Quantum Mechanics, Fields, Black Holes, and Ontological Plurality

Philosophies 9 (4):97-121 (2024)
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The ontology behind quantum mechanics has been the subject of endless debate since the theory was formulated some 100 years ago. It has been suggested, at one time or another, that the objects described by the theory may be individual particles, waves, fields, ensembles of particles, observers, and minds, among many other possibilities. I maintain that these disagreements are due in part to a lack of precision in the use of the theory’s various semantic designators. In particular, there is some confusion about the role of representation, reference, and denotation in the theory. In this article, I first analyze the role of the semantic apparatus in physical theories in general and then discuss the corresponding ontological implications for quantum mechanics. Subsequently, I consider the extension of the theory to quantum fields and then analyze the semantic changes of the designators with their ontological consequences. In addition to the classical arguments to rule out a particle ontology in the case of non-relativistic quantum field theory, I show how the existence of black holes makes the proposal of a particle ontology in general spacetimes unfeasible. I conclude by proposing a provisional pluralistic ontology of fields and spacetime and discussing some prospects for possible future ontological economies.

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Gustavo E. Romero
Universidad Nacional de La Plata


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