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

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Literal vs careful interpretations of scientific theories: the vacuum approach to the problem of motion in general relativity

The problem of motion of general relativity is about how exactly the gravitational field equations, the Einstein equations, are related to the equations of motion of material bodies subject to gravitational fields. This paper compares two approaches to derive the geodesic motion of (test) matter from the field equations: `the T approach' and `the vacuum approach'. The latter approach has been dismissed by philosophers of physics because of it apparently representing material bodies by singularities. I shall argue that a careful interpretation of the approach shows that it does not depend on introducing singularities at all, and that it holds at least as much promise as the T approach. I finish with some general lessons about careful vs. literal interpretations of scientific theories.

Author Information:

Dennis Lehmkuhl    
Einstein Papers Project / HSS
California Institute of Technology

 

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