CNRS—U of T Twin Research Scholars Award for Michael Miller and IHPST/Paris Colleague Vincent Ardourel

Published: November 17, 2022

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Congratulations to the department’s Michael Miller and his colleague Vincent Ardourel (Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology/Université de Paris 1) for receiving a 2022 CNRS—U of T Twin Research Scholars Award for their project titled “New Directions in Philosophy of Physics: Approximation, Precision, and Discreteness.”

The project concerns the way mathematics are used to describe our world. In the words of Miller and Ardourel, “Contemporary physics is expressed in the language of mathematics, and philosophers have developed theories of how mathematics latches onto the world. In our view, however, these theories leave the applicability of mathematics to the natural world somewhat mysterious. Our research program brings together philosophers of science to advance our understanding of the roles that mathematics plays in physical theorizing.”

In particular, the researchers will turn to the approximation methods (asymptotic expansions, perturbation theories, numerical analysis on computers) that allow physical theories to make contact with the world. An analysis of these methods reveals, they claim, that the supposed mysteriousness of extant approaches stems from assumptions about the precision of theories that are not warranted. “This insight,” they maintain, “opens the path to taking theories exhibiting discreteness ontologically seriously, which we expect will help to demystify the applicability of mathematics.”