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Schematizing the Observer and the Epistemic Content of Theories

Curiel, Erik (2020) Schematizing the Observer and the Epistemic Content of Theories. [Preprint]

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Abstract

I argue that, contrary to the standard view, one cannot understand the structure and nature of our knowledge in physics without an analysis of the way that observers (and, more generally, measuring instruments and experimental arrangements) are modeled in theory. One upshot is that standard pictures of what a scientific theory can be are grossly inadequate. In particular, standard formulations assume, with no argument ever given, that it is possible to make a clean separation between, on the one hand, one part of the scientific knowledge a physical theory embodies, viz., that encoded in the pure mathematical formalism and, on the other, the remainder of that knowledge. The remainder includes at a minimum what is encoded in the practice of modeling particular systems, of performing experiments, of bringing the results of theory and experiment into mutually fruitful contact---in sum, real application of the theory in actual scientific practice. This assumption comes out most clearly in the picture of semantics that naturally accompanies the standard view of theories: semantics is fixed by ontology's shining City on the Hill, and all epistemology and methodology and other practical issues and considerations are segregated to the ghetto of the theory's pragmatics. We should not assume such a clean separation is possible without an argument, and, indeed, I offer many arguments that such a separation is not feasible. An adequate semantics for theories cannot be founded on ontology, but rather on epistemology and methodology.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Curiel, Erikerik@strangebeautiful.com0000-0002-5812-3033
Additional Information: This paper is forthcoming in *Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics*, 2020, with the following changes: what appears in this version as section 5 ("What Measurements and the Observer Are") and section 11 ("Appendix: Précis"), will not appear in the published version due to length constraints; otherwise the two versions are identical (except for trivialities noted in the text).
Keywords: theory semantics; theory structure; models; epistemology; general relativity; Navier-Stokes Theory
Subjects: General Issues > Data
Specific Sciences > Physics > Classical Physics
General Issues > Experimentation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Specific Sciences > Physics > Relativity Theory
Specific Sciences > Physics > Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics
General Issues > Structure of Theories
General Issues > Theory/Observation
Depositing User: Dr. Erik Curiel
Date Deposited: 05 Jun 2020 00:41
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2020 00:41
Item ID: 17278
Subjects: General Issues > Data
Specific Sciences > Physics > Classical Physics
General Issues > Experimentation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Specific Sciences > Physics > Relativity Theory
Specific Sciences > Physics > Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics
General Issues > Structure of Theories
General Issues > Theory/Observation
Date: 4 June 2020
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/17278

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