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The Role of Symmetry in the Interpretation of Physical Theories

Caulton, Adam (2015) The Role of Symmetry in the Interpretation of Physical Theories. [Preprint]

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Abstract

The symmetries of a physical theory are often associated with two things: conservation laws (via e.g. Noether's and Schur's theorems) and representational redundancies ("gauge symmetry"). But
how can a physical theory's symmetries give rise to interesting (in the sense of non-trivial) conservation laws, if symmetries are transformations that correspond to no genuine physical difference?

In this article, I argue for a disambiguation in the notion of symmetry. The central distinction is between what I call "analytic" and "synthetic" symmetries, so called because of an analogy with analytic and synthetic propositions. "Analytic" symmetries are the turning of idle wheels in a theory's formalism, and correspond to no physical change; "synthetic" symmetries cover all the rest. I argue that analytic symmetries are distinguished because they act as fixed points or constraints in any interpretation of a theory, and as such are akin to Poincaré's conventions or Reichenbach's 'axioms of co-ordination', or 'relativized constitutive a priori principles'.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Caulton, Adamadam.caulton@gmail.com
Keywords: symmetry, interpretation, physics, gauge, analytic, synthetic.
Subjects: General Issues > Conventionalism
Specific Sciences > Physics
General Issues > Structure of Theories
Depositing User: Dr Adam Caulton
Date Deposited: 16 Jul 2015 15:21
Last Modified: 16 Jul 2015 15:21
Item ID: 11571
Subjects: General Issues > Conventionalism
Specific Sciences > Physics
General Issues > Structure of Theories
Date: July 2015
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/11571

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