The Mereology of Potentiality (Thursday - Week 4, HT19)

mereology of potentiality

 In this paper I aim to construct a neo-Aristotelian ontology that grounds laws of nature that emerge at different scales, whilst explaining how it is possible that such laws can be known through scientific inquiry. I begin by considering two ‘monistic’ attempts to offer realist accounts of the phenomenon of quantum entanglement, called Super-Humeanism and power monism, and raise three objections against these accounts that seek to put their assumptions about monism in tension with their assumptions about realism. First, I advance an emergence argument, noting that scientific inquiry depends upon the use of macroscopic instruments that realise chemical forms, which in turn requires scientific models that include properties like temperature and entropy. I argue that Super-Humean or power monist attempts to accommodate thermochemical properties reduces the explanatory power of quantum mechanics. Secondly, I advance an indeterminacy argument, observing that scientific inquiry depends on the possibility of the scientific image being recovered from the manifest image, which in turn requires the manifest image to be locally constrained by the environment. I argue that the manifest image would be radically underdetermined in a SuperHumean or power monist world. Thirdly, I advance an isolation argument, noting that scientific inquiry depends on the ability of scientists to isolate law-like behaviour in their experiments. I argue that we would have good reason to be sceptical about laws of nature in a Super-Humean or power monist world. Finally, I put forward a new model, power pluralism, which overcomes these objections. This model offers a via media between ‘monistic’ models, which assume that there is one truth about nature disclosed by physics, and ‘pluralist’ models, which emphasise the incommensurability of different scientific practices. I argue that the ‘emergence’ of properties like temperature and entropy in thermochemical systems, the existence of local constraints on the manifest image, and the possibility of isolating laws of nature in a quantum-entangled world, are best explained by a plurality of substantial forms that carve a single substrate of power-gunk into thermochemical substances at different scales.


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Seminar coveners: Anna Marmodoro and Andrea Roselli