Quantum Gravity: A Primer for Philosophers

Authored by: Dean Rickles

The Ashgate Companion to Contemporary Philosophy of Physics

Print publication date:  October  2008
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754655183
eBook ISBN: 9781315612676
Adobe ISBN: 9781317044321


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‘Quantum Gravity’ does not denote any existing theory: the field of quantum gravity is very much a ‘work in progress’. As you will see in this chapter, there are multiple lines of attack each with the same core goal: to find a theory that unifies, in some sense, general relativity (Einstein’s classical field theory of gravitation) and quantum field theory (the theoretical framework through which we understand the behaviour of particles in non-gravitational fields). Quantum field theory and general relativity seem to be like oil and water, they don’t like to mix—it is fair to say that combining them to produce a theory of quantum gravity constitutes the greatest unresolved puzzle in physics. Our goal in this chapter is to give the reader an impression of what the problem of quantum gravity is; why it is an important problem; the ways that have been suggested to resolve it; and what philosophical issues these approaches, and the problem itself, generate. This review is extremely selective, as it has to be to remain a manageable size: generally, rather than going into great detail in some area, we highlight the key features and the options, in the hope that readers may take up the problem for themselves—however, some of the basic formalism will be introduced so that the reader is able to enter the physics and (what little there is of) the philosophy of physics literature prepared. 1 I have also supplied references for those cases where I have omitted some important facts. Hence, this chapter is intended primarily as a catalyst for future research projects by philosophers of physics, both budding and well-matured.

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