Thoroughly Modern Zeno: The Arrow, Quantum Mechanically

Who: Laura Ruetsche, University of Michigan
Friday, November 8, 2019 - 3:30pm
Cathedral of Learning 1008

In the 5th century BCE, Zeno of Elea devised dozens of arguments against the possibilities of motion, change, and plurality. The loveliest of these, the Arrow Paradox, is briefly stated: "The flying arrow is motionless." In 1970, Wes Salmon published an anthology devoted to Zeno's Paradoxes and amply demonstrating their capacity to reward scrutiny from the perspectives afforded by mathematics and physics as they themselves move forward. Wes's introduction to that anthology was my first assignment in my first philosophy course. In 2019, I'll try to demonstrate that Zeno's paradoxes continue to illuminate, by considering Zeno's Arrow quantum mechanically. The classical arrow points to tensions in the very idea of motion at a point. The quantum arrow points to tensions deeper still: tensions in the very idea of being at a point. I'll describe strategies for releasing these tensions, but suggest that each comes at the cost of inflicting deep damage on physically respectable notions of motion. (Concerning prerequisites: I mean the talk to be accessible to a general philosophical audience. I'll presuppose no prior acquaintance with quantum theory, and will try to communicate relevant rudiments by means of pictures rather than equations.)

Speaker biography: Laura Ruetsche's research focuses on the foundations of physical theories, particularly quantum theories. Her book Interpreting Quantum Theories (Oxford), published in May 2011, was a co-winner of the 2013 Lakatos Award in philosophy of science. The book aims to use peculiar features of quantum field theories to challenge entrenched accounts of what a quantum theory is and how a physical theory comes to be associated with a collection of worlds that are by its lights possible.