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Point-particle explanations: the case of gravitational waves

Wayne, Andrew (2017) Point-particle explanations: the case of gravitational waves. Synthese. ISSN 1573-0964

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Abstract

This paper explores the role of physically impossible idealizations in model-based explanation. We do this by examining the explanation of gravitational waves from distant stellar objects using models that contain point-particle idealizations. Like infinite idealizations in thermodynamics, biology and economics, the point-particle idealization in general relativity is physically impossible. What makes this case interesting is that there are two very different kinds of models used for predicting the same gravitational wave phenomena, post-Newtonian models and effective field theory models. The paper contends that post-Newtonian models are explanatory while effective field theory models are not, because only in the former can we eliminate the physically impossible point-particle idealization. This suggests that, in some areas of science at least, models invoking ineliminable infinite idealizations cannot have explanatory power.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Wayne, Andrewawayne@uoguelph.ca
Keywords: Scientific explanation; Physics; Gravitational waves; General theory of relativity; Idealization; Models
Subjects: General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Specific Sciences > Physics > Relativity Theory
Depositing User: Andrew Wayne
Date Deposited: 06 Jun 2018 13:31
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2018 13:31
Item ID: 14749
Journal or Publication Title: Synthese
Publisher: Springer (Springer Science+Business Media B.V.)
Official URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11229-0...
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-017-1638-y
Subjects: General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Specific Sciences > Physics > Relativity Theory
Date: 1 December 2017
ISSN: 1573-0964
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/14749

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