Giovanni Valente PhD

March 1st until May 31st, 2021

Affiliation: Mathematics Department, Politecnico di Milano, Italy

Research for a study about:

Constructing Scientific Models by Analogical Reasoning: The Use of Analogies within Physics and Beyond

Analogy is an effective form of reasoning that is often employed in scientific practice. However, its formal and conceptual status poses outstanding issues in the current debate in philosophy of science, which trace back to the pioneering work by Rudolf Carnap on induction, similarity and confirmation in his seminal 1950 book on the Logical Foundations of Probability. In particular, analogies have played an important role in quantum theory since its earlier formulations. For example, the original Rutherford-Bohr model of the atom, wherein electrons are supposed to orbit around the nucleus, hinged on a compelling similarity with the Solar system. As a matter of fact, experiments cannot fully reveal the behaviour of quantum systems, and thus analogical reasoning is often the only tool available to model the atomic and sub-atomic structure of matter in face of the intrinsic uncertainty predicted by the theory. This actually lies at the heart of many open problems in philosophy of physics. The following two relevant issues are the subjects of the research project I plan to undertake during my Visiting Fellowship at the Institut Wiener Kreis:

1) An important case-study from contemporary physics is the construction of models of sub-atomic particles in quantum field theory, such as the Higgs boson, that has been guided by a formal analogy with the treatment of phase transitions and symmetry breaking in statistical mechanics. A question that is the focus of current literature in philosophy of physics is to what extent such a formal analogy bears any physical significance. I wish to contribute to the ongoing debate on the topic by drawing from my recently published work on quantum symmetry breaking and physical inequivalence.

2) Econophysics aims to import formal methods employed in physics to the construction of economic models, based on an alleged analogy between complex physical systems and the stock market. It has received growing attention in the philosophical literature in light of the structural similarities between financial crises and phase transitions. The fact that the evolution of stock prices is beset by uncertainty even prompted some authors, most notably Baaquie (2004) and Ilinski (2001), to resort to the quantum formalism. I intend to evaluate the purported analogy underlying models of quantum econophysics by developing the content of a paper I am currently working on together with my colleague Gianni Arioli.


Taking up Statistical Thermodynamics: Equilibrium Fluctuations and Irreversibility

Date:  March 18th, 2021

Time: 3–5pm (CET)

Online Plattform: Moodle Collaborate| Talks in Philosophy of Science and Epistemology PSE

To appear soon

No registered accounts are required, it's enough to click on the link and enter your name. Chrome or Firefox browsers work best.


The microscopic explanation of macroscopic phenomena is often cast in terms of inter-theoretical reduction. In particular, the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics is a much discussed case-study in philosophy of physics. Based on the Generalised Nagel-Schaffner model, the alleged reductive explanation would be accomplished if one finds a revised version of classical thermodynamics that can be strictly derived from statistical mechanics. That is the sense in which, according to Callender (1999, 2001), one should not take thermodynamics too seriously. Arguably, the sought-after revision is given by statistical thermodynamics, intended as a macroscopic theory equipped with a probabilistic law of equilibrium fluctuations. In this talk I aim to evaluate this proposal. The upshot is that, while statistical thermodynamics enables one to re-define equilibrium so as to agree with Boltzmann entropy, it does not provide a definitive solution to the problem of explaining macroscopic irreversibility from a microscopic point of view.


During my three-month stay at the Institute Vienna Circle, I developed the proposed research on analogical reasoning in physics and mathematical sciences. I gave two talks: one at University of Vienna on “The Paradox of Infinite Limits: A Realist Response” (April) and one at Universitè de Grenoble on “Lanford Theorem and the Emergence of Irreversibility” (May). I had two papers accepted for publication: "Uncertainty in Integrated Assessment Modeling of Climate Change", co-authored with Massimo Tavoni, in Perspectives on Science and "Taking up Statistical Thermodynamics: Equilibrium Fluctuations and Irreversibility" in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (forthcoming).  I also worked on three papers, which are currently under review: "Prediction without Representation: Biomedical Big Data, Similarity and Statistical Correlations" and “Changing behaviour under unfairness: an evolutionary model of the Ultimatum Game”.