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In defence of dimensions

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Jacob Stegenga.

The distinction between dimensions and units in physics is commonplace. But what are dimensions? The most popular view is that they are no more than a tool for keeping track of the values of quantities under a change of units. This ‘anti-realist’ view is supported by an argument from underdetermination: one can assign dimensions to quantities in many different ways, all of them empirically equivalent. In contrast, I argue that dimensions are real, so there are knowable matters of fact about a quantity’s dimensions. The argument I provide is a form of inference to the best explanation. In particular, the technique of dimensional analysis is explanatory, but it only works if we assume that the relevant quantities have certain dimensions. Since these dimensions support explanations, we have reason to believe that they are real.

This talk is part of the CamPoS (Cambridge Philosophy of Science) seminar series.

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