|The study of philosophical problems in physics, biology and economy is one of the central themes at the Institute for Philosophy. We offer courses and interdisciplinary seminars on methodological issues of physics and biology as well as on topics from the philosophy of mind and on philosophical aspects of neurosciences.
We are especially interested in details of the relation between fundamental and special sciences. Various concepts of reduction and emergence have been studied in this context. We analyze the prospects and limits of atomistic research strategies and the epistemic and ontological reasons for acknowledging new levels of nature. A central topic is methodological problems arising in theories of complex systems.
Ongoing Research Projects
The Nature of Time
It is a classical philosophical puzzle how the modal time, the series of past, present and future, the passing ‘now’, is related to objective physical processes or possibly to processes in the brain. We survey new results in the foundations of thermodynamics, in neurosciences and in the metaphysics of time in order to find out how our experience of modal time can be integrated into a naturalistic world view.
Interpretation of Quantum Field Theory
Quantum Field Theory is the most basic ‚language‘ in fundamental physics. Despite its practical success the debate on the nature of the basic entities of this theory (particles? fields?) is still going on. Our aim is the establishment and evaluation of different ontological interpretations of quantum field theory. Some of our more extensive studies deal with different substance ontologies as well as with process and trope-ontological models.
The discussions in quantum physics are a special case of the more general question how scientific disciplines construct or determine their basic objects. Our aim is to analyze the logic behind the determination of such basis ontologies. To put it another way, we do not pursue what the basis ontologies of particular sciences are; rather we analyze which criteria (‚being uncomposed‘, ‚being unstructured‘, ‚being the smallest functional unit‘) lead to basis ontologies. We investigate examples of particular sciences, which can be characterized by the key words fundamental, organical and formal (or structural), thus representing a broad spectrum of types of sciences. We aim to formulate a comprehensive meta-criterion which explains the special criteria of special sciences and their function. The results will provide us with a deeper understanding of the hierarchical structure of the sciences and the stratification of nature.
Methods in Physics and Economy
Econophysics applies methods of theoretical physics to economical problems. The successful transfer of methods into a quite different area of science is puzzling. The surprise about this similarity of activities in statistical physics and econophysics is partly due to the fact that in physics fundamental theories are available while this is not the case for large areas of economics, e.g. for financial markets. Nevertheless, in both fields models are used that are to a certain degree independent from an underlying theory. While in statistical physics fundamental theories are often not needed since various micro details are irrelevant for many questions, a corresponding fundamental theory is simply nonexistent for many economical issues. The nonexistence of fundamental theories in economics need not imply that models only act as substitutes. It is the very similarity between phenomena in statistical physics, in particular solid state physics, and economics that justifies the neglect of micro details described by fundamental economical theories (which do not exist). The use of models in econophysics seems to be conditioned by certain structural features that systems in both statistical physics and econophysics share.
Explanations in Complex Systems
Econophysics is a great challenge to theories of explanation that are offered in the philosophy of science. There seem to be four main aspects of explanation (subsumption, unification, causality, pragmatics). In contrast to most of the literature we do not treat any one of these four aspects as the basis for a monistic theory of explanation. Rather we think that only the consideration of all four aspects yields a more or less complete picture of how econophysics (or in general: sciences of complex systems) explain.
The identification of ‚mechanisms‘ seems, for example, to be essential in order to explain the behaviour of complex systems. Our conception of mechanisms differs from other approaches in a number of respects. Although we like and draw on Woodward‘s theory of causation, we think that his notion of mechanisms is too abstract for a satisfactory understanding of scientific practice. Science is in large part concerned with the identification of mechanisms, in a way that is as detailed and empirically connected as possible. To this end, scientists specify how the parts of a mechanism interact to produce a certain behaviour. Our account of mechanisms is largely in accord with Glennan‘s, the most important difference concerns his notion of a complex system. We think that contemporary theories of complex systems, such the ones one encounters in econophysics, use a more specific concept of a complex system than Glennan‘s. We argue that it is more appropriate to analyze a mechanism as a robust dynamical feature of a model for the generation of higher-level patterns in terms of lower-level interactions.