The epistemology of spontaneously broken symmetries

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Abstract

Spontaneously broken symmetries are often called hidden or secret symmetries. They are symmetries in the laws of nature that do not show up in observable phenomena. This raises the basic epistemological question: Is there reason to believe that these hidden symmetries are real features of nature rather than artifacts of theorizing. This paper clarifies the epistemic status of spontaneously broken symmetries. It presents the details of an argument by analogy that suggests the spontaneously broken gauge symmetry of electroweak interactions, and the subsequent hypothetico-deductive testing of the hypothesis. It is a story of how dubious means can lead to a credible end.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)359-376
Number of pages18
JournalSynthese
Volume122
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2000

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

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