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Physics and philosophy

Code: 93395
ECTS: 3.0
Lecturers in charge: doc. dr. sc. Tihomir Vukelja - Lectures
English level:


All teaching activities will be held in Croatian. However, foreign students in mixed groups will have the opportunity to attend additional office hours with the lecturer and teaching assistants in English to help master the course materials. Additionally, the lecturer will refer foreign students to the corresponding literature in English, as well as give them the possibility of taking the associated exams in English.

1. komponenta

Lecture typeTotal
Lectures 30
Seminar 15
* Load is given in academic hour (1 academic hour = 45 minutes)
COURSE AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: The objective of the course is to encourage students to ponder about physics, to help them in placing their own profession within a wider historical, philosophical, cultural and social context, and to teach them how to enrich teaching and make it more interesting by pointing to the philosophical problems that physics raises. The course presents physics, as a human activity, and the physical knowledge, as a product of that activity, as a philosophical problem, i.e. as a subject of a philosophical investigation. The accent is on the two points of this investigation: on the problem of the nature of physics and justification of the physical knowledge (philosophy of science: what physics and science in general are?) and on the problem of the worldview shaped on the basis of physical theories (philosophy of physics: what kind of a worldview physics offers?). The course offers an overview of the basic philosophical problems of physics and some of its solutions. Problems and solutions are intended to be presented in a form suitable for pupils, in order to use acquired knowledge in teaching.

Week 1: Introduction. Different aspects of the interconnectedness between physics and philosophy. Modern physics as a philosophical problem: the philosophy of science and the philosophy of physics.

Part one: Philosophy of science
Week 2: Rationalism and empiricism. Inductive account of physical knowledge. Logical positivism.
Week 3: Popper and falsificationism. Duhem - Quine thesis.
Week 4: Kuhn: paradigms and scientific revolutions. Social constructivism.
Week 5: Lakatos: research programmes. Feyerabend and scientific method.
Week 6: The nature of laws and explanation in physics. The philosophy of experiment.
Week 7: Realism and instrumentalism.

Part two: Philosophy of physics
Week 8: Space and time. Space-time. Dynamical laws and symmetries.
Week 9: The ontology of classical physics: particles and fields. Determinism. The nature of classical physics. Modern physics and the ideal of divine knowledge.
Week 10: Probability, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. Irreversibility. Introduction to the philosophy of quantum mechanics: the double slit thought experiment and real experiments (electrons, neutrons, atoms, the welcher Weg experiment).
Week 11: Dual nature of light: the existence of photons and the delayed-choice experiment. Stationary states and quantum beats. The discussion about experiments: experiential, theoretical, and interpretational level.
Week 12: Different interpretations of quantum mechanics: quantum realism, Copenhagen interpretation, epistemic interpretation, ontological interpretation (Bohm and hidden variables), statistical interpretation, quantum logic. Various interpretations of the uncertainty relations.
Week 13: Measurement problem and some solutions (modifications of quantum mechanical formalism, many worlds and many minds, decoherence by environment, decoherent histories...).
Week 14: EPR dilemma, Bell's inequality and experiments. Nonseparability of the quantum phenomenon. Quantum mechanics, classical physics and the antic natural philosophy: relationship, similarities and differences.
Classes are organized in lectures (2 hours per week) and seminars (1 hour per week). The intention is to use lectures for the active debate and students' questions regarding the course topics in maximum degree. Students are therefore obliged to prepare beforehanded readings for the lectures. In seminars students present their essays accompanying lectures, in which particular lecture topics are elaborated and commented in more details. Essays are prepared individually or in a group (depending on the number of students). After 7th and 14th week, a written preliminary exam is expected, by which the knowledge of the first and the second part of the lectures (Philosophy of science and Philosophy of physics, respectively) should be evaluated.
Student is obliged to complet an essay. The exam is oral, in the form of an individual conversation with a student. The accent of the exam is on checking student's abilities to apply the acquired knowledge in physics teaching. A student is evaluated on the basis of the knowledge demonstrated at the exam, grades of the preliminary exams and grade of the essay.
  1. S. Lelas, T. Vukelja: Filozofija znanosti
  2. L. Sklar: Philosophy of Physics
  3. A. F. Chalmers: What is this thing called Science?, 3. izdanje
  4. M. Curd, J. A. Cover: Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues
  5. J. Lelas: Teorije razvoja znanosti
  6. R. Torretti: The Philosophy of Physics
  7. J. T. Cushing: Philosophical Concepts in Physics: The Historical Relation between Philosophy and Scientific Theories
  8. G. Greenstein, A. G. Zajonc: The Quantum Challenge
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Consultations schedule: