Role of metaphysics in physical theories to be investigated

A five year research project to develop a new general framework for understanding the role metaphysics plays in how physics explains our world has secured a European Research Council Starting Grant of €1.5m.

The project FraMEPhys (A Framework for Metaphysical Explanation in Physics) will be led by Senior Lecturer Dr Alastair Wilson and hosted in the Department of Philosophy.

He will look at how and why explanations that feature in more abstract and fundamental physical theories seem to have more in common with explanations more usually studied in metaphysics. These distinctive metaphysical explanations include the way in which the temperature of a gas depends on the motion of its molecules, the solidity of a table depends on the chemical bonding forces holding it together, and life depends on organized self-sustaining metabolic processes.

The new general framework Dr Wilson develops will enable greater understanding of such explanations in physics, using approaches that have been employed successfully in recent empirical science for modelling causal explanations.

The new framework will then be applied to three challenging cases of explanation in the philosophy of physics – the geometry of spacetime, time travel around causal loops, and entanglement between quantum particles.

Dr Wilson will be assisted by two postdoctoral fellows, with expertise in philosophy of science and philosophy of physics respectively, and a PhD student, and the project will start in in January 2018.