[ExI] "How Is Quantum Field Theory Possible?"

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Tue Jul 17 01:33:22 UTC 2007

Bryan wrote 

> Sent: Sunday, July 15, 2007 6:21 PM
> Subject: Re: [ExI] The Reality of Categories
> Lee wrote:
>> I'm reading a book "How is Quantum Field Theory Possible?"
>> which makes a strong case that QFT supports and affirms realism.
> Ooh, do tell. How is the book so far?

I really, really love it.  With uncanny word choice and an incredible
vocabulary the author lays bare her interpretation of Kantian philosophy
and how Quantum Field Theory confirms his view as expressed in
"The Critique of Pure Reason".

The author has taught quantum field theory for many years at MIT,
I understand.

The book does, however, attempt to provide an introduction to
quantum mechanics and quantum field theory in order to undergird
the presentation, and unless you've had a course in QM (which
I have not) then the ten or fifteen percent of the book that depends
on physics is not very accessible, at least not without a lot
of study and a good textbook on QM sitting next to you.

Me, I could never make heads or tells of Kant before reading this
book. I had no idea that Kant was trying to explain the a priori
existence of a mental framework that we *all* use all the time:
that things exist (whatever we are talking about), and that the
things have properties, and that relationships exist between
things, properties and relationships. It's more than I have time
to write about here.  This mental framework is called (by Kant?)
"*The* Categorical Framework", and according to him every
epistemological and ontological discussion should start with it.
(At least this is my amateurish philosophical take on it.)

I've written up some very disorganized notes for myself at
and for folks in a book group I belong to who're trying to
read the book.   I, at least, have to read every sentence
very carefully and make a huge effort to internalize what
the author is trying to say.  But I really can't imagine that
it could have been said any simpler:  When you're trying
to talk about how we *think* itself, there are so many
unconscious assumptions that have to be addressed (and
in many cases dismantled) that there's no way of getting
around the fact that any good explanation is going to be
 a tough slog.

The bottom line is that the author makes a very strong case
that QFT fully illustrates not only what Kant was trying to
say, but that a fully consistent philosophical analysis of QFT
proves that Kant was right.

> Recently I have been reading up on QFT after learning
> some of the basics of QED. Virtual particles as mediators
> of "fields" is really intriguing to me, since we get to come
> up with various explanations that (so far) work instead
> of resulting to mystical permeating fields.

Well, the author might retort that the "permeating fields"
really are the fundamental reality, and that fiber bundles
and local symmetry groups force one away from a
Newtonian view of particles-in-a-void (substantivalism).
(Or, as Dan---Technotranscendence---mentioned,
substantivalism in part encompasses the notion that
space is independent of matter. Anyway, it doesn't
at all fit well with QFT evidently.)

As I mention on that page, the peculiar title of the book
comes from the kind of argument that Kant used.  It
is called the *transcendental argument*, and "has the
following general form:
          X   (e.g., we have experiences).
          For X to be possible, the conditions p must be satisfied.
          Therefore p.
       "How is X possible?" initiates the inquiry and is
        called a transcendental question. The topic X
        is typically some fundamental empirical knowledge
        in Kantian philosophy. Hence the conditions p must
        be  internally manifested, for outside knowledge we
        know nothing and can say nothing..."

Thus the title is, for the author, a "transcendental question
initiating inquiry".  I don't know why she had to leave this
explanation of the title to an endnote in the back of the


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