Cushing Prize

Congratulations to David Baker who wins the 2010 James T. Cushing Memorial Prize in History and Philosophy of Physics.

The John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values, along with the Graduate Program in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Notre Dame and the Advisory Committee of the James T. Cushing Memorial Prize in History and Philosophy of Physics are pleased to announce the award of the Cushing Prize for 2009 to David John Baker, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan. He is being honored for his paper, “Against Field Interpretations of Quantum Field Theory,” published in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (2009). The Cushing Prize carries a $1000 award plus an invitation to deliver a lecture as part of the History and Philosophy of Science Colloquium at the University of Notre Dame.

David summarizes his argument in the abstract of his paper: “I examine some problems standing in the way of a successful ‘field interpretation’ of quantum field theory. The most popular extant proposal depends on the Hilbert space of ‘wavefunctionals.’ But since wavefunctional space is unitarily equivalent to many-particle Fock space, two of the most powerful arguments against particle interpretations also undermine this form of field interpretation.”

His nomination expands on the significance of his work for the philosophy of physics: “Baker brings the physics of coherent states (deployed in quantum optics) and symmetry breaking (apparently widespread in the ‘Standard Model’ of high energy physics) to bear upon questions about the ontology of QFT…The examples enable Baker to rework recognized arguments against particle interpretations of QFTs into novel arguments against field interpretations of QFTs. Part of the arguments’ novelty derives from Baker’s willingness to frame them, and frame them deftly, in the language of metaphysics…Even though QFTs are among our best candidates to circumscribe what’s physically necessary, the nature of physical necessity has not been an ongoing theme in the foundations of QFT literature. Making it one, Baker strengthens the case that issues surrounding the foundations of physical theories have real philosophical relevance.”
David earned his Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Physics from the University of Michigan in 2003 and his Doctorate in Philosophy from Princeton University in 2008. At Princeton, his dissertation advisor was Hans Halvorson, who was the first recipient of the Cushing Prize in 2004.

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