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Process causation and quantum physics.

Ma, Cynthia Kwai Wah (2001) Process causation and quantum physics. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science (United Kingdom).

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Abstract

Philosophical analyses of causation take many forms but one major difficulty they all aim to address is that of the spatiotemporal continuity between causes and their effects. Bertrand Russell in 1913 brought the problem to its most transparent form and made it a case against the notion of causation in physics. The issue highlighted in Russell's argument is that of temporal contiguity between cause and effect. This tension arises from the imposition of a spectrum of discrete events occupying spacetime points upon a background of spacetime continuum. An immediate and natural solution is to superpose instead spatiotemporally continuous entities, or processes, on the spacetime continuum. This is indeed the process view of physical causation advocated by Wesley Salmon and Phil Dowe. This view takes the continuous trajectories of physical objects (worldlines) as the causal connection whereby causal influences in the form of conserved quantities are transported amongst events. Because of their reliance on spatiotemporal continuity, these theories have difficulty when confronted with the discontinuous processes in the quantum domain. This thesis is concerned with process theories. It has two parts. The first part introduces and criticizes these theories, which leads to my proposal of the History Conserved Quantity Theory with Transmission. The second part considers the extension of the idea of causal processes to quantum physics. I show how a probability distribution generated by the Schrodinger wavefunction can be regarded as a conserved quantity that makes the spacetime evolution of the wavefunction a quantum causal process. However, there are conceptual problems in the interpretation of the wavefunction, chiefly to do, as I shall argue, with the difference in the behaviours of probabilistic potentials between quantum and classical physics. I propose in the final chapter, the Feynman Path Integral formulation of quantum mechanics (with the Feynman histories) as an alternative approach to incorporating the probabilistic potentials in quantum physics. This account of how to introduce causal processes in quantum mechanics fares better, I claim, than the previous one in dealing with the situational aspect of quantum phenomena that requires the consideration of events at more than one time.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Philosophy of Science
Sets: Collections > ProQuest Etheses
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/1609

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