Clifford Algebra: A Case for Geometric and Ontological Unification
Kallfelz, William Michael
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Robert Batterman's ontological insights (2002, 2004, 2005) are apt: Nature abhors singularities. "So should we," responds the physicist. However, the epistemic assessments of Batterman concerning the matter prove to be less clear, for in the same vein he write that singularities play an essential role in certain classes of physical theories referring to certain types of critical phenomena. I devise a procedure ("methodological fundamentalism") which exhibits how singularities, at least in principle, may be avoided within the same classes of formalisms discussed by Batterman. I show that we need not accept some divergence between explanation and reduction (Batterman 2002), or between epistemological and ontological fundamentalism (Batterman 2004, 2005). Though I remain sympathetic to the 'principle of charity' (Frisch (2005)), which appears to favor a pluralist outlook, I nevertheless call into question some of the forms such pluralist implications take in Robert Batterman's conclusions. It is difficult to reconcile some of the pluralist assessments that he and some of his contemporaries advocate with what appears to be a countervailing trend in a burgeoning research tradition known as Clifford (or geometric) algebra. In my critical chapters (2 and 3) I use some of the demonstrated formal unity of Clifford algebra to argue that Batterman (2002) equivocates a physical theory's ontology with its purely mathematical content. Carefully distinguishing the two, and employing Clifford algebraic methods reveals a symmetry between reduction and explanation that Batterman overlooks. I refine this point by indicating that geometric algebraic methods are an active area of research in computational fluid dynamics, and applied in modeling the behavior of droplet-formation appear to instantiate a "methodologically fundamental" approach. I argue in my introductory and concluding chapters that the model of inter-theoretic reduction and explanation offered by Fritz Rohrlich (1988, 1994) provides the best framework for accommodating the burgeoning pluralism in philosophical studies of physics, with the presumed claims of formal unification demonstrated by physicists choices of mathematical formalisms such as Clifford algebra. I show how Batterman's insights can be reconstructed in Rohrlich's framework, preserving Batterman's important philosophical work, minus what I consider are his incorrect conclusions.