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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

Spring 2018

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

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:

February 16:

March 2: Alisa Bokulich (Boston University) will be visiting

March 9: No meeting

March 16: No meeting Spring Break

March 23:

April 6:

April 13:

May 4:

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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