Thinking about Spacetime

In Christian W├╝thrich, Baptiste Le Bihan & Nick Huggett (eds.), Philosophy Beyond Spacetime. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2021)
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Abstract
Several different quantum gravity research programmes suggest, for various reasons, that spacetime is not part of the fundamental ontology of physics. This gives rise to the problem of empirical coherence: if fundamental physical entities do not occupy spacetime or instantiate spatiotemporal properties, how can fundamental theories concerning those entities be justified by observation of spatiotemporally located things like meters, pointers and dials? I frame the problem of empirical coherence in terms of entailment: how could a non-spatiotemporal fundamental theory entail spatiotemporal evidence propositions? Solutions to this puzzle can be classified as realist or antirealist, depending on whether or not they posit a non-fundamental spacetime structure grounded in or caused by the fundamental structure. These approaches place different constraints on our everyday concepts of space and time. Applying lessons from the philosophy of mind, I argue that only realism is both conceptually plausible and suitable for addressing the problem at hand. I suggest a role functionalist version of realism, which is consistent with both grounding and causation, and according to which our everyday concepts reveal something of the true nature of emergent spacetime.
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Archival date: 2019-08-09
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