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Phase transitions in science: selected philosophical topics
Phase transitions in science: selected philosophical topics
This dissertation examines various philosophical issues associated with the physics of phase transitions. In particular, i) I analyze the extent to which classical phase transitions impose a challenge for reductionism, ii) I evaluate the widespread idea that an infinite idealization is essential to give an account of these phenomena, and iii) I discuss the possibility of using the physics of phase transitions to offer a reductive explanation of cooperative behavior in economics. Against prominent claims to the contrary, I defend the view that phase transitions do not undermine reductionism and that they are in fact compatible with the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics. I argue that this conclusion follows even in the case of continuous phase transitions, where there are two infinite limits involved. My second claim is that the infinite idealizations involved in the physical treatment of phase transitions although useful are not indispensable to give an account of the phenomena. This follows from the fact that the thermodynamic limit provides us with a controllable approximation of the behavior of finite systems. My third claim is that the physics of phase transitions, in particular renormalization group methods, can constitute a promising way of giving a reductive explanation of stock market crashes. This will serve not only to motivate the use of statistical mechanical methods in the study of economic behavior, but also to contradict the claim that renormalization group explanations are always non-reductive explanations.
Phase transitions, idealizations, reduction
Palacios, Patricia
2018
English
Universitätsbibliothek der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Palacios, Patricia (2018): Phase transitions in science: selected philosophical topics. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Philosophy, Philosophy of Science and the Study of Religion
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Abstract

This dissertation examines various philosophical issues associated with the physics of phase transitions. In particular, i) I analyze the extent to which classical phase transitions impose a challenge for reductionism, ii) I evaluate the widespread idea that an infinite idealization is essential to give an account of these phenomena, and iii) I discuss the possibility of using the physics of phase transitions to offer a reductive explanation of cooperative behavior in economics. Against prominent claims to the contrary, I defend the view that phase transitions do not undermine reductionism and that they are in fact compatible with the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics. I argue that this conclusion follows even in the case of continuous phase transitions, where there are two infinite limits involved. My second claim is that the infinite idealizations involved in the physical treatment of phase transitions although useful are not indispensable to give an account of the phenomena. This follows from the fact that the thermodynamic limit provides us with a controllable approximation of the behavior of finite systems. My third claim is that the physics of phase transitions, in particular renormalization group methods, can constitute a promising way of giving a reductive explanation of stock market crashes. This will serve not only to motivate the use of statistical mechanical methods in the study of economic behavior, but also to contradict the claim that renormalization group explanations are always non-reductive explanations.