Journal Article

Inferring Conservation Laws in Particle Physics: A Case Study in the Problem of Induction

Oliver Schulte

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 51, issue 4, pages 771-806
Published in print December 2000 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online December 2000 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/51.4.771
Inferring Conservation Laws in Particle Physics: A Case Study in the Problem of Induction

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This paper develops a means–end analysis of an inductive problem that arises in particle physics: how to infer from observed reactions conservation principles that govern all reactions among elementary particles. I show that there is a reliable inference procedure that is guaranteed to arrive at an empirically adequate set of conservation principles as more and more evidence is obtained. An interesting feature of reliable procedures for finding conservation principles is that in certain precisely defined circumstances they must introduce hidden particles. Among the reliable inductive methods there is a unique procedure that minimizes convergence time as well as the number of times that the method revises its conservation principles. Thus the aims of reliable, fast and steady convergence to an empirically adequate theory single out a unique optimal inference for a given set of observed reactions—including prescriptions for when exactly to introduce hidden particles.

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Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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