UoB Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor Elay Shech, Auburn University, Alabama, USA

bmvp Schech

Transfer of Epistemic Warrant in Analogue Models: The Case of the Hubbard Model

Dates of visit: 1 July - 1 August 2018


Elay Shech is a philosopher specializing in philosophy of science and philosophy of physics. However, his research interests are broad and cover a wide range of areas in philosophy including aesthetics and the philosophy of art, philosophy of mathematics, and history of science.

Dr Shech received his PhD from the department of History and Philosophy of Science at University of Pittsburgh under the direction of John Earman and John Norton in the Spring of 2015, and also holds a BA in Physics from Boston University. In August 2015, he joined Auburn University’s Department of Philosophy as Assistant Professor. He has held visiting fellowships at Durham University, National University of Singapore, and the University of Sydney, and was also visiting scholar/professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University.

His work concerns the philosophical underpinnings of representation and infinite/infinitesimal idealization in science, with special attention paid to both traditional and novel case studies: phase transitions, the Aharonov‐Bohm effect, and the quantum Hall effects. He promotes a semantic content‐based approach to scientific representation, based on an interdisciplinary comparative study of different types of representations (e.g., mental, linguistic, pictorial, diagrammatic), and makes connections between this and accounts of pictorial representation in aesthetics.

In addition, he looks at the role of the infinite/infinitesimal idealizations that arise in standard accounts of the above case studies. Dr Shech has argued that infinite idealizations play an exploratory role in science, and suggested that they signal the need for novel physical‐mathematical research programs. His future research includes two book‐sized projects, one on infinite idealizations and scientific representation, and one on the philosophical foundation of the quantum Hall effects and other emergent effects in condensed matter physics.


Models, such as the ideal gas model in thermal physics or the Lotka‐Volterra model of predetor‐prey dynamics, have long played a special role in philosophical and scientific investigations of the nature. While the philosophy of science literature on models has been flourishing, little attention has been paid to understanding how analogue models, along with simulations and experiments, work and what unique philosophical issues arise in such a context. One important issue concerns knowledge transfer: the transfer of epistemic warrant and justification from the analogue model (or simulation, or experiment,) to another model (or simulation, or experiment,) or some concrete physical system in the world. Various questions arise: How can we learn from analogue models, simulations, and experiments? Do such objects facilitate scientific understanding? How can evidence for one model of some phenomenon transfer to another model of some different phenomenon? What is the mechanism of knowledge transfer? In what sense can a simulation or experiment regarding some state of affairs provide evidence for some different states of affairs?

This research project considers such questions and looks specifically at the interesting case of the “Hubbard model” of the “Mott phase transitions.” In particular, a Mott phase transitions is when a metal transitions from a conducting to an insulating state (or vice versa). While insulators where somewhat well understood with the so‐called “Heisenberg model,” hypotheses regarding the existence of the Mott phase transitions were only grounded with the advent of the Hubbard modal along with rigorous mathematical results that showed how, under certain conditions, the Hubbard modal was structurally very similar (isomorphic) to the Heisenberg model. We have here a case of transfer of empirical warrant: empirical success of the Heisenberg model was transferred to the Hubbard model in virtue of certain rigorous results (showing that the two models are isomorphic in a particular domain). The Hubbard model, in turn, as a theoretical model for the conductor‐insulator transition, further confirmed hypotheses regarding the existence and mechanism of the Mott phase transition. 

More generally, comprehending how analogue models (and ultimately simulations and experiment) work in science, how we can learn from them, and the role that they play in facilitating scientific explanation and understanding, will help make steps toward answers age‐old philosophical questions regarding how we know and what our knowledge tells us about how the world is.

During his stay in Bristol Dr Shech will be hosted by Dr Karim Thebault (Philosophy), and will give the following lectures/seminars:

Infinite Idealizations in Science
Graduate Student Seminar, 2nd July 2018, LT1 43 Woodland Road

Infinite idealizations are assumptions that play an important role in physics, biology, economics, and many others sciences. Putative examples include an infinite population size in population genetics, an infinite number of physical components of a system in the theory of phase transitions and an infinite number of persons consuming an infinite number of (infinitely divisible) goods in large-scale economic models. Although these idealizations are generally uncontroversial in the scientific community, they have been at the center of recent philosophical debates about reduction, explanation and the status of models in science. In this seminar we'll review an important distinction between idealization and approximation by John Norton (2012), and continue to look at several recent papers forthcoming in a special issue of Synthese on infinite idealization in science.
Historical Inductions Meet the Material Theory
Departmental Lecture, 3rd July, LT1 43 Woodland Road

Historical inductions, viz., the pessimistic meta-induction and the problem of unconceived alternatives, are critically analyzed via John Norton’s material theory of induction and subsequently rejected as non-cogent arguments. It is suggested that the material theory is amenable to a local version of the pessimistic meta-induction, e.g., in the context of some medical studies.

Participation in international workshop on “Analogue Experimentation
July 16‐17, organized by Dr. Karim Thébault
Many of the predictions of modern theoretical physics are extremely difficult to test. For example, Hawking's famous prediction that black holes radiate at a characteristic temperature. Since the temperature of `Hawking radiation' is very low, it is not (even in principle) detectable via observational astronomy. The lack of an in principle means for direct experimental testing of predictions such as Hawking radiation pose a challenge to conventional scientific methodologies. This challenge is taken up by techniques of `analogue simulation' and ‘analogue experimentation’ wherein an accessible `source' system is used to simulate phenomena that are difficult or impossible to test directly within a `target' system. Questions arise: What kind of evidence can analogue simulations and experiments provide?; What do analogue simulations have in common with computer simulations and experiments?; What is the scientific and economic value of analogue simulation and experimentation? This two‐day international workshop will concentrate on such questions and will involve world leading of physicists and philosophers working in both applied and theoretical side of both analogue gravity and analogue quantum simulation. Dr. Shech’s and Dr. Thébault’s work on transference of epistemic warrant in the case of analogue models is directly related to the issues that will be explored in the workshop. 

Philosophy of Science for Science Teachers Session
Date, time and location tbc.
This session will be lead by Dr. Shech and will take the form of an afternoon or evening event involving a short talk and discussion relating to the use of idealizations in science and related philosophical issues such as representation, explanation, realism, and understanding. The focus will be both on the philosophical question of how we can understand science as a vehicle for knowledge given the ubiquitous use of idealizations and also on the cognitive and educational values of using idealizations and outright fictions for achieving scientific understanding and deep physical insight, e.g., learning about electromagnetic by thinking about electricity as a fluid. The event will be promoted with local science school teachers, ECRs from the science faculty and PGCE students from the Graduate School of Education.

Participation in Philosophy of Chemistry conference
16 - 18 July 
The International Society for the Philosophy of Chemistry (ISPC) is devoted to the international exchange of ideas concerning the philosophical foundations of the chemical sciences and related areas. This exchange fosters discourse between chemists, biochemists, philosophers, historians, sociologists and educators.