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Module descriptions

7AAN2064 Philosophy of Physics


Credits: 20
Module tutor: Dr Eleanor Knox

  • Formative assessment: one 2,000–3,000-word essay, due by end of semester or as otherwise instructed
  • Summative assessment: one 4,000-word essay (100%)

Teaching pattern: one weekly one-hour lecture and one weekly one-hour seminar. 
Availability: view module availability for current/next academic year
Pre-requisites: none
Additional information: 

  • Although 7AAN2075 Philosophy of Science is not a prerequisite for this module, and the two are indeed largely independent, nevertheless students who take this one might consider taking that one first, especially if they have never studied Philosophy of Science before.
  • The initial lecture hour will be shared with students taking 6AANB035 Philosophy of Physics, but they will otherwise be subject to different requirements.

Sample syllabus: Please see the Past syllabi section below for an indication of the syllabus for this module.

What does physics tell us about the nature of space, time and matter? Contemporary physics is overwhelmingly empirically successful, but often appears puzzling or even paradoxical; can our best theories be given coherent realist interpretations, and, if so, should we believe what they tell us? This module looks at interpretational problems in Newtonian mechanics, special relativity, quantum mechanics and thermal physics, and explores the philosophical consequences of taking these theories seriously. (Note that while the course will involve introducing some formal aspects of mathematical physics, no detailed knowledge of physics, or mathematics beyond basic calculus and algebra will be assumed.) 

Further information

Module aims

An understanding of the following:

  • Newtonian mechanics and arguments for and against the reality of space
  • The structure of the theory of special relativity, and its consequences for empirical results about space and time
  • Debates over the conventionality of simultaneity and the interpretation of the geometrical content of special relativity
  • Special relativity’s consequences for the philosophy of time, particularly the debate between the presentist and the eternalist
  • The debate over time’s arrow in thermal physics
  • Some basic results in quantum mechanics
  • The measurement problem in quantum mechanics
  • Non-locality in quantum mechanics and the Einstein-Podolosky-Rosen Paradox
  • Different solutions to the measurement problem, including stochastic collapse models, hidden-variables theories, and the Everett interpretation
Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, the students will be able to demonstrate intellectual, transferable and practicable skills appropriate to a level-7 module and in particular will be able to demonstrate that they:

  • are comfortable in working with formal scientific theories and applying thoughts about physics to their philosophical work
  • can think critically about the content and interpretation of theories in physics;
  • have read closely and gained an understanding of relevant texts
  • can explain and analyze the conceptual content of formal mathematical theories in English, and engage in clear debate about these theories
  • can support and challenge views and positions by constructing arguments and citing relevant considerations
  • have formed philosophical views of their own which they are prepared to defend or amend in the light of criticism
Past syllabi

7AAN2064 module syllabus 2011-12 (pdf)
7AAN2064 module syllabus 2013-14 (pdf)

Please note that module syllabus and topics covered may vary from year to year.

The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

module availability
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