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Symmetry and Gauge Freedom

Belot, Gordon (2003) Symmetry and Gauge Freedom. [Preprint]

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The classical field theories that underlie the quantum treatments of the electromagnetic, weak, and strong forces share a peculiar feature: specifying the initial state of the field determines the evolution of some degrees of freedom of the theory while leaving the evolution of some others wholly arbitrary. This strongly suggests that some of the variables of the standard state space lack physical content---intuitively, the space of states of such a theory is of higher dimension than the corresponding space of genuine physical possibilities. The structure of such theories can helpfully be characterized in terms of the action of symmetry groups on their space of states; and the conceptual problems surrounding their strange behavior can be sharpened in light of the observation that it is usually possible to eliminate the redundant variables associated with these symmetries---which turn out to be precisely those variables whose evolution is unconstrained by the dynamical laws of the theory. This paper discusses this approach, uses it to frame questions about the interpretation of classical gauge theories, and to reflect (pessimistically) on our prospects of reaching satisfactory answers to these questions.

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Item Type: Preprint
Belot, Gordon
Additional Information: Updated version with many errors corrected. Essentially identical to the published version in Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 34 (2003) 189–225.
Keywords: Symmetry; Gauge Theories; Hamiltonian Mechanics; Symplectic Reduction
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Physics > Fields and Particles
Specific Sciences > Physics
Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Field Theory
Depositing User: Gordon Belot
Date Deposited: 12 Dec 2003
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2010 15:12
Item ID: 1513

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