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Portrait by
Josephine Norton

Latest

Bio

CV
Includes direct links to my papers.

Research
A synopsis of my research in history and philosophy of physics and general philosophy of science, with links to papers.

Goodies
Some things are just too much fun.

Teaching
Complete syllabi for my courses and the complete text of "Einstein for Everyone."

Lectures
Some lecture series I have given.

Editing and Publishing

Director,Center for Philosophy of Science and
Professor, Department of History and Philosophy of Science
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh PA USA 15260
jdnorton@pitt.edu
412 624 1051
Dipole measurement The most successful exorcism of Maxwell’s demon is Smoluchowski’s 1912 observation that thermal fluctuations would likely disrupt the operation of any molecular scale demonic machine. Information-theoretic exorcisms fail since these same thermal fluctuations invalidate the molecular scale manipulations upon which the thermodynamics of computation is based. A new argument concerning conservation of phase space volume shows that all Maxwell’s demons must fail. "All Shook Up: Fluctuations, Maxwell's Demon and the Thermodynamics of Computation." Entropy, 2013, 15, pp. 4432-4483. Download.

For a short extension of the exorcism to quantum theory, see ""The Simplest Exorcism of Maxwell's Demon: The Quantum Version." Download.
Brownian computation Brownian computers are supposed to illustrate how logically reversible mathematical operations can be computed by physical processes that are thermodynamically reversible or nearly so. In fact, they are thermodynamically irreversible processes that are the analog of an uncontrolled expansion of a gas into a vacuum. "Brownian Computation is Thermodynamically Irreversible." Foundations of Physics. 43 (2013), pp 1384-1410. Download.

"On Brownian Computation" download.
Tower and Arch

In a formal theory of induction, inductive inferences are licensed by universal schemas. In a material theory of induction, inductive inferences are licensed by facts. With this change in the conception of the nature of induction, I argue that the celebrated “problem of induction” can no longer be set up and is thereby dissolved.

"A Material Dissolution of the Problem of Induction." Synthese, forthcoming. Download.
burning fuse In the burning fuse model of unbecoming in time, the future is real and the past is unreal. It is used to motivate the idea that there is something unbecoming in the present literature on the metaphysics of time: its focus is merely the assigning of a label “real.” "The Burning Fuse Model of Unbecoming in Time."
roulette wheel detail We argue that Monte Carlo simulations open no new epistemic channels beyond that already employed by traditional simulations: the inference by ordinary argumentation of conclusions from assumptions built into the simulations. "Why Monte Carlo Simulations Are Inferences and Not Experiments," (with Claus Beisbart) International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 26 (No. 4, December 2012), pp. 403-422. Download.
Rng flow Are phase transitions a banner instance of emergence or treated reductively by renormalization group methods? The answer depends on how you define levels between which the relations of reduction and emergence obtain. "Confusions over Reduction and Emergence in the Physics of Phase Transitions" in Goodies.
Time cover Modern writers often endow Einstein with a 21st century prescience about physical theory that, it just so happens, is only now vindicated by the latest results of the same writers' research. There is a second side to Einstein. His outlook and methods were clearly rooted in 19th century physics and a sense in which his work fulfills the discoveries of the 19th century. "Einstein as the Greatest of the Nineteenth Century Physicists," pp. 142-51 in Proceedings, Seventh Quadrennial Fellows Conference of the Center for Philosophy of Science (12-14 June 2012; Mugla, Turkey).
gas molecules 1. Approximations of arbitrarily large but finite systems are often mistaken for infinite idealizations in statistical and thermal physics. The problem is illustrated by thermodynamically reversible processes.

2. Whether phase transitions comprise a failure of reduction is confounded by a confusion of two senses of "level": the molecular versus the thermodynamic level and the few component versus the many component level.
"Infinite Idealizations," Prepared for Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook (Springer: Dordrecht-Heidelberg-London-New York. Download Draft.
halftone printing This paper proposes that idealizations are distinguished from approximations in that only idealizations involve novel reference. This difference is important when idealizations are created by taking infinite limits such as in statistical mechanics. For these infinite limits may have very strange properties, much odder than the discontinuities of phase transitions now widely acknowledged in the literature. "Approximation and Idealization: Why the Difference Matters" Philosophy of Science, 79 (2012), pp. 207-232. Download.
compression Entropy creation in excess of that tracked by Landauer's principle is needed to overcome fluctuations in molecular scale computation. This paper is a short account of the "no go" result reported in "Waiting for Landauer." "The End of the Thermodynamics of Computation: A No Go Result." Prepared for PSA 2012: Philosophy of Science Biennial Meeting. To appear in Philosophy of Science. Download.
light At the age of sixteen, Einstein imagined chasing after a beam of light. He later recalled that the thought experiment had played a memorable role in his development of special relativity. Famous as it is, it has proven difficult to understand just how the thought experiment delivers its results. It fails to generate problems for an ether-based electrodynamics. I propose that Einstein’s canonical statement of the thought experiment from his 1946 “Autobiographical Notes,” makes most sense not as an argument against ether-based electrodynamics, but as an argument against “emission” theories of light. "Chasing the Light: Einstein's Most Famous Thought Experiment," prepared for Thought Experiments in Philosophy, Science and the Arts, eds., James Robert Brown, Mélanie Frappier and Letitia Meynell, Routledge. Download.
Galileo fall Galileo's refutation of the speed-distance law of fall in his Two New Sciences is routinely dismissed as a moment of confused argumentation. We urge that Galileo's argument correctly identified why the speed-distance law is untenable, failing only in its very last step. Using an ingenious combination of scaling and self-similarity arguments, Galileo found correctly that bodies, falling from rest according to this law, fall all distances in equal times. What he failed to recognize in the last step is that this time is infinite, the result of an exponential dependence of distance on time. Instead, Galileo conflated it with the other motion that satisfies this 'equal time' property, instantaneous motion. "Galileo's Refutation of the Speed-Distance Law of Fall Rehabilitated," (with Bryan Roberts) Centaurus.54 (2012) pp. 148-164. Download.


"The Scaling of Speeds and Distances in Galileo's Two New Sciences: A Reply to Palmerino and Laird," (with Bryan Roberts) Centaurus, 54 (2012) pp. 182-191. Download.
philosophy in Einstein Albert Einstein read philosophy. It was not an affectation of a celebrity-physicist trying to show his adoring public that he was no mere technician, but a cultured thinker. It was an interest in evidence from the start. I review some ways in which his philosophical interests intersected with his science. “Philosophy in Einstein’s Science," Alternatives to Materialist Philosophies of Science, Philip MacEwen, ed., The Mellen Press. Download.
infinitesimal spacetime This chapter presents an opinionated assessment of what we can learn about the ontology of space and time from the special and general theories of relativity. “What Can We Learn about the Ontology of Space and Time from the Theory of Relativity?” L. Sklar (ed.), Physical Theory: Method and Interpretation, Oxford University Press. Download
IMAGEreference Contrary to the incommensurability thesis, I argue that the referents of theoretical terms can remain stable under theory change, if they are associated with “sparse meaning spaces.” In them, reference is error tolerant, for there are no alternatives in the neighborhood to which terms in altered descriptions can shift their reference. "Dense and Sparse Meaning Spaces: Comments on Travis Norsen, 'Scientific Cumulativity and Conceptual Change: The Case of Temperature.'" in Richard M. Burian and Allan Gotthelf, eds., Concepts, Induction, and the Growth of Scientific Knowledge, forthcoming.Download
vvvsailing If you like sailing and philosophy, this is for you. Perplexing paradoxes, causal conundra and tantalizing thought experiments.

“Paradoxes of Sailing," Ch. 13, pp.148-63, in Sailing: Philosophy for Everyone. Patrick A. Goold, Ed., Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Download.

For river sailing without philosophy, see Sailing at the Point.

Sydney Harbour Bridge. I was born and grew up in Sydney Australia. I studied chemical engineering at the University of New South Wales (1971-74) and then worked for two years as a technologist at the Shell Oil Refinery at Clyde, Sydney. I then switched fields and began a doctoral program in the School of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of New South Wales (1978-1981). My dissertation was on the history of general relativity. When it was finished, I visited at the Einstein Papers Project (1982-83) when the Papers were located at Princeton University Press with John Stachel as editor. In September 1983, I came to Pittsburgh as a visitor in the Center for Philosophy of Science/visiting faculty member in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh. I've been in the Department of HPS ever since. I was promoted to full professor in 1997, served as Chair in 2000-2005 and am now Director of the Center for Philosophy of Science, starting in September 2005.

Moments

Sailing

Indignities

Cathedral of Learning
Updated May 6, 2013 and possibly later too.