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Holism as the empirical significance of symmetries

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jats:titleAbstract</jats:title>jats:pNot all symmetries are on a par. For instance, within Newtonian mechanics, we seem to have a good grasp on the empirical significance of boosts, by applying it to subsystems. This is exemplified by the thought experiment known as Galileo’s ship: the inertial state of motion of a ship is immaterial to how events unfold in the cabin, but is registered in the values of relational quantities such as the distance and velocity of the ship relative to the shore. But the significance of gauge symmetries seems less clear. For example, can gauge transformations in Yang-Mills theory—taken as mere descriptive redundancy—exhibit a similar relational empirical significance as the boosts of Galileo’s ship? This question has been debated in the last fifteen years in philosophy of physics. I will argue that the answer is ‘yes’, but only for a finite subset of gauge transformations, and under special conditions. Under those conditions, we can mathematically identify empirical significance with a failure of supervenience: the state of the Universe is not uniquely determined by the intrinsic state of its isolated subsystems. Empirical significance is therefore encoded in those relations between subsystems that stand apart from their intrinsic states.</jats:p>



50 Philosophy and Religious Studies, 5002 History and Philosophy Of Specific Fields

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European Journal for Philosophy of Science

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC