On the Formal Consistency of Theory and Experiment, with Applications to Problems in the Initial-Value Formulation of the Partial-Differential Equations of Mathematical Physics

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Curiel, Erik
preprint description
The dispute over the viability of various theories of relativistic, dissipative fluids is analyzed. The focus of the dispute is identified as the question of determining what it means for a theory to be applicable to a given type of physical system under given conditions. The idea of a physical theory's regime of propriety is introduced, in an attempt to clarify the issue, along with the construction of a formal model trying to make the idea precise. This construction involves a novel generalization of the idea of a field on spacetime, as well as a novel method of approximating the solutions to partial-differential equations on relativistic spacetimes in a way that tries to account for the peculiar needs of the interface between the exact structures of mathematical physics and the inexact data of experimental physics in a relativistically invariant way. It is argued, on the basis of these constructions, that the idea of a regime of propriety plays a central role in attempts to understand the semantical relations between theoretical and experimental knowledge of the physical world in general, and in particular in attempts to explain what it may mean to claim that a physical theory models or represents a kind of physical system. This discussion necessitates an examination of the initial-value formulation of the partial-differential equations of mathematical physics, which suggests a natural set of conditions---by no means meant to be canonical or exhaustive---one may require a mathematical structure, in conjunction with a set of physical postulates, satisfy in order to count as a physical theory. Based on the novel approximating methods developed for solving partial-differential equations on a relativistic spacetime by finite-difference methods, a technical result concerning a peculiar form of theoretical under-determination is proved, along with a technical result purporting to demonstrate a necessary condition for the self-consistency of a physical theory.