UA Philosopher Receives Prestigious Lakatos Award and NSF Grant

University of Arizona Philosophy Professor Richard Healey continues to show his expertise in the field of philosophy of science and metaphysics by receiving both the prestigious Lakatos Award and a National Science Foundation grant this spring.

"Richard Healey is simply brilliant,” says Chris Maloney, head of the UA philosophy department. “This philosopher of physics writes with sparkling insight and luminous originality about the most fundamental, yet deeply vexing, issues in the conceptual foundations of quantum mechanics.  Richard's mastery of both philosophy and physics positions him as a leading light in one of the most intellectually challenging and difficult areas of inquiry.”

Lakatos Award

Healey received the 2008 Lakatos Award in the Philosophy of Science for his book, “Gauging What's Real: The Conceptual Foundations of Gauge Theories” (Oxford University Press, 2007). He accepted the award in London on May 14.

The award, endowed by the Latsis Foundation, is for an outstanding contribution to the philosophy of science in the form of a book published in English during the previous five years. It is named in memory of the late Professor Imre Lakatos of the London School of Economics and is administered by the International Management Committee consisting of distinguished faculty from various prominent institutions.

The value of the award is 10,000 British pounds and includes an invitation to deliver a public lecture at the London School of Economics.

Professor Healey's book discusses how gauge theories in both classical and quantum physics represents the world. He argues that evidence for classical gauge theories of forces (other than gravity) gives us reason to believe that loops rather than points are the locations of fundamental properties. As well as exploring the prospects of extending this conclusion to the quantum gauge theories of elementary particle physics, the book assesses the difficulties faced by attempts to base such ontological conclusions on the success of these theories.

NSF Grant

The National Science Foundation, Division of Social and Economic Sciences, has awarded Healey a grant in the amount of $118,990 in support of his project: "Physics Without Building Blocks."

“People often think of science as a hierarchy, with physics at its base — itself founded on fundamental physics,” says Healey. “The project is to subject this view to critical scrutiny and to develop an alternative view."

Physicists talk of elementary particles and their associated fields, but Healey believes there are strong reasons to doubt whether all matter is simply built out of these, so that their properties determine all the properties of matter. In trying to understand how solids and liquids behave, physics does not simply apply its fundamental theories to enormous numbers of their elementary constituents, but develops new models of matter that prove appropriate at different scales of length and energy.

“This is a reason to question the view that physics reduces to the quantum theories of fundamental physics,” says Healey. “What’s more, it is difficult to understand how any quantum theory can describe a world independent of our measurements. A revised image of physics (if not all of science) pictures it as successfully modeling various domains by a network of theories, with connections of various kinds and strengths between them.”