Do Electrons Exist? — Céline Henne: Physicist's Views on Scientific Realism & Instrumentalism image
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Do Electrons Exist? — Céline Henne: Physicist's Views on Scientific Realism & Instrumentalism
Do Electrons Exist? — Céline Henne: Physicist's Views on Scientific Realism & Instrumentalism

Physics helps get stuff done. Its application has put rockets in space, semiconductors in phones, and eclipses on calendars. 

For some philosophers, this is all physics offers. It is a mere instrument, albeit of great power, giving us control over tangible things. It is a set of gears and widgets (wavefunctions, strings, even electrons) to crank out predictions.  In contrast to instrumentalists, scientific realists argue that the success of theories shows that they map onto the structure of the world, symbols in equations carry the imprint of real entities.

This is an old debate in the philosophy of science. While we touch on some arguments for either position, this episode focuses on the phenomenology of physics researchers. What do physicists believe?  

Céline Henne is a philosopher at the University of Bologna. Alongside Hannah Tomczyk and Christopher Sperber she has fielded the most comprehensive survey of the attitudes of physicists towards the reality of the objects of their study. From looking at the answers to dozens of questions from several hundred physicists, they have distinguished several camps of belief. 

It's an elegantly designed survey, simply reading the questions forces a consideration of one's own position.   

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Physics helps get stuff done. Its application has put rockets in space, semiconductors in phones, and eclipses on calendars. 

For some philosophers, this is all physics offers. It is a mere instrument, albeit of great power, giving us control over tangible things. It is a set of gears and widgets (wavefunctions, strings, even electrons) to crank out predictions.  In contrast to instrumentalists, scientific realists argue that the success of theories shows that they map onto the structure of the world, symbols in equations carry the imprint of real entities.

This is an old debate in the philosophy of science. While we touch on some arguments for either position, this episode focuses on the phenomenology of physics researchers. What do physicists believe?  

Céline Henne is a philosopher at the University of Bologna. Alongside Hannah Tomczyk and Christopher Sperber she has fielded the most comprehensive survey of the attitudes of physicists towards the reality of the objects of their study. From looking at the answers to dozens of questions from several hundred physicists, they have distinguished several camps of belief. 

It's an elegantly designed survey, simply reading the questions forces a consideration of one's own position.   

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