Dynamic and stochastic systems as a framework for metaphysics and the philosophy of science
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Scientists often think of the world (or some part of it) as a dynamical system, a stochastic process, or a generalization of such a system. Prominent examples of systems are (i) the system of planets orbiting the sun or any other classical mechanical system, (ii) a hydrogen atom or any other quantum-mechanical system, and (iii) the earth’s atmosphere or any other statistical mechanical system. We introduce a simple and general framework for describing such systems and show how it can be used to examine some familiar philosophical questions, including the following: how can we define nomological possibility, necessity, determinism, and indeterminism; what are symmetries and laws; what regularities must a system display to make scientific inference possible; is there any metaphysical basis for invoking principles of parsimony such as Occam’s Razor when we make such inferences; and what is the role of space and time in a system? Our framework is intended to serve as a toolbox for the formal analysis of systems that is applicable in several areas of philosophy.