Epistemic Issues in Particle Physics

This project critically evaluates the different and empirically successfull theoretical approaches to contemporary quantum field theory. The current state of physics is discussed against the backdrop of philosophy, especially of a philosophy of symbols as first developed by Hermann von Hemholtz and Heinrich Hertz. It is no coincidence that these symbolic approach appeared together in the second half of the 19th century with the Maxwellian theory of electromagnetism. The new epistemological problems which emerged with classical field theory, and which resisted mechanical interpretation, become even more pressing today under the interpretation of quantum field theory.
The first major philosopher who further developed and defended such a symbolic understanding of field theories and of quantum physics was Ernst Cassirer. His work is of relevance for the present project also because it allows to see connections to current (though less transcendentally laden) debates in analytic philosophy of science, such as the ongoing debates about structural realism.

A further aim of this project is to provide the interested non-specialist with an account of the concepts of quantum field theory and their connection to experimentation. In particular, this includes a critical assessment and discussion of experiments conducted recently at CERN. It also includes a discussion of the inherent limits of these experiments and of the popular hopes and fears as fueled by the media.


  • H.G. Dosch, V.F. Müller, N. Sieroka (2009): Symbolic Constructions in Quantum Field Theory. In: Constituting Objectivity: Transcendental Approaches of Modern Physics (The Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science), ed. by M. Bitbol, P. Kerzsberg and J. Petitot. Springer, Dordrecht, pp. 403-413.

  • N. Sieroka (2008): Tückenreiche Analogien (Interview). connect (Alumni Magazin der ETH), Nr.15, November 2008.

  • N. Sieroka (2008): Der Urknall regt die Fantasie an: Die Angst vor dem Experiment des CERN. Tagesanzeiger, 23.09.2008.

  • N. Sieroka (2008): Das CERN auf den Spuren Gottes? Horizonte, 14.09.2008.

  • N. Sieroka (2008): Die Grenzen des Wissens: Religion und Philosophie werden die neusten Forschungen überleben. bazkultur (Kulturmagazin der Basler Zeitung), 30.07.2008.

  • N. Sieroka (2007): Hertzian Pictures of Quantum Field Theory. Philosophia Naturalis 44 (1), pp. 88-113.

  • H.G. Dosch, V.F. Müller, N. Sieroka (2005): Quantum Field Theory in a Semiotic Perspective. Springer Verlag, Heidelberg.


Universität Bremen
Institut für Philosophie, FB 9
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28359 Bremen