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Why Trust a Theory? Reconsidering Scientific Methodology in Light of Modern Physics (7-9 December, 2015)


Idea and Motivation

Fundamental physics today faces increasing difficulties to find conclusive empirical confirmation of its theories. Some empirically unconfirmed or inconclusively confirmed theories in the field have nevertheless attained a high degree of trust among their exponents and are de facto treated as well established theories. This situation raises a number of questions that are of substantial importance for the future development of fundamental physics. Can a high degree of trust in an empirically unconfirmed or inconclusively confirmed theory be scientifically justified? Does the extent to which empirically unconfirmed theories are trusted today constitute a substantial change of the character of scientific reasoning? Might some important theories of contemporary fundamental physics be empirically untestable in principle?

The workshop will be centred around an in-depth discussion of these and other related questions, with a particular focus on the methodological and philosophical aspects. As such, it will be an interdisciplinary event, involving physicists and philosophers of science. It will bring together main exponents of important theories in fundamental physics, physicists who have expressed criticism of the current strategies of theory assessment in fundamental physics and philosophers who have thought about those issues.


Monday (7 December)

09:30 - 09:50 Opening (Watch online)
09:50 - 10:30 David Gross: What is a Theory? (Watch online)
10:30 - 11:10 Carlo Rovelli: Has Theoretical Fundamental Physics become Sterile? (Watch online)
11:10 - 11:35 Coffee Break
11:35 - 12:15 Richard Dawid: Non-empirical Confirmation (Watch online)
12:15 - 12:55 Massimo Pigliucci: Post-empirical Physics, Falsificationism, and the Public Perception of Science (Watch online)
12:55 - 14:35 Lunch
14:35 - 15:15 Radin Dardashti: Physics without Experiments? (Watch online)
15:15 - 15:55 Helge Kragh: Fundamental Theories and Epistemic Shifts: Can History of Science serve as a Guide? (Watch online)
15:55 - 16:35 Peter Achinstein: Scientific Speculation (Watch online)
16:35 - 17:00 Coffee Break
17:00 - 18:30 Panel I (Host: Stephan Hartmann): Why Trust a Theory? (Watch online)

Tuesday (8 December)

09:30 - 10:10 Björn Malte Schäfer: Dark Gravity, Dark Fluids, and Dark Statistics (Watch online)
10:10 - 10:50 Chris Smeenk: Gaining Access (Watch online)
10:50 - 11:20 Coffee Break
11:20 - 12:00 Gordon Kane: String/M-Theories about our World are Testable in the Traditional Physics Way (Watch online)
12:00 - 12:40 Joseph Silk: The Limits of Cosmology, Post-Planck (Watch online)
12:40 - 14:30 Lunch
14:30 - 15:10 Fernando Quevedo: Achievements and Challenges for String
Phenomenology/Cosmology (Watch online)
15:10 - 15:50 Chris Wüthrich: Considering the Role of Information Theory in
Fundamental Physics (Watch online)
15:50 - 16:30 Viatcheslav Mukhanov: Is the Quantum Origin of Galaxies Falsifiable? (Watch online)
16:30 - 17:00 Coffee Break
17:00 - 18:30 Panel II (Host: Johanna Erdmenger): How far do we get with Empirical Data? (Watch online)
19:15 Dinner

Wednesday (9 December)

09:30 - 10:10 George Ellis: Limits in testing the Multiverse (Watch online)
10:10 - 10:50 Joseph Polchinski: String Theory to the Rescue (Watch online)
10:50 - 11:20 Coffee Break
11:20 - 12:00 Elena Castellani: Scientific Methodology: A View from Early String Theory (Watch online)
12:00 - 12:40 Dieter Lüst: Aspects of Quantum Gravity (Watch online)
12:40 - 14:30 Lunch
14:30 - 15:10 Sabine Hossenfelder: Lost in Math (Watch online)
15:10 - 15:50 Karim Thebault: What can we learn from Analogue Experiments? (Watch online)
15:50 - 16:30 Georgi Dvali: Secret Quantum Lives of Black Holes and Dark Energy (Watch online)
16:30 - 17:00 Coffee Break
17:00 - 18:30 Panel III (Host: Daniele Oriti): Has Physics changed? – and should it? (Watch online)


The conference is kindly supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the FQXI Foundational Questions Institute.

Photo Credits

Header background: Kahless the unforgettable, "Horizonte". Some right reserved (desaturated from original). Source: