PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Kinematics, Dynamics, and the Structure of Physical Theory

Every physical theory has (at least) two different forms of
mathematical equations to represent its target systems: the dynamical
(equations of motion) and the kinematical (kinematical constraints).
Kinematical constraints are differentiated from equations of motion by
the fact that their particular form is fixed once and for all,
irrespective of the interactions the system enters into. By contrast,
the particular form of a system's equations of motion depends
essentially on the particular interaction the system enters into. All
contemporary accounts of the structure and semantics of physical
theory assume that the equations of motion, i.e., the dynamics, is the
most important feature of a theory. I argue to the contrary that it
is the kinematical constraints that determine the structure and
empirical content of a physical theory in the most important ways:
they function as necessary preconditions for the appropriate
application of the theory; they differentiate types of physical
systems; they are necessary for the equations of motion to be well
posed or even just cogent; and they guide the experimentalist in
design of tools for measurement and observation. It is thus
satisfaction of the kinematical constraints that renders meaning to
those terms representing a system's physical quantities in the first
place, even before one can ask whether or not the system satisfies the
theory's equations of motion.

Author Information:

Erik Curiel    
Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (LMU Munich)


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