What Breathes Fire Into the Equations?

Barry LoewerRutgers University

Wednesday, March 8, 2023
1:00pm–3:00pm (East Coast time)

[Registration Form] (Abstract and Video Below)

• The Foundations of Physics @Harvard series is co-sponsored by the Department of Philosophy
• This is a free Zoom event (no registration fee)
• The meeting ID and password will be shared with those who register
• Each talk will be 1 hour, followed by a 5-minute break and then 55 minutes for questions
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• You can visit the YouTube channel here

Questions or comments: Jacob Barandes, firstname_lastname(at)harvard.edu (organizer)

Video (YouTube)


Open Discussion and Q&A


The modern concept of laws of nature arose in the 17th and 18th centuries together with the idea that there is a fundamental ontology and laws that describe its evolution that account for the “manifest” world. Most of the philosophers/physicists at the time – e.g., Descartes, Leibniz, Newton – thought of laws as principles or creations of God that govern the fundamental ontology and also systematize and unify its evolution and consequently the manifest world. Contemporary philosophical accounts of what laws are emphasize one or the other of these aspects while dropping the theology. They are called anti-Humean (associated with David Armstrong, Tim Maudlin, and differently Sidney Shoemaker, Alexander Bird) and Humean (associated with David Lewis, John Earman). My own contribution is to develop Lewis’ Best Systems account to extend it to objective probabilities found in quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics while freeing it from much of Lewis’ Humean metaphysics. This leads to a framework for fundamental laws and probabilities that David Albert and I call “The Mentaculus” that we think provides the basis for accounts of time’s arrows, causation, showing how free will and physics are compatible with much else.