leading philosophers and physicists, including Nobel Laureate David Gross, will be at LMU in early December for a workshop on one of the major challenges modern physicists face: working with theories for which empirical proofs are lacking.

This image includes galaxies formed when the Universe was very young, in agreement with the quantum mechanical model for the origin of galaxies. How might the model be disproved? Foto: NASA/ESA/R. Windhorst (Arizona State University) / H. Yan (Spitzer Science Center, Caltech)

On December 7-9, 2015, world-renowned philosophers and physicists will be at LMU to attend a workshop entitled “Why trust a theory? Reconsidering Methodology in Light of Modern Physics”. The event is being organized jointly by the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP) and the Arnold Sommerfeld Center for Theoretical Physics.

“For many of the fundamental theories proposed by modern-day theoretical physicists, empirical confirmation is nowhere in sight,” says Dr. Richard Dawid of the MCMP. Participants in the workshop will therefore discuss the question of the status to be accorded to such theories, review the prospects that these will become amenable to empirical tests in the foreseeable future, and consider which other forms of proof might be acceptable in the absence of empirical confirmation. “In the field of fundamental physics these issues are currently the subject of intensive debate,” says Dawid.

Among the speakers invited to the workshop is the American physicist and Nobel laureate David Gross, who will open the discussions with a lecture entitled “What is a theory?” Among the LMU faculty who will give talks at the workshop are physicist and Humboldt Professor Georgi Dvali and cosmologist Professor Viatcheslav Mukhanov. Mukhanov’s lecture will tackle the question whether or not the theory of the quantum mechanical model of the origin of galaxies is falsifiable. On December 7, Humboldt Professor Stephan Hartmann, the Director of the MCMP, will chair a panel discussion on the question “Why trust a theory?”

“An understanding has taken hold in parts of the community that a theory can be trusted under certain conditions even in the absence of empirical confirmation. These considerations are viewed very critically by others,” says Dawid. The workshop is intended to bring representatives of both standpoints in this debate together, and the organizers hope that it will “initiate a productive exchange between the fields of Philosophy and Physics.”

For further information on the Workshop, see:

Why trust a theory? Reconsidering Methodology in Light of Modern Physics