Quantum mechanical formalism suggests that the underlying mechanics of our universe is far divorced from our perception of reality. In this course, we will examine the conceptual fundamentals of quantum mechanics and explore their metaphysical implications.
Quantum mechanics posits that the behavior of particles in our universe is necessarily probabilistic, and that until measured, observable quantities do not have determinate values. Instead, quantum theory describes particles as waves. The wave function evolves linearly with the Schrödinger equation until measurement. The concept of measurement itself is wrought with philosophical problems. In this course, students will consider the various interpretations of what it means to make a measurement as well as the meaning of the actual wave function.
Traditional undergraduate and graduate courses in quantum mechanics do not typically address the philosophical implications of quantum theory. By studying these philosophical issues, the students will find themselves able to appreciate the beauty and intrigue beneath the surface of mathematical formalism. Among the interpretations we will explore are the Copenhagen interpretation, Humean supervenience, Ghirardi-Rimini-Weber theory, multiverse theory, and wave function realism.
Though a large portion of the readings will be concerned with the physical theory of quantum mechanics and its mathematical formalism, the primary focus of the course will be on the philosophical foundations of the theory and its various interpretations and implications. We will use David Griffiths’s Introduction to Quantum Mechanics to introduce concepts of formalism. Our readings will include the work of David Lewis, David Albert, Tim Maudlin, Albert Einstein, Elizabeth Miller, Ned Hall, Nina Emery, and Alyssa Ney, among others.
By the conclusion of this course, students will have developed an appreciation for the shared goals of and the relationship between empirical science and metaphysics. Assignments will include problem sets, a series of short, journal style essays, and a final project. Through these assignments, students will sharpen their science writing and argumentation skills.
Prerequisites: The prerequisites for this course include geometry, two years of algebra, and one year of physics or a comparable course.
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