26 October 2021 3.00pm
Stefano Furlan and Rocco Gaudenzi (MPIWG – Berlin)
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This video is part of the PROTEUS project that has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant agreement No. 758145)
The debate around analogy in modern physics that focuses on its role as a logical inference often overlooks its historical dimension and other equally important functions. Inspired by a close investigation of the primary sources and archival material, and through a critical discussion of those shortcomings that are in our opinion quite widespread in the accounts of analogy in recent physics, we intend to lay out a perspective on analogy-making which preserves as much as possible its historical complexity. While not losing sight of the logical role, our framework of “analogy in action” puts a special emphasis on the heuristic process, and aims at offering some tools to capture the subtle functions of analogical reasoning involved in such process. After sketching this framework, we make use of it to interpret the growth of the ideas of two remarkable physicists dealing with the multifaceted notion of vacuum in 20th-century physics. We first consider the hitherto neglected Japanese reception of the idea of Dirac sea in the early 1930s and the pathway that led Y. Nambu to the discovery of spontaneous symmetry breaking; and, second, how J.A. Wheeler, in his quest for the proper way of putting together Einstein’s and Bohr’s legacy, envisioned a “geology of the vacuum”, which from the 1970s on brought him to evoke a grand view that was rich in resonances with the one I. Prigogine was independently developing.