We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellows' Seminar - Emergence and Pathology of Concepts: Learning from “the man behind the curtain”

15th January 2018, 13:00 to 14:00, Seminar Room, Institute of Advanced Study, Professor Thomas Vogt (University of South Carolina)


Chemical concepts not used in physics such as valence, oxidation state, chemical bond, acidity, optical activity and electronegativity are introduced using ad-hoc concepts, approximations and conceptual discontinuities. Quantum mechanics does not derive the periodic table of the elements, nor the concepts of chemical bonding and molecular and extended structures. Instead in a subfield of chemistry, quantum chemistry, we apply quantum mechanics to chemical systems. While in chemistry, solid state physics and materials chemistry we introduce no new particles sui generis than those explored in particle and high energy physics we observe how novel and unpredictable entities such as molecules, dressed particles and quasi-particles emerge.

In this talk Professor Thomas Vogt will present examples from chemistry and materials science that advocate and support a pragmatic, pluralist and weak emergence position which accepts physicalism and the causal closure of physics but does not call for a one-to-one correspondence of chemical/materials and physics concepts but only that they both rely on the same microphysical entities. He argues against a case for strong emergence where sui generis forces emerge which are irreducible to microphysical forces. Professor Vogt strongly believes as an operational approach that we need to be pragmatists and pluralists and accept that the coexistence of competing theories is sometimes necessary as scientific progress can be slow and uneven. Paradoxes are often important indicators of the pathology of theories and can be due to (1) the fact that we are trying to answer the wrong question, or (2) the fact that what could happen simply doesn’t or (3) that we have to accept that a theory’s predictive power does not have to be based on intelligibility.

Places are limited and so any academic colleagues interested in attending a seminar should register online in advance to reserve a place. Places will be confirmed within 48 hours of receipt (subject to availability).

Contact for more information about this event.