Article

Ontological Commitment in Quantum Field Theory

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Abstract

There was a revolutionary theoretical development in high-energy physics in the 1970s: physicists developed what became known as the standard model. If we are to take seriously claims made about the explanatory power and especially the high degree of unity of the standard model (and claims like these garnered near universal assent among high-energy physicists at the end of the 1970s) then, the dissertation argues, we are committed to a robustly realistic interpretation of the standard model. The central theoretical tool of the standard model is quantum field theory. The dissertation analyzes the conceptual structure of quantum field theory and takes up the task of articulating a realistic interpretation of quantum field theory in the standard model closely tied to high-energy physicists' own interpretation of the theory. Any attempt at a realistic interpretation of quantum field theory qua field theory involves widening the concept of a field to include objective propensities as real properties, a move this dissertation defends at length. Finally, the dissertation articulates a notion of propensities in quantum field theory, and concludes that while there is certainly much work to be done to fill out a coherent realistic interpretation of quantum field theory (of the kind high-energy physicists thought they had at the end of the 1970s), rumors of the impossibility of this task have been greatly exaggerated.

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