Foundations of Quantum Field Theory

June 12, 2019 - June 14, 2019
Rotman Institute of Philosophy

WIRB 3000
Western Interdisciplinary Research Building
London N6A3K7

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities


University of Washington
University of Waterloo
Durham University
University of Nottingham
University of Waterloo
University of Toronto, St. George Campus
University of Western Ontario
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
University of Waterloo
University of Delaware
University of Pittsburgh

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This workshop on the philosophy of quantum field theory (QFT) will bring together philosophers and physicists to address a set of foundational questions significant to both fields. Almost all of modern fundamental physics is written in the mathematical language of QFT. (The exception to this proves the rule: Einstein’s theory of gravity is not formulated as a QFT, but physicists have long sought to replace it with a quantum theory of gravity.) Philosophers of physics have recently been drawn to conceptual and interpretative issues in QFT that are not found in ordinary quantum mechanics (the predecessor theory). A workshop at Western in 2009 stimulated work in this area, and this workshop revisits this topic in light of recent progress and an influx of talented junior scholars. Improved understanding of how and why these issues arise could lead to breakthroughs in several areas of physics — for example, in relativistic quantum information theory and quantum gravity. The goals of the workshop are to facilitate communication and collaboration among emerging and established philosophers of physics who are working on QFT, and to foster interactions across the disciplinary boundaries between philosophy and physics. In addition, the workshop will strengthen ties between philosophers and physicists in Southwestern Ontario who are working on common problems.

The talks and panel discussions at this workshop will offer different perspectives on three core issues. QFT combines the special theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. It is a theory of fields, which prompts the question of how the particles that figured in non-relativistic quantum mechanics relate to this new theoretical structure. A second issue concerns how to properly represent fields mathematically. Renormalization techniques can handle several technical challenges, but their physical and conceptual basis remains unclear. The third issue is how to physically characterize distinctively relativistic features of QFT. This issue is important not only for understanding QFT, but also for formulating successor theories that improve upon it.

The workshop will be preceded by the 19th annual graduate student conference on the philosophy of Logic, Mathematics, and Physics. This event brings together graduate students from Canada and the world to present and discuss their work. Speakers from the workshop will be encouraged to stay for this conference and contribute to the discussions; this will provide valuable mentoring for the student presenters.


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June 3, 2019, 5:00am EST

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