Philosophy and quantum mechanics, an SNSF Ambizione grant to metaphysical indeterminacy


Institutional Communication Service

21 November 2022

The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) recently announced the winners of the Ambizione Research Grants 2022. Among the winners is the project "Quantum Indeterminacy. A Metaphysics for Spontaneous Collapse Models of Quantum Mechanics" submitted by Cristian Mariani, who will carry out his project at the Institute of Philosophical Studies of the Faculty of Theology in Lugano, affiliated with USI.

Ambizione calls are open to young scholars from any discipline who intend to carry out their research activities at a Swiss institution for four years. After evaluating 473 applications, the SNSF decided to award 83 fellowships this year, including 26 in the Social Sciences and Humanities macro area. Mariani's is the third Ambizione project to land at USI since 2008 when the fund was established.

Mariani's project is set in the context of the metaphysics of science, a relatively recent but steadily developing field of research. The metaphysics of science is based on the idea that some philosophical concepts, such as causality, probability or emergence, need to be reevaluated in order to make clear what the various natural sciences tell us about the world. In particular, Mariani addresses the philosophical and conceptual assumptions of quantum mechanics.

Born in the early twentieth century, quantum mechanics allows us to study the interactions of matter and energy at the atomic and subatomic levels and is fundamental in our understanding of natural phenomena. As is well known, this theory has some aspects that clash with our everyday intuitions about the world. For example, experiments on subatomic particles seem to suggest that they may have incompatible properties, occupy multiple locations simultaneously, or even manage to communicate instantaneously at a distance. Such consequences, precisely because they are widely confirmed in experiments, are such as to impose a substantial revision to our conceptions, which explains the philosophical interest in this theory.

The goal of Mariani's project is to develop a new paradigm to deal in a unified way with the main conceptual problems of quantum mechanics. At the heart of the project is a theory called "metaphysics of objective indeterminacy," according to which it is necessary to abandon the assumption that objects have well-defined properties at every instant of time.

The Dean of the Faculty of Theology in Lugano, Prof. René Roux, adds that "the coming of this project is part of a process of enrichment of the research in philosophy carried out at the Faculty of Theology, which since January 2022 has welcomed five new projects in the philosophy area, 4 of which are funded by the SNSF."

Cristian Mariani will converse with Cesare Alfieri (PhD in Physics at ETHZ) on Friday, 25 November, as part of the series of public meetings "Il mondo a caso?" explicitly dedicated to the topic of quantum mechanics between philosophy and physics. The encounter will be held at 6 pm at Il Litorale USI (Piazza San Rocco 3, Lugano).