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2nd Annual Phenomenological Approaches to Physics Conference


Quantum Mechanics: Paradigm or Ontology of Nature?

September 26-28, 2019
Stony Brook University


Recently, a number of phenomenologically inspired thinkers have devoted attention to quantum mechanics. For these thinkers, quantum mechanics brings attention to the ways that scientific phenomena are produced within subjective frames of knowledge and experimentation.

A persistent question for these interpretations is whether the mathematical formalism and experimental data of quantum mechanics represent reality as it is ‘in itself,’ or whether they constitute merely subjective beliefs and models based on the appearing of certain kinds of phenomena. Some philosophers of science struggle to normalize issues of quantum physics in terms of traditional realisms that present quantum phenomena as indications of a need for an entirely new ontology of nature. On the other hand, others resist these ontological speculations. Following in the steps of physicists like Bohr, these interpretations take quantum phenomena to demonstrate nothing but the predictive power of instrumental models given within a still ‘classical’ frame. Still other interpretations attempt to balance subjective belief and ontological implication. Quantum Bayesianism, for instance, places the subject’s beliefs at the heart of reflection on quantum phenomena, despite claiming to hold to a ‘participatory realism.’

We are interested in papers that explore the conflicts between ontological and non-ontological interpretations of quantum physics, particularly from a phenomenological perspective. We take the debates over the ontological significance of quantum mechanics to draw attention to the role of subjective interpretation and conceptual framing in scientific experimentation. In part, these debates reflect conflicts over the role of the subject in registering quantum phenomena through various instruments and conceptual apparatuses. How does reflection on the subjective conditions of knowledge making, including conceptual paradigms and pre-scientific language, affect the ‘frame’ in which quantum phenomena appear? Does the subjective ‘frame’ reveal an inability for our models to reflect reality ‘in itself,’ or is the subject a part of a reality that is quantum ‘all the way up?’ More generally, is a phenomenological perspective on quantum phenomena compatible with various species of quantum realisms?

We are open to papers that engage the problems above, in addition to the following themes: 

  • The influence of philosophy, especially phenomenology, on Bohr, Heisenberg, and Schrödinger
  • The role of the pre-theoretical lifeworld in scientific practice and theory
  • How language, tools, and theory ‘frame’ the appearing of quantum phenomena
  • Competing standards of objectivity and subjectivity in realist and anti-realist interpretations of quantum mechanics
  • Differences in method and theory in phenomenological versus naturalistic interpretations of quantum phenomena
  • Quantum mechanics through the perspective of phenomenologists including Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty
  • Challenges that quantum mechanics pose to phenomenological inquiry

Women, minorities, people with disabilities, and members of other underrepresented groups are highly encouraged to apply.

 Keynote Speakers

Michel Bitbol

Michel Bitbol

Born in 1954, I was educated at several universities in Paris, where I received successively a M.D. in 1980, a Ph.D. in physics in 1985, and an “Habilitation” in philosophy in 1997. I first worked as a research scientist in biophysics from 1978 to 1990. From 1990 onwards, I turned to the philosophy of physics, where I developed a neo-Kantian approach. I edited texts by Erwin Schrödinger, and published books in French about quantum mechanics for which I received an award from the "Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques". A few years ago, I focused on the relations between the philosophy of quantum mechanics and the philosophy of mind and consciousness, working in close collaboration with Francisco Varela. I also have a long-term interest for the philosophy of the Madhyamika school, and learned some Sanskrit to have access to it.

Michael Epperson

Michael Epperson

Michael Epperson is a research professor and founding director of the Center for Philosophy and the Natural Sciences at California State University, Sacramento, and the founding director of the university's History and Philosophy of Science Program. Epperson did his doctoral work in philosophy of science and philosophy of religion at The University of Chicago, and earned his Ph.D. there in 2003. His dissertation, Quantum Mechanics and the Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead(Fordham University Press, 2004, 2nd ed. 2012) was written under the direction of philosopher David Tracy and physicist Peter Hodgson, Head of the Nuclear Physics Theoretical Group at the University of Oxford. His follow-on work Foundations of Relational Realism: A Topological Approach to Quantum Mechanics and the Philosophy of Nature (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013), co-authored with quantum theorist and mathematician Elias Zafiris (Ph.D., Theoretical Physics, Imperial College, University of London) explores the ontological significance of potentia and contextuality in quantum mechanics, toward a mereotopological, relational interpretation. Epperson’s current research with Stuart Kauffman explores the philosophical implications of recent innovations in quantum mechanics and complexity theory. (Latest paper: R. Kastner, S. Kauffman, M. Epperson, "Taking Heisenberg's Potentia Seriously" International Journal of Quantum Foundations, 4:2 (2018): 158-172. See also this commentary article in Science News).  

Harald Wiltsche

Harald A. Wiltsche

Harald A. Wiltsche is currently Assistant Professor at the Department for Philosophy at the University of Graz, Austria, and P.I. of the research project „Intentionality and Symbolic Construction. The Phenomenological Background of Hermann Weyl‘s Philosophy of Physics“ (funded by the Austrian Research Fund). Prior to that, he has been Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Stanford University and Erwin Schroedinger Research Scholar at the University of Toronto. Harald‘s research interests include phenomenology, philosophy of physics and general philosophy of science. He is currently co-editing (together with Philipp Berghofer) the volume „Phenomenological Approaches to Physics“, which will appear as part of the „Synthese Library“ series. For more information, visit