Abstract for Hall’s talk

One of the more interesting philosophical debates about the foundations of quantum mechanics has concerned the following question: Must a successful reconstruction of quantum mechanics (whether it takes the form of an “interpretation”, such as the many worlds theory, or a supposedly improved replacement, such as the GRW theory or Bohmian mechanics) posit, as what quantum mechanics is properly about, a structure of local “beables” in a three-dimensional space (or 3+1 dimensional space-time)? I will suggest that we can gain insight into what is going on in this debate by focusing on a certain “scrutability thesis” (the terminology is due to Chalmers), which says roughly the following: A fundamental physical theory is empirically successful only if the manifest facts that serve as evidence for it are a priori derivable from a description of the world provided in terms of that theory’s fundamental ontology – and where these manifest facts, in turn, should be taken to be facts about macro-level configurations of objects in a three-dimensional space. I will aim to sharpen this thesis, explore some of the main reasons one might find it attractive, and show how, in the context of contemporary debates about the tenability of this or that version of quantum mechanics, it can have real bite. I will then try to refute it, by drawing on surprisingly simple reflections about how physical inquiry might, for all we know, turn out. If my reasons for denying the scrutability thesis are cogent, then several interesting consequences seem to follow, perhaps most notably these two: the version of the GRW theory that posits an ontology of “flashes” is untenable; and there is a certain deep sense in which our evidence for physical theories is in part evidence about ourselves. We will also be left with some stubborn open questions, concerning the exact way we should state the intuitive requirement that for any fundamental physical theory to be successful, it must make the right sort of contact with the empirical evidence offered in favor of it.

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