Idealization, Lossy Compression and the Laws of Physics

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Wheeler, Billy
preprint description
It has been argued that the fundamental laws of physics do not face a ‘problem of provisos’ equivalent to that found in other scientific disciplines (Earman, Roberts & Smith, 2002). What is more, it has been said there is only the appearance of ‘exceptions’ to physical laws if they are confused with differential equations of evolution type (Smith, 2002). In this paper I argue that even if this is true, fundamental laws in physics still pose a major challenge to standard Humean approaches to lawhood, as they are not in any obvious sense about regularities in behaviour. A Humean approach to physical laws with exceptions is possible, however, if we adopt a view of laws that takes them to be the algorithms in the algorithmic compression of empirical data. When this is supplemented with a distinction between lossy and lossless compression, we can explain exceptions in terms of ‘compression artefacts’ present in the application of the lossy law.