Journal Article

Saving Unobservable Phenomena

Michela Massimi

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 58, issue 2, pages 235-262
Published in print June 2007 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online May 2007 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI:
Saving Unobservable Phenomena

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In this paper I argue—against van Fraassen's constructive empiricism—that the practice of saving phenomena is much broader than usually thought, and includes unobservable phenomena as well as observable ones. My argument turns on the distinction between data and phenomena: I discuss how unobservable phenomena manifest themselves in data models and how theoretical models able to save them are chosen. I present a paradigmatic case study taken from the history of particle physics to illustrate my argument. The first aim of this paper is to draw attention to the experimental practice of saving unobservable phenomena, which philosophers have overlooked for too long. The second aim is to explore some far-reaching implications this practice may have for the debate on scientific realism and constructive empiricism. 1



Unobservable Phenomena 2.1

Data and phenomena


What is a data model?


Data models and unobservable phenomena


Saving Unobservable Phenomena: An Exemplar


The October Revolution of 1974: From the J/ψ to Charmonium 4.1

A new unobservable phenomenon at 3.1 Ge V


How the charmonium model saved the new unobservable phenomenon 4.2.1

The J/ψ as a baryon–antibaryon bound state


The J/ψ as the spin-1 meson of a model with three charmed quarks


The J/ψ as a charmonium state


Concluding Remarks

Journal Article.  11370 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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