History and Philosophy of Science Seminar

Dr Katie Robertson will speak on the topic ‘Asymmetry and autonomy in the special sciences'

Dr Katie Robertson is a Philosopher of Physics from the University of Birmingham and a research fellow on FraMEPhys.

Abstract: Fodor (1997) famously claimed that the special sciences are still autonomous - after all these years. But Loewer (2009) has criticised Fodor’s view of autonomy for wavering between a trivial methodological reading and an implausible metaphysical reading. In this talk, I offer a new account of autonomy in terms of ‘conditional irrelevance’. I then apply this account to a thorny problem: how to reconcile the time-asymmetry of macroscopic dynamics with the time-symmetry of the underlying microdynamics. Using a coarse-graining framework, I show how the macroscopic time-asymmetric equations in statistical mechanics can be constructed from the underlying time-symmetric microdynamics. But this framework uses coarse-graining which has been heavily criticised; Redhead (1996) calls it “one of the most deceitful artifices I have ever come across in theoretical physics”. I defend coarse-graining, and then draw some morals for the nature of time-asymmetry and the status of the special science of statistical mechanics.

The research seminar of the Centre for History & Philosophy of Science at the University of Leeds runs fortnightly during term time.

Seminars are free and open to all.