Local reduction in physics

Citation data:

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, ISSN: 1355-2198, Vol: 50, Page: 54-69

Publication Year:
2015
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Repository URL:
http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/11754
DOI:
10.1016/j.shpsb.2015.02.004
Author(s):
Rosaler, Joshua
Publisher(s):
Elsevier BV, Elsevier
Tags:
Arts and Humanities, Physics and Astronomy
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article description
A conventional wisdom about the progress of physics holds that successive theories wholly encompass the domains of their predecessors through a process that is often called “reduction.” While certain influential accounts of inter-theory reduction in physics take reduction to require a single “global” derivation of one theory׳s laws from those of another, I show that global reductions are not available in all cases where the conventional wisdom requires reduction to hold. However, I argue that a weaker “local” form of reduction, which defines reduction between theories in terms of a more fundamental notion of reduction between models of a single fixed system, is available in such cases and moreover suffices to uphold the conventional wisdom. To illustrate the sort of fixed-system, inter-model reduction that grounds inter-theoretic reduction on this picture, I specialize to a particular class of cases in which both models are dynamical systems. I show that reduction in these cases is underwritten by a mathematical relationship that follows a certain liberalized construal of Nagel/Schaffner reduction, and support this claim with several examples. Moreover, I show that this broadly Nagelian analysis of inter-model reduction encompasses several cases that are sometimes cited as instances of the “physicist׳s” limit-based notion of reduction.

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