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Turn and Face the Strange... Ch-ch-changes: Philosophical Questions Raised by Phase Transitions

Menon, Tarun and Callender, Craig (2011) Turn and Face the Strange... Ch-ch-changes: Philosophical Questions Raised by Phase Transitions. [Preprint]

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Phase transitions are an important instance of putatively emergent behavior. Unlike many things claimed emergent by philosophers (e.g., tables and chairs), the alleged emergence of phase transitions stems from both philosophical and scientific arguments. Here we focus on the case for emergence built from physics, in particular, arguments based upon the infinite idealization invoked in the statistical mechanical treatment of phase transitions. After teasing apart several challenges, we defend the idea that phase transitions are best thought of as conceptually novel, but not ontologically or explanatorily irreducible to finite physics; indeed, by looking at ongoing work on “smooth phase transitions” we even suggest that they’re not even conceptually novel. In the case of renormalization group theory, consideration of infinite systems and their singular behavior provides a central theoretical tool, but this is compatible with an explanatory reduction. Phase transitions may be “emergent” in some sense of this protean term, but not in a sense that is incompatible with the reductionist project broadly construed.

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Item Type: Preprint
Keywords: phase transitions; statistical mechanics; reduction; explanation; idealization; singularities
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Physics > Condensed Matter
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
General Issues > Reductionism/Holism
Specific Sciences > Physics > Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics
Depositing User: Craig Callender
Date Deposited: 20 Aug 2011 11:30
Last Modified: 20 Aug 2011 11:30
Item ID: 8757

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