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Realism, underdetermination and string theory dualities
Synthese 190 (3):471489 (2013)
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I will defend two claims. First, Schaffer's priority monism is in tension with many research programs in quantum gravity. Second, priority monism can be modified into a view more amenable to this physics. The first claim is grounded in the fact that promising approaches to quantum gravity such as loop quantum gravity or string theory deny the fundamental reality of spacetime. Since fundamental spacetime plays an important role in Schaffer's priority monism by being identified with the fundamental structure, namely the (...) 

This paper investigates the significance of Tduality in string theory: the indistinguisha bility with respect to all observables, of models attributing radically different radii to space – larger than the observable universe, or far smaller than the Planck length, say. Two interpretational branch points are identified and discussed. First, whether duals are physically equivalent or not: by considering a duality of the familiar simple harmonic oscillator, I argue that they are. Unlike the oscillator, there are no measurements ‘outside’ string theory (...) 

In this paper, I will argue that metaphysicians ought to utilize quantum theories of gravity as incubators for a future metaphysics. In §1, I will argue why this ought to be done. In §2, I will present case studies from the history of science where physical theories have challenged both the dogmatic and speculative metaphysician. In §3, I will present two theories of QG and demonstrate the challenge they pose to certain aspects of our current metaphysics; in particular, how they (...) 

A ‘duality’ is a formal mapping between the spaces of solutions of two empirically equivalent theories. In recent times, dualities have been found to be pervasive in string theory and quantum field theory. Naïvely interpreted, dualityrelated theories appear to make very different ontological claims about the world—differing in e.g. spacetime structure, fundamental ontology, and mereological structure. In light of this, dualityrelated theories raise questions familiar from discussions of underdetermination in the philosophy of science: in the presence of dual theories, what (...) 

This is a nontechnical overview of how various approaches to quantum gravity suggest modifications to the way we conceptualize space and time. A theory of quantum gravity is needed to reconcile quantum physics with general relativity, our best theory for gravity. The most popular approaches to quantum gravity are string theory and loop quantum gravity. So far, no approach has been empirically successful, and there is no commonly accepted theory. Thus, the conclusions presented here are tentative. Many approaches suggest that (...) 

In this paper I develop a framework for relating dualities and emergence: two notions that are close to each other but also exclude one another. I adopt the conception of duality as 'isomorphism', from the physics literature, cashing it out in terms of three conditions. These three conditions prompt two conceptually different ways in which a duality can be modified to make room for emergence; and I argue that this exhausts the possibilities for combining dualities and emergence. I apply this (...) 

'Holographic' relations between theories have become a main theme in quantum gravity research. These relations entail that a theory without gravity is equivalent to a gravitational theory with an extra spatial dimension. The idea of holography was first proposed in 1993 by Gerard 't Hooft on the basis of his studies of evaporating black holes. Soon afterwards the holographic 'AdS/CFT' duality was introduced, which since has been heavily studied in the string theory community and beyond. Recently, Erik Verlinde has proposed (...) 

We give an introductory review of gauge/gravity duality, and associated ideas of holography, emphasising the conceptual aspects. The opening sections gather the ingredients, viz. antide Sitter spacetime, conformal field theory and string theory, that we need for presenting, in Sect. 5, the central and original example: Maldacena’s AdS/CFT correspondence. Sections 6 and 7 develop the ideas of this example, also in applications to condensed matter systems, QCD, and hydrodynamics. Sections 8 and 9 discuss the possible extensions of holographic ideas to (...) 

We discuss some aspects of the relation between dualities and gauge symmetries. Both of these ideas are of course multifaceted, and we confine ourselves to making two points. Both points are about dualities in string theory, and both have the ‘flavour’ that two dual theories are ‘closer in content’ than you might think. For both points, we adopt a simple conception of a duality as an ‘isomorphism’ between theories: more precisely, as appropriate bijections between the two theories’ sets of states (...) 

I conceptualise the role of dualities in quantum gravity, in terms of their functions for theory construction. I distinguish between two functions of duality in physical practice: namely, discovering and describing ‘equivalent physics’, versus suggesting ‘new physics’. I dub these the ‘theoretical’ versus the ‘heuristic’ functions of dualities. The distinction seems to have gone largely unnoticed in the philosophical literature: and it exists both for dualities, and for the more general relation of theoretical equivalence. The paper develops the heuristic function (...) 

La physique contemporaine pourrait bien nous livrer un enseignement incroyable, à savoir que l'espace et le temps n'existent pas fondamentalement. Je présenterai succinctement les ontologies suggérées par les deux principaux programmes de recherche en gravité quantique : la théorie des cordes et la gravité quantique à boucles. Je soutiendrai ensuite qu'il est fructueux de prendre les différentes conceptions ontologiques de la conscience en philosophie de l'esprit en modèles pour la construction de solutions au problème de l'émergence de l'espacetemps. 

In this paper, some conceptual issues are addressed in order to make sense of what string theory is supposed to tell us about spacetime. The dualities in string theory are used as a starting point for our argumentation. We explore the consequences of a standard view towards these dualities, namely that the dual descriptions represent the same physical situation. Given this view, one has to understand string theory in a manner such that what counts as physical spacetime is based only (...) 

The main aim of this paper is to make a remark about the relation between dualities between theories, as `duality' is understood in physics and equivalence of theories, as `equivalence' is understood in logic and philosophy. The remark is that in physics, two theories can be dual, and accordingly get called `the same theory', though we interpret them as disagreeingso that they are certainly not equivalent, as `equivalent' is normally understood. So the remark is simple: but, I shall argue, worth (...) 



In this paper we present a schema for describing dualities between physical theories, and illustrate it in detail with the example of bosonization: a bosonfermion duality in twodimensional quantum field theory. The schema develops proposals in De Haro : these proposals include construals of notions related to duality, like representation, model, symmetry and interpretation. The aim of the schema is to give a more precise criterion for duality than has so far been considered. The bosonization example, or bosonfermion duality, has (...) 

We advocate an account of dualities between physical theories: the basic idea is that dual theories are isomorphic representations of a common core. We defend and illustrate this account, which we call a Schema, in relation to symmetries. Overall, the account meshes well with standard treatments of symmetries. But the distinction between the common core and the dual theories prompts a distinction between three kinds of symmetry: which we call `stipulated', `accidental' and `proper'. 

This paper aims to address conceptual issues concerning black holes in the context of string theory, with the aim of illuminating the ontological unification of gravity and matter, and the interpretation of cosmological models. §1 describes the central concepts of the theory: the fungibility of matter and geometry, and the reduction of gravity and supergravity. The ‘standard’ interpretation presented draws on that implicit in the thinking of many (but not all) string theorists, though made more explicit and systematic than usual. (...) 

Relationships between current theories, and relationships between current theories and the sought theory of quantum gravity (QG), play an essential role in motivating the need for QG, aiding the search for QG, and defining what would count as QG. Correspondence is the broad class of intertheory relationships intended to demonstrate the necessary compatibility of two theories whose domains of validity overlap, in the overlap regions. The variety of roles that correspondence plays in the search for QG are illustrated, using examples (...) 

The paper discusses major implications of high energy physics for the scientific realism debate. The first part analyses the ways in which aspects of the empirically wellconfirmed standard model of particle physics are relevant for a reassessment of entity realism, ontological realism and structural realism. The second part looks at the implications of more farreaching concepts like string theory. While those theories have not found empirical confirmation, if they turned out viable, their implications for the realism debate would be more (...) 

On one popular view, the general covariance of gravity implies that change is relational in a strong sense, such that all it is for a physical degree of freedom to change is for it to vary with regard to a second physical degree of freedom. At a quantum level, this view of change as relative variation leads to a fundamentally timeless formalism for quantum gravity. Here, we will show how one may avoid this acute ‘problem of time’. Under our view, (...) 

In this essay I begin to lay out a conceptual scheme for: analysing dualities as cases of theoretical equivalence; assessing when cases of theoretical equivalence are also cases of physical equivalence. The scheme is applied to gauge/gravity dualities. I expound what I argue to be their contribution to questions about: the nature of spacetime in quantum gravity; broader philosophical and physical discussions of spacetime.  proceed by analysing duality through four contrasts. A duality will be a suitable isomorphism between models: (...) 

We provide an analysis of the empirical consequences of the AdS/CFT duality with reference to the application of the duality in a fundamental theory, effective theory and instrumental context. Analysis of the first two contexts is intended to serve as a guide to the potential empirical and ontological status of gauge/gravity dualities as descriptions of actual physics at the Planck scale. The third context is directly connected to the use of AdS/CFT to describe real quarkgluon plasmas. In the latter context, (...) 

I review the philosophical literature on the question of when two physical theories are equivalent. This includes a discussion of empirical equivalence, which is often taken to be necessary, and sometimes taken to be sufficient, for theoretical equivalence; and "interpretational" equivalence, which is the idea that two theories are equivalent just in case they have the same interpretation. It also includes a discussion of several formal notions of equivalence that have been considered in the recent philosophical literature, including definitional equivalence (...) 



Weak/strong duality is usually accompanied by what seems a puzzling ontological feature: the fact that under this kind of duality what is viewed as 'elementary' in one description gets mapped to what is viewed as 'composite' in the dual description. This paper investigates the meaning of this apparent 'particle democracy', as it has been called, by adopting an historical approach. The aim is to clarify the nature of the correspondence between 'dual particles' in the light of an historical analysis of (...) 

