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Antonio Vassallo

SNF Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Epistemology and Philosophy of Science
University of Lausanne
Department of Philosophy
CH-1015 Lausanne

office: Anthropole 5087 (UNIL-Dorigny)

email: Antonio.Vassallo@unil.ch

Education

Year Activity
2011-2013 PhD student in philosophy at Lausanne University (supervisor: Michael Esfeld).
2010-2011 SCIEX Fellow at Lausanne University (host mentor: Michael Esfeld).
2008-2013 PhD student in philosophy at Warsaw University (supervisor: Tomasz Bigaj).
2005 Laurea in physics at Catania University (main subject: theoretical physics). Dissertation title: "La natura del tempo in fisica" (Time's nature in physics).

Teaching

Year Activity
2014-2015 Philosophical perspectives on the exact sciences and their history - Teaching assistant (SHS Master projects EPFL).
2013-2014 Philosophical perspectives on the exact sciences and their history - Teaching assistant (SHS Master projects EPFL).
2012-2013 Structures in mathematics, physics and philosophy - Co-instructor (Philosophy Studies in English, Warsaw University).
2012-2013 Philosophical foundations of special sciences - Teaching assistant (Philosophy Studies in English, Warsaw University).
2009-2010 Analytic philosophy - Teaching assistant (Philosophy Studies in English, Warsaw University).

Talks

26.06.2014
On the Conceptual Issues Surrounding the Notion of Background Independent Bohmian Dynamics
Conference SPS 2014, Université Lille 1.

18.06.2014
On the Conceptual Issues Surrounding the Notion of Background Independent Bohmian Dynamics
Conference SILFS 2014, Università Roma Tre.

03.05.2014
What is a Quantum-Gravitational State?
Workshop "The Quantum State as the Memory of a Quantum System", Université de Lausanne.

28.03.2014
A Primitive Ontology Approach to Loop Quantum Gravity
2nd Spring School on Particle Physics and Philosophy, Bergische Universität Wuppertal.

24.03.2014
Primitive Ontology and Spacetime Theories: The Importance of Being Clear from the Beginning
Workshop "Paradigms of Modern Physics", Dorfgastein.

31.07.2013
The Metaphysics of Bohmian Quantum Gravity
Conference "Foundations of Physics 2013", LMU München.

01.05.2013
Spacetime Substantivalism and Quantum Gravity.
Workshop "John Heil: The Universe as We Find It", Université de Lausanne.

25.04.2013
A Primitive Ontology Approach to Canonical Quantum Gravity.
Conference "Quantum Theory Without Observers III", ZiF Bielefeld.

08.03.2013
From Bohmian Mechanics to Bohmian Quantum Gravity
Seminar "Exact Results in Quantum Theory and Gravity", Physics Department, Uniwersytet Warszawski

04.12.2012
Spacetime theories and reality: How Bohmian quantum gravity represents the geometry of the world
Séminaire master et doctorat de recherches actuelles en philosophie des sciences, Université de Lausanne

25.05.2012
Planck-scale Metaphysics: An appraisal of Bohmian quantum gravity
The metaphysics of contemporary physics workshop, Université de Lausanne

11.02.2012
The Metaphysics of Quantum Gravity
Lucerne Graduate Conference 2012, Universität Luzern

06.04.2011
Time and Causation in Quantum Gravity
Séminaire de recherches actuelles en philosophie des sciences, Université de Lausanne

30.03.2011
Spacetime and Matter in Five Dimensions
Séminaire de recherches actuelles en philosophie des sciences, Université de Lausanne

Research

Research interests

Philosophy of physics
(in particular philosophy of space and time, foundational issues in general relativity and quantum gravity)

Philosophy of science

Metaphysics

Epistemology

The Quantum State as the Memory of a Quantum System: A Physical Inquiry and a Metaphysical Appraisal

(Cross Research Project)

The main goal of the project is to perform a thorough analysis of the concept of quantum state with a particular emphasis both on its physical significance in the description of a quantum system (especially in the context of condensed matter physics) and on its metaphysical status (i.e. whether it refers to an objective feature of reality and, if yes, what such feature might be). In particular, the project is aimed at shedding new light on the question whether the quantum state represents a complete description of a quantum system, viz., whether it represents a record where all the physically relevant information regarding the system is “stored”, so that it can be considered as the memory of a quantum system.

The Metaphysics of Quantum Gravity: A Causal Approach

The dissertation was defended on July 22, 2013 and approved by

  • Michael Esfeld, Université de Lausanne (supervisor),
  • Tomasz Bigaj, Uniwersytet Warszawski (supervisor),
  • Gordon Belot, University of Michigan,
  • Tim Maudlin, New York University,
  • Christian Wüthrich, University of California - San Diego.

The dissertation investigates some relevant metaphysical issues arising in the context of spacetime theories. In particular, the inquiry focuses on general relativity and canonical quantum gravity. A formal definition of spacetime theory is proposed and, against this framework, an analysis of the notions of general covariance, symmetry and background independence is performed. It is argued that many conceptual issues in general relativity and canonical quantum gravity derive from putting excessive emphasis on general covariance as an ontological principle. An original metaphysical position grounded in scientific essentialism and causal realism (weak essentialism) is developed and defended. It is argued that, in the context of general relativity, weak essentialism supports spacetime substantivalism. It is also shown that weak essentialism escapes arguments from metaphysical underdetermination by positing a particular kind of causation, dubbed geometric. The proposed interpretive framework is then applied to Bohmian mechanics, pointing out that weak essentialism nicely fits into this theory. In the end, a possible Bohmian implementation of loop quantum gravity is considered, and such a Bohmian approach is interpreted in a geometric causal fashion. Under this interpretation, Bohmian loop quantum gravity straightforwardly commits us to an ontology of elementary extensions of space whose evolution is described by a non-local law. The causal mechanism underlying this evolution clarifies many conceptual issues related to the emergence of classical spacetime from the quantum regime. Although there is as yet no fully worked out physical theory of quantum gravity, it is argued that the proposed approach sets up a standard that proposals for a serious ontology in this field should meet.

Publications

"General Covariance, Diffeomorphism Invariance, and Background Independence in 5 Dimensions", forthcoming in T. Bigaj and C. Wüthrich, editors, Metaphysics in Contemporary Physics.
(preprint: PhilSci, arXiv)

"A proposal for a Bohmian ontology of quantum gravity" (with M. Esfeld), Foundations of Physics 44(1), pp. 1-18, 2014.
(preprint: PhilSci, arXiv)

"From Quantum Gravity to Classical Phenomena" (with M. Esfeld) In T. Sauer and A. Wüthrich, editors, New Vistas on Old Problems: Recent Approaches to the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, pp. 35-57. Max Planck Research Library for the History and Development of Knowledge, 2013.

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