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Drawing Scales Apart: The Origins of Wilson's Conception of Effective Field Theories

Rivat, Sébastien (2021) Drawing Scales Apart: The Origins of Wilson's Conception of Effective Field Theories.

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Abstract

This article traces the origins of Kenneth Wilson's conception of effective field theories (EFTs) in the 1960s. I argue that what really made the difference in Wilson's path to his first prototype of EFT are his long-standing pragmatic aspirations and methodological commitments. Wilson's primary interest was to work on mathematically interesting physical problems and he thought that progress could be made by treating them as if they could be analyzed in principle by a sufficiently powerful computer. The first point explains why he had no qualms about twisting the structure of field theories; the second why he divided the state-space of a toy model field theory into continuous slices by following a standard divide-and-conquer algorithmic strategy instead of working directly with a fully discretized and finite theory. I also show how Wilson's prototype bears the mark of these aspirations and commitments and clear up a few striking ironies along the way.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Rivat, Sébastiensrivat@mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de
Additional Information: forthcoming in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Keywords: Kenneth Wilson; Effective Field Theories; Renormalization Group; Quantum Field Theory; High Energy Physics; Condensed Matter Physics
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Physics > Condensed Matter
Specific Sciences > Physics > Fields and Particles
General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Field Theory
Depositing User: Sébastien Rivat
Date Deposited: 05 Nov 2021 04:12
Last Modified: 05 Nov 2021 04:12
Item ID: 19810
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsa.2021.10.013
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Physics > Condensed Matter
Specific Sciences > Physics > Fields and Particles
General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Field Theory
Date: 2021
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/19810

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