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Harvey Brown (Oxford) Sigma Club: What justifies the common claim that symmetries explain conservation principles?
17 October, 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
This will be a hybrid lecture: you can attend in person in our usual LAK 2.06 seminar room, or on Zoom:
Meeting ID: 852 3006 9457
ABSTRACT: It is widely claimed by physicists that symmetries have explanatory priority when it comes to the link between them and conservation principles. In the literature on Noether’s first theorem doubts have been raised about this claim in the light of the lesser-known converse theorem that Noether also proved in 1918. But her converse theorem does not in fact underpin these doubts, and nor did she claim it does. However, an important generalisation of Noether’s work due independently to Martínez Alonso in 1979 and Olver in 1986 includes a converse result which does seem to strengthen the doubts. I will argue that what justifies the physicists’ claim is therefore not modern Noetherian logic, nor an alleged metaphysical fundamentality concerning symmetries, but rather pragmatic considerations related to the way symmetries are exploited in the standard model in particle physics.
Harvey Brown is an Emeritus Fellow at Wolfson College and Professor of Philosophy of Physics at the University of Oxford.