Cosmology and the Future of Spacetime

June 12, 2017 - June 14, 2017
Rotman Institute of Philosophy

North Campus Building, Room 295
Western University
London N6A 3K7

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities

Main speakers:

Niayesh Afshordi
University of Waterloo
Tessa Baker
Oxford University
Robert Brandenberger
McGill University
Karen Crowther
University of Geneva
Henrique Gomes
Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
Nick Huggett
University of Illinois, Chicago
Anna Ijjas
Princeton University
Michela Massimi
University of Edinburgh
Daniele Oriti
MPI-AEI, Berlin-Golm
Simon Saunders
Oxford University
Lee Smolin
Perimeter Institute
Francesca Vidotto
Radboud University Nijmegen

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Even though general relativity has enjoyed profound success throughout the century since its discovery, there are at least two reasons to think that it may have to undergo small, albeit possibly profound, revisions. One reason, essentially uncontroversial, is the open problem of how to unify general relativity with quantum theory, while the second reason, essentially controversial, regards whether certain dynamical anomalies in astronomy and cosmology are best explained in terms of new, otherwise undetected forms of matter, or in terms of a modification of gravitational theory.

We will explore these two themes from a more specific angle. In particular, the conference speakers will address the issue of “spacetime emergence” within certain approaches to quantum gravity in a cosmological setting. If, as is usually taken to be the case, general relativity breaks down as a classical initial singularity is approached, what could this mean for the view of spacetime as emergent in the early universe? Does the thermodynamic arrow of time require treating initial and final singularities differently and thereby impose fundamental constraints on the structure of a future theory of quantum gravity? More generally, what could in principle even be meant by a physical theory without at least some underlying notion of spacetime?

Similarly, if the path is pursued of modifying general relativity (MOND, TeVeS, f(R), torsion, etc.) in order to avoid the new forms of matter and/or energy that the cosmological concordance model posits, what does this mean for the lessons about matter, motion, gravity and spacetime that Einstein taught us? We will also consider recent work that clarifies the space of alternatives to general relativity, in order to assess the viability of proposals to emulate general relativity’s success at length scales where it has passed stringent tests, while differing at cosmological scales.

This conference will be followed by a graduate student conference, the 17th Annual Philosophy of Logic, Math and Physics (LMP) Graduate Student Conference.


Funding for this conference has been generously provided by the John Templeton Foundation; the Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of California, Irvine; and the Rotman Institute of Philosophy.

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June 5, 2017, 5:00am EST

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