Sigma Club at LSE this term: Harper, Price, Bouatta

Sigma Club at LSE – Michaelmas Term Meetings

Oct 10 William Harper (University of Western Ontario): Isaac Newton’s Scientific Method

Oct 31 Huw Price (University of Cambridge): Retrocausality – what would it take?

Nov 21 Nazim Buatta (University of Cambridge): TBA

Further information can be found at


Isaac Newton’s Scientific Method

William Harper

On the basic Hypothetico-deductive model hypothesized principles are tested by experimental verification of observable consequences drawn from them. Empirical success is limited to accurate prediction of observable phenomena.

Newton’s inferences from phenomena realize an ideal of empirical success that is richer than prediction. To realize Newton’s richer conception of empirical success a theory needs to do more than to accurately predict the phenomena it purports to explain; in addition, it needs to have the phenomena accurately measure parameters of the theory. Newton’s method aims to turn theoretical questions into ones which can be empirically answered by measurement from phenomena. Propositions inferred from phenomena are provisionally accepted as guides to further research. Newton employs theory-mediated measurements to turn data into far more informative evidence than can be achieved by hypothetico-deductive confirmation alone. On his method deviations from the model developed so far count as new theory-mediated phenomena to be exploited as carrying information to aid in developing a more accurate successor.

All of these enrichments are exemplified in the classical response to Mercury’s perihelion problem. Contrary to Kuhn, Newton’s method endorses the radical transition from his theory to Einstein’s. These richer themes of Newton’s method are, also, strikingly realized in the response to a challenge to general relativity from a later problem posed by Mercury’s perihelion.

We can also see Newton’s method at work in cosmology today in the support afforded to the (dark energy) cosmic expansion from the agreeing measurements from supernovae and cosmic microwave background radiation.

Huw Price

Retrocausality – what would it take?

Some writers argue that retrocausality offers an attractive loophole in Bell’s Theorem, allowing an explanation of EPR-Bell correlations without “spooky action-at-a-distance.” This idea originated more than a decade before Bell’s famous result, when de Broglie’s student, Olivier Costa de Beauregard, first proposed that retrocausality plays a role in EPR contexts. The proposal is difficult to assess, because there has been little work on the general question of what a world with retrocausality would “look like” – what kinds of considerations, if any, would properly lead to the conclusion that we do live in such a world. In this talk I discuss these general issues, with the aim of bringing the more specific question as to whether quantum theory implies retrocausality into sharper focus than has hitherto been possible.


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