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Part and Whole in Physics
Western philosophy began by asking the question "What is everything made of?". Today many look to physics for an answer, but the question has two presuppositions. It presupposes that physical systems are organized into levels and that this hierarchy is founded on entities of no more than a few basic kinds. The purpose of the workshop was to bring together prominent physicists and philosophers in an intense but informal atmosphere to investigate how well the two suppositions hold up in the light of contemporary physics and philosophy.
The program was designed to bring about mutual appreciation among philosophers and physicists of the relevance and significance of each other's work on matters of mutual concern. The workshop was attended by 43 participants from 11 different countries, with diverse backgrounds in philosophy and history of science, analytic philosophy, as well as physics and related scientific disciplines. There was a nice mix of senior and junior participants, ranging from prominent senior scientists and philosophers to Ph.D. students. Among the speakers were four scholars with recent PhDs and three young women.
The program was organized along five main topics:
1) Objects, existence and composition
2) Basic building blocks in physics and metaphysics
3) Composition in physics and metaphysics
4) Ontological emergence in physics and metaphysics
5) Individuals, structure and complex systems
In addition, Richard Healey presented a distinguished public lecture, entitled "A Lego universe?" in the Kamerlingh Onnes Laboratory on Wednesday evening.
There were four workshop talks on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and three on Wednesday and Friday. Each talk was 45 minutes to ensure ample time for discussion. Further, a special plenary discussion session was held each day to address the themes of that day in greater depth. These discussion sessions were led by two moderators who had been instructed beforehand to collect the questions and discussion points submitted to them by the participants during the day. We found that this procedure worked very well to stimulate a lively yet focussed discussion, and a cross-disciplinary exchange of ideas. We believe the workshop thus realized its goal of finding not only formulation of common ground amongst scholars from various backgrounds, but clarification of reasons for continued disagreement to be pursued more profitably as a result of the understanding achieved during the workshop. Papers from the workshops are presently being collected to be included in a forthcoming special issue of the journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics.
Many participants expressed their praise for the competent and helpful staff at the Lorentz Center, and admiration for the smooth organization and the excellent facilities provided.
The organizers wish to thank The Lorentz Center and the Royal Dutch Academy of Science for their financial support and Pauline Vincenten and Mieke Schutte for their invaluable assistance in preparation and organization.