Kinematics, Dynamics, and the Structure of Physical Theory

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Curiel, Erik
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preprint description
Every physical theory has (at least) two different forms of mathematical equations to represent its target systems: the dynamical (equations of motion) and the kinematical (kinematical constraints). Kinematical constraints are differentiated from equations of motion by the fact that their particular form is fixed once and for all, irrespective of the interactions the system enters into. By contrast, the particular form of a system's equations of motion depends essentially on the particular interaction the system enters into. All contemporary accounts of the structure and semantics of physical theory treat dynamics, i.e., the equations of motion, as the most important feature of a theory for the purposes of its philosophical analysis. I argue to the contrary that it is the kinematical constraints that determine the structure and empirical content of a physical theory in the most important ways: they function as necessary preconditions for the appropriate application of the theory; they differentiate types of physical systems; they are necessary for the equations of motion to be well posed or even just cogent; and they guide the experimentalist in the design of tools for measurement and observation. It is thus satisfaction of the kinematical constraints that renders meaning to those terms representing a system's physical quantities in the first place, even before one can ask whether or not the system satisfies the theory's equations of motion.