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Quantum Mechanics and the Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead

2nd ed. Oxford University Press & Fordham University Press, 2012. (1st ed. Hardcover, Fordham University Press, 2004)



Michael Epperson
Research Professor
Center for Philosophy and the Natural Sciences
College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
California State University, Sacramento
 

In Process and Reality and other works, Alfred North Whitehead struggled to come to terms with the impact the new science of quantum mechanics would have on his metaphysics. This ambitious book is the first extended analysis of the intricate relationships between quantum mechanics and Whitehead's philosophical cosmology.Moving systematically--concept by concept, phase by phase--Michael Epperson illuminates the intersection of science and philosophy in Whitehead's work, and details Whitehead's attempt to fashion an ontology capable of coherently accommodating the current and future trajectory of modern physics.

But going far beyond this exploration, Epperson also makes important new contributions to the conceptualization of Whitehead's theory of quantum events ('actual occasions'), addressing the considerable attention paid by philosophers and other scholars to Nature's fundamentally quantum character as described by modern physics.

 


"Starting from recent interpretations of paradoxical experiments in quantum physics--such as those on nonlocality and decoherence--Michael Epperson has done a wonderful job of exploring in detail the remarkable parallels in Alfred North Whitehead's philosophical analysis of the transition from potentiality to actuality in elementary events."

IAN G. BARBOUR

"Epperson has done a wonderful job in showing what one of the most detailed (and surely, one of the most difficult) metaphysical theories of the 20th century--Whitehead's philosophy of process--contributes to the ongoing debate about the proper ontological interpretation of quantum mechanics. Therefore, the book is highly recommended to anybody working on or being seriously interested in the ontology of quantum physics. Moreover, it is a "must read" for students of Whitehead's philosophy, since it will deepen their understanding of Whitehead's quite abstract scheme, to see quantum mechanics as a specific exemplification of some of the central structures of the philosophy of process."

FRANK HÄTTICH - Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics

"Many of us in the ‘process’ community have felt a general congruity between Whitehead’s cosmology and quantum theory, even though the latter may have directly affected Whitehead's conceptuality only tangentially. We have been glad that in the past decade there has been growing interest among quantum theorists in Whitehead’s thought. We especially welcome this remarkable volume. It proposes a correlation of Whitehead's quite technical analysis of the phases of the concrescence of momentary occasions and the strange account of quantum events to which the evidence has driven physicists. At the very least, Michael Epperson has put forward ideas that warrant close attention and point fruitful directions for further inquiry. We may have here a still more successful work, which provides a definitive philosophical ground for quantum theory. In either case, this is an important, as well as a brilliant, book."

JOHN B. COBB, JR., Director, Center for Process Studies

"Coming at a time when interest in correlating physics and Whitehead’s philosophy has been expanding exponentially, the appearance of Epperson’s book is an event of first importance. Employing the decoherence-based interpretation of quantum mechanics, Epperson shows that it can be correlated rather precisely with Whitehead’s notion of ‘concrescence.’ Besides thereby showing how Whitehead’s philosophy brings out the ontological significance of quantum mechanics, Epperson also demonstrates that students of Whitehead’s philosophy will understand it better by seeing quantum mechanics as a specific exemplification of its general principles."

DAVID RAY GRIFFIN, author of Religion and Scientific Naturalism: Overcoming the Conflicts

Foundations of Relational Realism: A Topological Approach to Quantum Mechanics and the Philosophy of Nature

Lexington Books / Rowman & Littlefield, 2013



Michael Epperson
Research Professor
Center for Philosophy and the Natural Sciences
College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
California State University, Sacramento

Elias Zafiris
Senior Research Fellow in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics
Institute of Mathematics
National University of Athens, Greece

If there is a central conceptual framework that has reliably borne the weight of modern physics as it ascends into the 21st century, it is the framework of quantum mechanics. Because of its enduring stability in experimental application, physics has today reached heights that not only inspire wonder, but arguably exceed the limits of intuitive vision, if not intuitive comprehension. For many physicists and philosophers, however, the currently fashionable tendency toward exotic interpretation of the theoretical formalism is recognized not as a mark of ascent for the tower of physics, but rather an indicator of sway--one that must be dampened rather than encouraged if practical progress is to continue.

In this unique two-part volume, designed to be comprehensible to both specialists and non-specialists, the authors chart out a pathway forward by identifying the central deficiency in most interpretations of quantum mechanics: That in its conventional, metrical depiction of extension, inherited from the Enlightenment, objects are characterized as fundamental to relations--i.e., such that relations presuppose objects but objects do not presuppose relations.

 


The authors, by contrast, argue that quantum mechanics exemplifies the fact that physical extensiveness is fundamentally topological rather than metrical, with its proper logico-mathematical framework being category theoretic rather than set theoretic. By this thesis, extensiveness fundamentally entails not only relations of objects, but also relations of relations. Thus, the fundamental quanta of quantum physics are properly defined as units of logico-physical relation rather than merely units of physical relata as is the current convention. Objects are always understood as relata, and likewise relations are always understood objectively. In this way, objects and relations are coherently defined as mutually implicative. The conventional notion of a history as ‘a story about fundamental objects’ is thereby reversed, such that the classical ‘objects’ become the story by which we understand physical systems that are fundamentally histories of quantum events. These are just a few of the novel critical claims explored in this volume--claims whose exemplification in quantum mechanics will, the authors argue, serve more broadly as foundational principles for the philosophy of nature as it evolves through the 21st century and beyond.

"A startling development in the last century has been the overflowing of theoretical and observational sciences into the fields of philosophy, particularly by quantum mechanics and cosmology. The present book is twice valuable on this fascinating subject in my opinion: on one hand for its clear and lucid exposition and application of Whitehead's ontology as a most attractive framework for this kind of query, and on the other hand, for its extension of the dialectics of ontology through an original use of advanced concepts from modern mathematics."

ROLAND OMNÈS, Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Physics at the University of Paris-Sud, author of The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics and Converging Realities (both Princeton University Press).

"This is a unique book in its scope, approach and method. A novel physical and philosophical interpretation of sheaf theory sheds new light on the quantum measurement problem, entanglement, locality and truth. A new systematic and rigorous relational realistic paradigm for natural philosophy has emerged, rooted on the same principles with Abstract (Modern) Differential Geometry, that transmutes the above into a fully fledged dynamical theory."

ANASTASIOS MALLIOS, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, Department of Mathematics, University of Athens, author of Geometry of Vector Sheaves (Springer) and Modern Differential Geometry in Gauge Theories(Birkhäuser).

Quantum Relativity: A Synthesis of the Ideas of Einstein and Heisenberg

Berlin: Springer, 1996



David Ritz Finkelstein
Department of Physics
Georgia Institute of Technology
 

Over the past years, physicist David Finkelstein has developed a quantum language going beyond the concepts used by Bohr and Heisenberg. The simple formal algebraic language is designed to be consistent with quantum theory. It differs from natural languages in its epistemology, modal structure, logical connections, and copulatives.

Starting from ideas of John von Neumann and in part also as a response to his fundamental work, the author bases his approach on what one really observes when studying quantum processes. This way the new language can be seen as a clue to a deeper understanding of the concepts of quantum physics, at the same time avoiding those paradoxes which arise when using natural languages. The work is organized didactically: The reader learns in fairly concrete form about the language and its structure as well as about its use for physics.

 
Converging Realities: Toward a Common Philosophy of Physics and Mathematics

Princeton University Press, 2004

 
Roland Omnès
Department of Physics
University of Paris XI
 

The mysterious beauty, harmony, and consistency of mathematics once caused philosopher Hilary Putnam to term its existence a "miracle." Now, advances in the understanding of physics suggest that the foundations of mathematics are encompassed by the laws of nature, an idea that sheds new light on both mathematics and physics.The philosophical relationship between mathematics and the natural sciences is the subject of Converging Realities, the latest work by one of the leading thinkers on the subject. Based on a simple but powerful idea, it shows that the axioms needed for the mathematics used in physics can also generate practically every field of contemporary pure mathematics. It also provides a foundation for current investigations in string theory and other areas of physics.

This approach to the nature of mathematics is not really new, but it became overshadowed by formalism near the end of the nineteenth century. The debate turned eventually into an exclusive dialogue between mathematicians and philosophers, as if physics and nature did not exist.


This unsatisfactory situation was enforced by the uncertain standing of physical reality in quantum mechanics. The recent advances in the interpretation of quantum mechanics (as described in Quantum Philosophy, also by Omnès) have now reconciled the foundations of physics with objectivity and common sense. In Converging Realities, Roland Omnès is amongthe first scholars to consider the connection of natural laws with mathematics.
 
Quantum Philosophy: Understanding and Interpreting Contemporary Science

Princeton University Press, 2002

 
Roland Omnès
Department of Physics
University of Paris XI
 

In this magisterial work, Roland Omnès takes us from the academies of ancient Greece to the laboratories of modern science as he seeks to do no less than rebuild the foundations of the philosophy of knowledge. One of the world's leading quantum physicists, Omnès reviews the history and recent development of mathematics, logic, and the physical sciences to show that current work in quantum theory offers new answers to questions that have puzzled philosophers for centuries: Is the world ultimately intelligible? Are all events caused? Do objects have definitive locations? Omnès addresses these profound questions with vigorous arguments and clear, colorful writing, aiming not just to advance scholarship but to enlighten readers with no background in science or philosophy.

The book opens with an insightful and sweeping account of the main developments in science and the philosophy of knowledge from the pre-Socratic era to the nineteenth century.


Omnès then traces the emergence in modern thought of a fracture between our intuitive, commonsense views of the world and the abstract and--for most people--incomprehensible world portrayed by advanced physics, math, and logic. He argues that the fracture appeared because the insights of Einstein and Bohr, the logical advances of Frege, Russell, and Godel, and the necessary mathematics of infinity of Cantor and Hilbert cannot be fully expressed by words or images only. Quantum mechanics played an important role in this development, as it seemed to undermine intuitive notions of intelligibility, locality, and causality. However, Omnès argues that common sense and quantum mechanics are not as incompatible as many have thought. In fact, he makes the provocative argument that the "consistent-histories" approach to quantum mechanics, developed over the past fifteen years, places common sense (slightly reappraised and circumscribed) on a firm scientific and philosophical footing for the first time. In doing so, it provides what philosophers have sought through the ages: a sure foundation for human knowledge. Quantum Philosophy is a profound work of contemporary science and philosophy and an eloquent history of the long struggle to understand the nature of the world and of knowledge itself.
 
Understanding Quantum Mechanics

Princeton University Press, 1999

 
Roland Omnès
Department of Physics
University of Paris XI
 

Here Roland Omnès offers a clear, up-to-date guide to the conceptual framework of quantum mechanics. In an area that has provoked much philosophical debate, Omnès has achieved high recognition for his Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (Princeton 1994), a book for specialists. Now the author has transformed his own theory into a short and readable text that enables beginning students and experienced physicists, mathematicians, and philosophers to form a comprehensive picture of the field while learning about the most recent advances.

This new book presents a more streamlined version of the Copenhagen interpretation, showing its logical consistency and completeness. The problem of measurement is a major area of inquiry, with the author surveying its history from Planck to Heisenberg before describing the consistent-histories interpretation. He draws upon the most recent research on the decoherence effect (related to the modern resolution of the famous Schrdinger's cat problem) and an exact formulation of the correspondence between quantum and particle physics (implying a derivation of classical determinism from quantum probabilism).


Interpretation is organized with the help of a universal and sound language using so-called consistent histories. As a language and a method, it can now be shown to be free of ambiguity and it makes interpretation much clearer and closer to common sense.
 
The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics

Princeton University Press, 1994

 
Roland Omnès
Department of Physics
University of Paris XI
 

The interpretation of quantum mechanics has been controversial since the introduction of quantum theory in the 1920s. Although the Copenhagen interpretation is commonly accepted, its usual formulation suffers from some serious drawbacks. Based mainly on Bohr's concepts, the formulation assumes an independent and essential validity of classical concepts running in parallel with quantum ones, and leaves open the possibility of their ultimate conflict. In this book, Roland Omnès examines a number of recent advances, which, combined, lead to a consistent revision of the Copenhagen interpretation. His aim is to show how this interpretation can fit all present experiments, to weed out unnecessary or questionable assumptions, and to assess the domain of validity where the older statements apply. Drawing on the new contributions, The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics offers a complete and self-contained treatment of interpretation (in nonrelativistic physics) in a manner accessible to both physicists and students. Although some "hard" results are included, the concepts and mathematical developments are maintained at an undergraduate level.


This book enables readers to check every step, apply the techniques to new problems, and make sure that no paradox or obscurity can arise in the theory. In the conclusion, the author discusses various philosophical implications pertinent to the study of quantum mechanics..
 
The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution

New York: Oxford University Press, 1993



Stuart A. Kauffman
Founding director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics
Professor of Biological Sciences, Physics, and Astronomy University of Calgary

"Biology is the science of the organizational principles that make living things living. Kauffman's book is a massive attempt to provide the foundations for a theory of such organization. . .The book is as much an explication of a specific style of scientific thinking as it is a book on adaptation, the origin of life, and ontogeny. The style of thinking can be characterized by the assumption that there are deep and simple conceptual structures that will allow us to understand life and not merely describe it. . .I hope that Kauffman's book will be a strong stimulus for many scientists to search actively for the principles that govern the organization of living states of matter." --Science

" Stuart Kauffman's book, The Origins of Order, returns the problem of evolution to the central issue that evolutionists have been avoiding for too long, the problem of the evolution of a complex, organized system that we call, appropriately, an organism. Evolutionists had better take Kauffman's arguments seriously." --Richard C. Lewontin, Harvard University

 
At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity

New York: Oxford University Press, 1996



Stuart A. Kauffman
Founding director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics
Professor of Biological Sciences, Physics, and Astronomy University of Calgary
 
A major scientific revolution has begun, a new paradigm that rivals Darwin's theory in importance. At its heart is the discovery of the order that lies deep within the most complex of systems, from the origin of life, to the workings of giant corporations, to the rise and fall of great civilizations. And more than anyone else, this revolution is the work of one man, Stuart Kauffman, a MacArthur Fellow and visionary pioneer of the new science of complexity. Now, in At Home in the Universe, Kauffman brilliantly weaves together the excitement of intellectual discovery and a fertile mix of insights to give the general reader a fascinating look at this new science--and at the forces for order that lie at the edge of chaos. What we are now only discovering, Kauffman says, is that range of spontaneous order is enormously greater than we had supposed and, in fact, self-organization is a great undiscovered principle of nature.
 
Investigations

New York: Oxford University Press, 2002



Stuart A. Kauffman
Founding director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics
Professor of Biological Sciences, Physics, and Astronomy University of Calgary
 
In the tradition of Schrodinger's classic What Is Life?, this book is a tour-de-force investigation of the basis of life itself, with conclusions that radically undermine the scientific approaches on which modern science rests-the approaches of Newton, Boltzman, Bohr, and Einstein. Kauffman's At Home in the Universe, which The New York Times Book Review called "passionately written" and Nature named "courageous," introduced pivotal ideas about order and evolution in complex life systems. In investigations, Kauffman builds on these theories and finds that classical science does not take into account that physical systems--such as people in a biosphere--affect their dynamic environments in addition to being affected by them. These systems act on their own behalf as autonomous agents, but what defines them as such? By defining and explaining autonomous agents and work in the contexts of thermodynamics and of information theory, Kauffman supplies a novel answer to this age-old question, laying out a foundation for a new concept of organization and emergent general biology.
 
Reinventing the Sacred
New York: Basic Books, 2008
Stuart A. Kauffman
Founding director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics
Professor of Biological Sciences, Physics, and Astronomy University of Calgary
 
In this latest work, Kauffman argues for a philosophical conception of natural continuing creativity in the universe--a conception that might inform the conventional theistic definition of God as supernatural innitiator of a singular Creation event from which the universe is understood to unfold deterministically. Likewise, Kauffman's notion of natural continuing creativity challenges conventional scientific assumptions that the biosphere's evolution and human activity can be reduced to physics and are fully governed by natural laws.

Kauffman argues for a theory of natural emergence--a theory describing how complex systems self-organize into entities that are far more than the sum of their parts. He defines this emergent natural self-organization down to the fundamental language of quantum mechanics, and up to the language of population biology, neurobiology, and economics.

 

Physics and Whitehead: Quantum, Process, and Experience

Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003

Timothy E. Eastman (editor)
Plasmas International
 

Featuring discussions and dialogue by prominent scientists and philosophers, this book explores the rich interface of contemporary physics and Whitehead-inspired process thought. The contributors share the conviction that quantum physics not only corroborates many of Whitehead's philosophical theses, but is also illuminated by them. Thus, though differing in perspective or emphasis, the contributions by Geoffrey Chew, David Finkelstein, Henry Stapp and other scientists conceptually dovetail with those of Philip Clayton, Jorge Nobo, Yutaka Tanaka and other process philosophers.

"Without question this book contains some outstanding and state-of-the-art essays on the very significant issue of the relation between Whitehead's philosophy and contemporary physics. This is a truly needed addition to the growing field of process studies."

GEORGE W. SHIELDS, editor of Process and Analysis:
Whitehead, Hartshorne, and the Analytic Tradition


"What excites me most about this book is the effort of leading physicists to advance their reflections about physics through interaction with philosophy--primarily that of Whitehead. It also suggests that, after a long delay, cutting-edge scientists recognize the need of science for some of Whitehead's seminal ideas."

JOHN B. COBB, JR., Founding Co-director, Center for Process Studies

 

Science and Reality: An Essay in Pragmatic Empiricism

Mohr Siebeck, 2012

 

Karim Bschir
Senior Research Fellow
Chair for Philosophy
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich

Philosophy of science in the 20th century was defined by the debate on scientific realism. Unlike the numerous systematic works dealing with the existence of theoretical entities, which put forward arguments either for or against realism, Karim Bschir uses scientific realism as a basis for a history of the concept of experience in the empiricist philosophy of science. He concludes that empiricist approaches are often based on a sensualistic notion of experience, and that the reduction of the concept of experience to that of perception can be seen as a historical contingency.

 

Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics

Berlin: Springer, 2004



Henry P. Stapp
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
 

"Scientists other than quantum physicists often fail to comprehend the enormity of the conceptual change wrought by quantum theory in our basic conception of the nature of matter," writes Henry Stapp. Stapp is a leading quantum physicist who has given particularly careful thought to the implications of the theory that lies at the heart of modern physics.In this book, which contains several of his key papers as well as new material, he focuses on the problem of consciousness and explains how quantum mechanics allows causally effective conscious thought to be combined in a natural way with the physical brain made of neurons and atoms.

The book is divided into four sections. The first consists of an extended introduction. Key foundational and somewhat more technical papers are included in the second part, together with a clear exposition of the "orthodox" interpretation of quantum mechanics. The third part addresses, in a non-technical fashion, the implications of the theory for some of the most profound questions that mankind has contemplated: How does the world come to be just what it is and not something else?


How should humans view themselves in a quantum universe? What will be the impact on society of the revised scientific image of the nature of man? The final part contains a mathematical appendix for the specialist and a glossary of important terms and ideas for the interested layman. This new edition has been updated and extended to address recent debates about consciousness.

"The author develops new chapters on many findings of recent research on the mind-body problem as well as their extrapolation to new and difficult technical and social areas. The book is highly recommended to physicists, mathematicians, social scientists, and intelligent general readers." (Albert A. Mullin, Zentralblatt MATH, Vol. 1087, 2006)

 

Mindful Universe

Berlin: Springer, 2007



Henry P. Stapp
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
 

The classical mechanistic idea of nature that prevailed in science during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was an essentially mindless conception: the physically described aspects of nature were asserted to be completely determined by prior physically described aspects alone, with our conscious experiences entering only passively.During the twentieth century the classical concepts were found to be inadequate. In the new theory, quantum mechanics, our conscious experiences enter into the dynamics in specified ways not fixed by the physically described aspects alone. Consequences of this radical change in our understanding of the connection between mind and brain are described.

"Stapp's book is a bold and original attack on the problem of consciousness and free will based on the openings provided by the laws of quantum mechanics. This is a serious and interesting attack on a truly fundamental problem."TONY LEGGETT, Physics Nobel Laureate (2003)


"In his new book, Stapp insists that the "causal closure of the physical", in particular concerning quantum theory, is an untenable myth. He elaborates on ideas of Bohr, von Neumann, Heisenberg and, from a philosophical point of view, James and Whitehead to sketch a complex picture in which the physical and the mental are emphatically conditioned by each other. Stapp's wide-ranging proposal offers stimulating reading, a strong sense of conceptual coherence and intuitive appeal, and empirical predictions that deserve to be refined and tested."

HARALD ATMANSPACHER, Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health

 
Process and Analysis: Whitehead, Hartshorne, and the Analytic Tradition
Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003

George Shields
Professor of Philosophy
Kentucky State University
 

Process and Analysis brings together an unprecedented collection of the world’s leading contemporary process and analytic philosophers to explore philosophical topics of common interest. The contributors examine a wide variety of explicit and implicit commonalities and differences of approach to such central philosophical issues as the nature and status of events, time, space, relations, particulars, and God.

This unique collection demonstrates that both traditions have important things to say to one another. In fact, a largely ignored conversation between the two traditions has been carried on since at least the days of Whitehead’s influence on early Cambridge analytic philosophy. This long awaited volume is an invaluable research tool for scholars and students alike working in the areas of analytic and process philosophy.

 
Whitehead's Metaphysics of Extension and Solidarity
Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986

Jorge Nobo
Professor of Philosophy
Washburn University
 
At the base of Whitehead's philosophy of organism is a vision of the solidarity of all final actualities. Each actuality is a discrete individual enjoying autonomous self-determination, yet each also requires all other actualities as essential components and partial determinants of its own nature. This vision of universal solidarity, Nobo demonstrates, is the fundamental metaphysical thesis whose truth the categories and principles of Whitehead's philosophy were expressly designed to elucidate. The received interpretations of Whitehead's thought, Nobo shows, have ignored the mutual relevance of the solidarity thesis and the organic categoreal scheme and, for that reason, have grossly misrepresented many of Whitehead's most important metaphysical doctrines.

Contending that the difficult tasks of interpreting and developing Whitehead's metaphysics presuppose an understanding of the solidarity thesis, Nobo explores that thesis and the metaphysical categories and principles most relevant to its elucidation. In the process, he not only corrects many misinterpretations but also develops important metaphysical doctrines that Whitehead neglected to make sufficiently explicit in his published writings.

It is precisely in terms of the neglected doctrine of eternal extensive continuity, Nobo demonstrates, that the more puzzling aspects of the solidarity thesis are satisfactorily explained. He then shows that the extensional solidarity of all final actualities is an essential ingredient of the generalized conception of experience on which Whitehead builds his ontology, cosmology, and epistemology.
 
Clifford Algebra: A Case for Geometric and Ontological Unificaiton

VDM Verlag, 2009

William Kallfelz
Lecturer of Philosophy and Mathematics
Departments of Philosophy and Mathematics
Mississippi State University
 
Robert Batterman's ontological insights are apt (nature indeed abhhors singularities), though his epistemic assessments are murky. For he writes that singularities play an essential role in certain classes of physical theories representing critical phenomena. I outline a procedure which makes essential use of Clifford Algebra to counter his claims. I use some of the demonstrated formal unity of Clifford Algebra to argue that Batterman appears to conflate a physical theory's ontology with its purely mathematical content. Carefully distinguishing the two, and employing Clifford Algebraic methods reveals a symmetry between explanation and reduction that Batterman overlooks. I refine this point by showing that the methods adopted in Clifford Algebraic computational fluid dynamics undercut many of Batterman's claims concerning the essentially explanatory role played by singularities. I also argue that the model of inter-theoretic reduction and explanation offered by Fritz Rohrlich and aspects of structuralism provide the best framework for accommodating the burgeoning research tradition of Clifford Algebra in the mathematical sciences.

 

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