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Dialogue in space-time
The first few decades of the 20th century saw the comfortable certainties of Newtonian physics thrown into doubt, first by Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity, and then by the counter-intuitive principles of quantum mechanics.
Oxford philosophers are making significant contributions to the attempt to make sense of these important conceptual changes.
Professor Simon Saunders and Drs Hilary Greaves, Christopher Timpson and David Wallace are applying themselves to quantum mechanics, especially the baffling ‘many worlds’ interpretation developed by the physicist Hugh Everett in 1957. Everett argued that quantum uncertainty could be resolved if there were an infinite number of branching worlds within a single universe in which everything that could happen (according to the theory) does happen. Oxford physicist Professor David Deutsch is a leading proponent of this interpretation, and Dr Wallace has provided a philosophical rationale for Deutsch’s operational approach to the nature of probability in the branching multiverse.
Professor Harvey Brown recently shared the Lakatos Prize for his book Physical Relativity: Space-time Structure from a Dynamical Perspective. Dr Oliver Pooley has gone back to an old debate between Newton’s followers and Leibniz about the reality of space, and pursued it in relation to space-time as characterised in the theory of general relativity. He was awarded a Philip Leverhulme prize (for work by an outstanding young scholar) in 2007. Professor Frank Arntzenius is also working on a book on space-time.
These seven members of the Oxford philosophy of physics group make it, currently, the largest in the world. The joint physics and philosophy undergraduate degree, as well as a new Master of Studies in Philosophy of Physics, both taught in one of the world’s leading philosophy faculties, have made it possible for the collegiate University to develop this particularly strong cohort dedicated to understanding the nature of physical reality.