Determinism, Reductionism and Final Causes in Physics – PHI 514


COURSE DESCRIPTION

The conceptual foundation of physics went through several paradigm shifts since the time when Galileo and Newton introduced the empirical scientific method of modern science. For the first period, lasting three centuries, the largely accepted worldview was a strictly deterministic and perfectly predictable universe, with all its events evolving in an absolute space and time. With the advent of Einstein’s theory of relativity, our intuitive notions of space and time were shown to be no longer appropriate to describe physical reality. Planck’s pioneering work on black body radiation initiated the theory of quantum mechanics, leading to a crisis of determinism, casting doubts on the reductionist understanding of the universe. These conceptual developments will be addressed in this course with an eye, also, on how the philosophical speculations of science on the final causes in nature developed with these scientific revolutions.

COURSE SESSIONS AND TOPICS

lecture 1 | The Still Intuitive World of Classical Mechanics
lecture 2 | The Rise of Statistical Reasoning and its Limits
lecture 3 | Electromagnetism and the Path Towards Einstein’s Relativity
lecture 4 | The Birth of Quantum Mechanics
lecture 5 | Quantum Tunneling, Superposition and Particles: What is Matter?
lecture 6 | Quantum Entanglement and the EPR Paradox: What is Reality?
lecture 7 | The Double Slit Reconsidered and the Strange World of  Quantum Mechanics
lecture 8 | On “Randomness” and Unwarranted Inferences About Purpose and Meaning
lecture 9 | Quantum Gravity Theories and New Emerging Paradigms
lecture 10 | Modern Cosmology and the Philosophical Aspects of Fine Tuning

 

LEARNING OUTCOMES

As a course designed for beginning graduate work, it will focus on the main discoveries of physics and the notions emerging from it which characterize our present understanding of reality. Students will examine some selected topics ranging from Newtonian mechanics, relativity and quantum mechanics to modern theories of cosmology and a unified description of the material world. They are expected to understand how the progress of physical sciences influenced  not only our understanding but also our conception of what physical reality is, with an emphasis on aspects relating to determinism,  reductionism and the longstanding speculations on final causes.

Outcome 1: To be able to describe, discuss and analyze the main scientific revolutions in physics and astronomy and how they transformed our overall worldview till present days.

Outcome 2: To be able to understand the subtle, but conceptually decisive, implicit assumptions in scientific thinking.

Outcome 3: To be able to distinguish between a sound reasoning on the philosophical implications of modern scientific discoveries from unwarranted claims based on the misunderstanding of its conceptual foundations.

 

PROFESSOR

Marco Masi, Ph.d.
Ph.D. Physics, University of Trento, Department of Physics, Italy.

Research Scientist, Institut des Nanotechnologies de Lyon
Former Educational Consultant, Municipality of Padua
Postdoctoral Research: Astrophysics – Galactic dynamics and astrobiology
Postdoctoral Research: Statistical mechanics – the beauty of mathematical physics

 

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PURCHASE AUDIO / VIDEO

The lecture series from this course is also available for independent study.
>> Click Here to order these course materials.

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