Publications

  • Von Neumann's Theorem Revisited

Foundations of Physics (forthcoming), preprint.

Abstract.

According to a popular narrative, in 1932 von Neumann introduced a theorem that intended to be a proof of the impossibility of hidden variables in quantum mechanics. However, the narrative goes, Bell later spotted a flaw that allegedly shows its irrelevance. Bell’s widely accepted criticism has been challenged by Bub and Dieks: they claim that the proof shows that viable hidden variables theories cannot be theories in Hilbert space. Bub’s and Dieks’ reassessment has been in turn challenged by Mermin & Schack. Hereby I critically assess their reply, with the aim of bringing further clarification concerning the meaning, scope and relevance of von Neumann’s theorem. I show that despite Mermin & Schack’s response, Bub’s and Dieks’ reassessment is quite correct, and that this reading gets strongly reinforced when we carefully consider the connection between von Neumann’s proof and Gleason’s theorem.

  • Must Hidden Variables Theories Be Contextual? Kochen & Specker meet von Neumann and Gleason

European Journal for Philosophy of Science, (2021), preprint.

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Abstract.

It is a widespread belief that the Kochen-Specker theorem imposes a contextuality constraint on the ontology of beables in quantum hidden variables theories. On the other hand, after Bell’s influential critique, the importance of von Neumann’s wrongly called ‘impossibility proof’ has been severely questioned. However, Max Jammer, Jeffrey Bub and Dennis Dieks have proposed insightful reassessments of von Neumann’s theorem: what it really shows is that deterministic hidden variables theories cannot represent their beables by means of Hermitian operators in Hilbert space. Hereby I show that i) the very same constraint can be derived from Gleason’s theorem, and that ii) if we consider the import of von Neumann’s and Gleason’s theorems, the relevance of the Kochen-Specker theorem for deterministic hidden variables theories gets substantially weakened: it does not force them to be contextual in any interesting sense of the term.

  • Scientific Understanding in Astronomical Models from Eudoxus to Kepler

In C. Soto (Ed.), Current Debates in Philosophy of Science: in honor of Roberto Torretti,  Springer, (2021, forthcoming), preprint.

Abstract.

In the following essay I present a narrative of the development of astronomical models from Eudoxus to Kepler, as a case-study that vindicates an insightful and influential recent account of the concept of scientific understanding. Since this episode in the history of science and the concept of understanding are subjects to which Professor Roberto Torretti has dedicated two wonderful books—De Eudoxo a Newton: modelos matemáticos en la filosofía natural (2007), and Creative Understanding: philosophical reflections on physics (1990), respectively—this essay is my contribution to celebrate his outstanding work and career in this volume. I dedicate this piece to Roberto, dear friend and mentor, in gratitude for all his inspirational work and personal support, which has greatly helped me, and many others, to better understand that human wonder we call scientific knowledge.

  • Charting the Landscape of Interpretation, Theory Rivalry and Underdetermination in Quantum Mechanics

Synthese, (2019). Published version, preprint.

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Abstract

When we speak about different interpretations of quantum mechanics it is suggested that there is one single quantum theory that can be interpreted in different ways. However, after an explicit characterization of what it is to interpret quantum mechanics, the right diagnosis is that we have a case of predictively equivalent rival theories. I extract some lessons regarding the resulting underdetermination of theory choice. Issues about theoretical identity, theoretical and methodological pluralism, and the prospects for a realist stance towards quantum theory can be properly addressed once we recognize that interpretations of quantum mechanics are rival theories.

  • Projective Geometry in Logical Space: rethinking Tractarian thoughts

International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 26: 1-23 (2018). Published version, preprint.

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Abstract

Customary interpretations state that Tractarian thoughts are pictures, and, a fortiori, facts. I argue that important difficulties are unavoidable if we assume this standard view, and I propose a reading of the concept taking advantage of an analogy that Wittgenstein introduces, namely, the analogy between thoughts and projective geometry. I claim that thoughts should be understood neither as pictures nor as facts, but as acts of geometric projection in logical space. The interpretation I propose thus removes the root of the identified difficulties. Moreover, it allows important clarification concerning some central aspects of the Tractarian theory of representation, and it yields a unifying elucidation regarding Wittgenstein’s remarks on the solipsistic thesis.

  • Inertial Trajectories in de Broglie-Bohm Quantum Theory: an unexpected problem

International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 30: 201-230 (2016). Published version, preprint

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Abstract

A salient feature of de Broglie-Bohm quantum theory is that particles have determinate positions at all times and in all physical contexts. Hence, the trajectory of a particle is a well-defined concept. One then may expect that the closely related notion of inertial trajectory is also unproblematically defined. I show that this expectation is not met. I provide a framework that deploys six different ways in which dBB theory can be interpreted, and I state that only in the canonical interpretation the concept of inertial trajectory is the customary one. However, in this interpretation the description of the dynamical interaction between the pilot-wave and the particles, which is crucial to distinguish inertial from non-inertial trajectories, is affected by serious difficulties, so other readings of the theory intend to avoid them. I show that in the alternative interpretations the concept at issue gets either drastically altered, or plainly undefined. I also spell out further conceptual difficulties that are associated to the redefinitions of inertial trajectories, or to the absence of the concept.

  • Minkowski Spacetime and Lorentz Invariance: the cart and the horse or two sides of a single coin?

Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 55: 1-12 (2016). Published version, preprint.

Abstract

Michel Janssen and Harvey Brown have driven a prominent recent debate concerning the direction of an alleged arrow of explanation between Minkowski spacetime and Lorentz invariance of dynamical laws in special relativity. In this article, I critically assess this controversy with the aim of clarifying the explanatory foundations of the theory. First, I show that two assumptions shared by the parties—that the dispute is independent of issues concerning spacetime ontology, and that there is an urgent need for a constructive interpretation of special relativity—are problematic and negatively affect the debate. Second, I argue that the whole discussion relies on a misleading conception of the link between Minkowski spacetime structure and Lorentz invariance, a misconception that in turn sheds more shadows than light on our understanding of the explanatory nature and power of Einstein׳s theory. I state that the arrow connecting Lorentz invariance and Minkowski spacetime is not explanatory and unidirectional, but analytic and bidirectional, and that this analytic arrow grounds the chronogeometric explanations of physical phenomena that special relativity offers.

  • On the Empirical Equivalence between Special Relativity and Lorentz's Ether Theory

Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 46: 283-302 (2014). Published version, preprint.

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Abstract

In this paper I argue that the case of Einstein׳s special relativity vs. Hendrik Lorentz׳s ether theory can be decided in terms of empirical evidence, in spite of the predictive equivalence between the theories. In the historical and philosophical literature this case has been typically addressed focusing on non-empirical features (non-empirical virtues in special relativity and/or non-empirical flaws in the ether theory). I claim that non-empirical features are not enough to provide a fully objective and uniquely determined choice in instances of empirical equivalence. However, I argue that if we consider arguments proposed by Richard Boyd, and by Larry Laudan and Jarret Leplin, a choice based on non-entailed empirical evidence favoring Einstein׳s theory can be made.

  • Another Look at Empirical Equivalence and Underdetermination of Theory Choice (with Dennis Dieks)

European Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 4: 153-180 (2014). Published version, preprint.

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Abstract

In 1991 Larry Laudan and Jarret Leplin proposed a solution for the problem of empirical equivalence and the empirical underdetermination that is often thought to result from it. In this paper we argue that, even though Laudan and Leplin’s reasoning is essentially correct, their solution should be accurately assessed in order to appreciate its nature and scope. Indeed, Laudan and Leplin’s analysis does not succeed in completely removing the problem or, as they put it, in refuting the thesis of underdetermination as a consequence of empirical equivalence. Instead, what they show is merely that science possesses tools that may eventually lead out of an underdetermination impasse. We apply their argument to a real case of two empirically equivalent theories: Lorentz’s ether theory and Einstein’s special relativity. This example illustrates the validity of Laudan and Leplin’s reasoning, but also shows the importance of the reassessment we argue for.

  • Artificial Examples of Empirical Equivalence

In M. C. Galavotti et al. (eds.), New Directions in the Philosophy of Science, 453-468 (2014). Springer. Published version, preprint.

Abstract

I analyze three artificial examples of empirical equivalence: van Fraassen’s alternative formulations of Newton’s theory, the Poincaré-Reichenbach argument for the conventionality of geometry; and predictively equivalent ‘systems of the world’. These examples have received attention in the philosophy of science literature because they are supposed to illustrate the connection between predictive equivalence and underdetermination of theory choice. I conclude that this view is wrong. These examples of empirical equivalence are harmless with respect to the problem of underdetermination.