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Fluid Mechanics, Models, and Realism: Philosophy at the Boundaries of Fluid Systems

Sykora, Jeffrey (2019) Fluid Mechanics, Models, and Realism: Philosophy at the Boundaries of Fluid Systems. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Philosophy of science has long drawn conclusions about the relationships between laws, models, and theories from studies of physics. However, many canonical accounts of the epistemic roles of laws and the nature of theories derived their scientific content from either schematized or exotic physical theories. Neither Theory-T frameworks nor investigation on interpretations of quantum mechanics and relativity reflect a majority of physical theories in use. More recently, philosophers of physics have begun developing accounts based in versions of classical mechanics that are both homelier than the exotic physical theories and more mathematically rigorous than the Theory-T frameworks of the earlier canon. Some, including Morrison (1999, 2015), Rueger (2005), and Wilson (2017), have turned to the study of fluid flows as a way to unpack the complex relationships among laws, models, theories, and their implications for scientific realism.

One important result of this work is a resurgence of interest in the relationship between the differential equations that express mechanical laws and the boundary conditions that constrain the solutions to those equations. However, many of these accounts miss a crucial set of distinctions between the roles of mathematical boundary conditions modeling physical systems, and the roles of physical conditions at the boundary of the modeled system. In light of this systematic oversight, in this dissertation I show that there is a difference between boundary conditions and conditions at the boundary. I use that distinction to investigate the roles of boundary conditions in the models of fluid mechanics. I argue that boundary conditions are in some cases more lawlike than previously supposed, and that they can play unique roles in scientific explanations. Further, I show that boundaries are inherently mesoscale features of physical systems, which provide explanations that cannot be inferred from microscale dynamics alone. Finally, I argue that an examination of the domain of application of boundary conditions supports a form of realism.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Sykora, Jeffreyjms28@att.netjms388
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairWoodward,
Committee MemberBatterman,
Committee MemberMitchell,
Committee MemberWilliams,
Date: 25 September 2019
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 17 July 2019
Approval Date: 25 September 2019
Submission Date: 3 August 2019
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 129
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History and Philosophy of Science
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Philosophy of Physics
Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2019 16:55
Last Modified: 25 Sep 2019 16:55


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