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Physics Interest Group

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Meeting time: Fridays 1:30–3:00 pm
Meeting place: Spring 2018: 121 Pillsbury Hall

The physics interest group (PIG) reads and discusses works of mutual interest in the history and philosophy of physics. We select readings for a variety of reasons: to keep up on the most exciting developments in the field, to help participants scrutinize literature relevant to their research projects (faculty or graduate student research), to provide feedback on works in progress being written by participants (graduate students, faculty, and Center visitors), to revisit classic articles in the literature, and sometimes just to have fun discussing a topic related to physics. For more information please contact Jos Uffink, or Michel Janssen. If you wold like to be added to the PIG email list please send a request to

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Spring 2018

Meetings this semester will be in 121 Pillsbury Hall while Shepherds Labs is being renovated.

This semester, PIG's main focus will be Louisa Gilder's The Age of Entanglement (2009) (available as an eBook through the U of M library). The author will visit Minneapolis in April. She will do a public event Thursday night, April 12 (see below for details) and attend PIG the following day for further discussion of her book.

Gilder's book consists of two rather different parts. The first part (one section) is the story of the genesis and early history of quantum mechanics from 1909 (Einstein's introduction of a form of wave-particle duality) to 1935 (EPR and entanglement). The second part (three sections) is about Bohm, the Bell inequalities, and their experimental tests. Our focus will be on the second part. That means that we skip the section "The arguments, 1909–1935" that takes up Chs. 2–16, pp. 25–150.

There are five PIG meetings before Louisa Gilder's visit. We will use four of those to discuss the front matter and the three sections that make up the second part of her book. The fifth meeting (March 2), we'll have another visitor (Alisa Bokulich).

The semester will be bookended by discussions of QBism (Harvey Brown) and Bubism (Jeffrey Bub) based on colloquia of the School of Physics and Astronomy the day before these PIG sessions.

*As usual, we are looking for volunteers (especially among the graduate students) to present the material we'll be discussing. If you want to volunteer to do a presentation during a given week, send an email to Janet ( and Michel (*

*Special event*
Thursday, January 18
: Harvey Brown,"Quantum Bayesianism (QBism): the way to understand the quantum world" Colloquium of the School of Physics and Astronomy

January 19: Brown, Harvey R. (2017) “The reality of the wavefunction: old arguments and new”. To appear in Ontology Studies -- Outstanding Papers from the San Sebastian International Congresses of Ontology. (pdf)
Harvey Brown (Philosophy of Physics, University of Oxford) will be visiting.

February 2: Gilder, L. (2009) The Age of Entanglement Front matter: Note to the reader (xiii–xviii), Introduction, pp. 3–7, Ch. 1, pp. 8–21. (Here and below I am NOT listing the pages in the back matter with notes.)

February 16: ***CHANGE OF TIME*** 10:15–11:45 am, same place (121 Pillsbury)
Gilder, L. (2009) The Age of Entanglement "The Search and the Indictment, 1940–1952." Chs. 17–27 plus epilogue, pp. 181–230.

March 2: Bokulich, A. Work-in-progress "Losing Sight of the Forest for the Ψ: A Call for a Successor to the Realism Question".
Alisa Bokulich
 (Boston University) will be visiting.

Abstract: Traditionally the realist project in quantum theory has taken one of two forms: First, defending one of many different possible interpretations of quantum theory as the one true depiction of reality. Second, defending what has been termed wavefunction realism, according to which ordinary space is an illusion and we in fact live in a 3N-dimensional configuration space, where N is the number of particles in the universe. Neither of these projects has managed to produce a broad consensus, in striking contrast to the near universal agreement that quantum theory is one of the most successful theories ever devised. In recent years there has been a shift in the physics community away from a focus on the search for a ‘theory of everything’ towards an emphasis on the importance of effective theories. In this talk I explore how this effective-theory mindset might help us transform our philosophical debates about realism. As a way of regaining sight of the proverbial ‘forest,’ from what I argue has been an excessive focus on the Ψ, I will examine hydrodynamic representations in physics across many scales. In particular, I will focus on the different representations of the quantum state that one finds in both Eulerian and Lagrangian quantum hydrodynamics. I conclude that the largely stagnant project of depiction realism in quantum theory should be replaced with the pluralist project that I label inferential realism.

March 9: No meeting

March 16: No meeting Spring Break

March 23: Gilder, L. (2009) The Age of Entanglement "The Discovery, 1952–1979". Chs. 27–31, pp. 233–289.

April 6: Gilder, L. (2009) The Age of Entanglement" Entanglement comes of age, 1981–2005." Chs. 32–37 plus epilogue, pp. 293–336.

Special event
Thursday, April 12
: "The Age of Entanglement: Ten Years Later" Louisa Gilder interviewed by Brian Woodcock. Please sign up at

April 13: Louisa Gilder will be visiting (no new readings)

*Special event*
Thursday, May 3
: Jeffrey Bub, Colloquium of the School of Physics and Astronomy

May 4: Topic: Bubism. Readings TBA. Jeffrey Bub (Philosophy, University of Maryland) will be visiting.

Fall 2017

September 8: An extract from Olival Freire’s book, The Quantum Dissidents: Rebuilding the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (1950-1990), Preface vii–xii, Chapter 1 1–16, Chapter 9 339–34. It and related material might be an interesting topic for this semester—we can talk about it on Friday. Other related readings might include Louisa Gilder's The Age of Entanglement, David Kaiser’s How the Hippies Saved Physics, and a good bit more. Kaiser will be one of our speakers this fall. In addition, time permitting, Michel will give a preview of a talk he his giving at Mankato later this fall on Bub’s Bananaworld.

September 22: Freire, Chapter 2, Challenging the Monocracy of the Copenhagen School (pp. 17–74). Presenter: Jos Uffink
Freire, Chapter 3, The Origin of the Everettian Heresy (pp. 75–139).

October 6: Visit by David Kaiser who will talk about his book How the Hippies Saved Physics, Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival (New York: Norton, 2011).

October 20: Freire, Chapter 4, The Monocracy is Broken: Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy, and Wigner’s Case (pp. 141–174). Presenter: Femke Kuiling
Freire, Chapter 5, The Tausk Controversy on the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics: Physics, Philosophy, and Politics (pp. 175–195). Presenter: Michel Janssen

Relevant primary sources:

November 10: Freire, Chapter 6, “From the Streets into Academia”: Political Activism and the Reconfiguration of Physics Around 1970 (pp. 197–233).
Freire, Chapter 7, Philosophy Enters the Optics Laboratory: Bell’s Theorem and Its First Experimental Tests (1965–1982) (pp. 235–286).

For those who have the time and interest, here are a few supplementary readings on Bell and related topics, to supplement Chapter 7 in Freire. We talked about Jos’s paper in PIG last year.

Many of Bell’s papers are collected in Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics. In addition, two books by Andrew Whitaker, John Stewart Bell and Twentieth-Century Physics, and The New Quantum Age are detailed and comprehensive. Jeremy Bernstein’s book Quantum Profiles gives a nice portrayal of Bell. Many quantum mechanics textbooks treat Bell’s theorem and his analysis of EPR; a recent text by David H. McIntyre strikes me as more thorough than most.

Robert DiSalle (Western University) will be visiting.

November 17: Michael Cuffaro (Rotman Institute of Philosophy, University of Western Ontario; Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München) will be presenting a paper on quantum-information theory, his research specialty, called "Information Causality, the Tsirelson Bound, and the 'Being-Thus' of Things." He promised me "a slow walk-through with plenty of stops along the way for questions." You can download Mike's paper at Slides of his presentation can be found here.

December 8: Freire, Chapter 8, The 1980s and Early 1990s, Research on Foundations Takes Off (pp. 287–338).
Reread Freire, Chapter 9, Coda: Quantum Dissidents - A Collective Biographical Profile (pp. 339–349).

Previous PIG discussion topics

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