Abstract

Quite rightly, philosophers of physics examine the theories of physics, theories like Quantum Mechanics, Quantum Field Theory, the Special and General Theories of Relativity, and Statistical Mechanics. Far fewer, however, examine how these theories are put to use; that is to say, little attention is paid to the practices of theoretical physicists. In the early 1950s David Bohm and David Pines published a sequence of four papers, collectively entitled, 'A Collective Description of Electron Interaction.' This essay uses that quartet as a case study in theoretical practice. In Part One of the essay, each of the Bohm-Pines papers is summarized, and within each summary an overview is given, framing a more detailed account. In Part Two theoretical practice is broken into six elements: (a) the use of models, (b) the use of theory, (c) modes of description and narrative, (d) the use of approximations, (e) experiment and theory, (f) the varied steps employed in a deduction. The last element is the largest, drawing as it does from the earlier ones. Part Three enlarges on the concept of 'theoretical practice,' and briefly outlines the subsequent theoretical advances which rendered the practices of Bohm and Pines obsolete, if still respected.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9274
Print ISSN
1063-6145
Pages
pp. 457-524
Launched on MUSE
2007-04-26
Open Access
No
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