Underconsideration in Space-time and Particle Physics

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Pitts, J. Brian
preprint description
The idea that a serious threat to scientific realism comes from unconceived alternatives has been proposed by van Fraassen, Sklar, Stanford and Wray among others. Peter Lipton's critique of this threat from underconsideration is examined briefly in terms of its logic and its applicability to the case of space-time and particle physics. The example of space-time and particle physics indicates a generic heuristic for quantitative sciences for constructing potentially serious cases of underdetermination, involving one-parameter family of rivals T_m (m real and small) that work as a team rather than as a single rival against default theory T_0. In important examples this new parameter has a physical meaning (e.g., particle mass) and makes a crucial _conceptual_ difference, shrinking the symmetry group and in some case putting gauge freedom, formal indeterminism vs. determinism, the presence of the hole argument, etc., at risk. Methodologies akin to eliminative induction or tempered subjective Bayesianism are more demonstrably reliable than the custom of attending only to "our best theory": they can lead either to a serious rivalry or to improved arguments for the favorite theory. The example of General Relativity (massless spin 2 in particle physics terminology) vs. massive spin 2 gravity, a recent topic in the physics literature, is discussed. Arguably the General Relativity and philosophy literatures have ignored the most serious rival to General Relativity.