December 2022, Monday 12th, 3:00pm to 5:00pm
Venue: Institut Jean Nicod, Salle de réunion, 29 rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris (you can enter also from 24 rue Lhomond)
Abstract: Recent scholarship on aesthetics in science seems to endorse pluralism at least along one of three dimensions: which aesthetic values are relevant for scientific research (e.g. beauty or sublime); which scientific practices can be aesthetic (e.g. experiments, theories, thought experiments); what is the possible epistemic import of aesthetics to science (e.g. knowledge or understanding). This gives a rather sophisticated space of possibilities for how aesthetics may operate in science. One way to delineate this complexity is to trace the interaction between values and practices in the actual research. In this paper, I use the emblematic case of matrix mechanics and wave mechanics to investigate the relationship between the aesthetic stance of theoretically minded physicists’ and their epistemic strategy towards the problems of quantum physics. I note the effect of aesthetics on two levels. On the individual level, I distinguish the heuristic role of aesthetics in selecting a favourable research strategy and the contribution of aesthetic sensibility to the use of the chosen strategy. On the interpersonal level, I claim that the plurality of aesthetic values allows scientists to single out their distinct points of attack on the research problem, which may or may not be competing or complementary. Overall, I conclude aesthetics to be a meta-epistemic factor grounded in concrete research practices that contributes to science in an essentially pluralist way.