Workshop “Methodological Transformations in Fundamental Physics”

September 16th to 18th 2024


The success of science is often attributed to “the” scientific method, yet the definition and nature of this method remains a subject of philosophical debate. While traditional philosophy sought to establish a normative, static and universal account of the scientific method (Carnap 1928; Popper 1959; Hempel 1966), more practice-oriented philosophers have stressed the dynamic nature of scientific method(s) since the post-positivist turn in philosophy of science (Kuhn 1962; Lakatos 1970; Laudan 1978; Nickles 1987; Humphreys 2004; Dawid 2013). This movement has culminated with radical stances such as  methodological anarchism (Feyerabend, 1975). 

Recent developments in fundamental physics (String Theory, the Standard Model of particle physics and its extensions, early universe cosmology, etc.) offer promising case studies for investigating (the) scientific “method(s)” and its alleged dynamic and plastic nature. This workshop therefore proposes to review recent developments in fundamental physics (since the second half of the 20th century), in order to evaluate whether these developments entail significant methodological breaks with respect to the past. “Methods” is to be understood in a broad sense, which includes criteria of epistemic appraisal (acceptance) and heuristic appraisal (pursuit), but also more globally the computational, observational, experimental, and statistical means through which evidence is produced and assessed. The workshop welcomes perspectives from philosophers of science and philosophers of physics, historians, physicists, social epistemologists, and sociologists of science.

Confirmed speakers

Workshop Themes

We propose to organize the discussion into three broad themes: “theory assessment in fundamental physics”; “epistemic implications of recent methodological approaches and new methodological challenges”; and “social and other dimensions of scientific methodology”. 

Theory assessment in fundamental physics

  1. How are different approaches to quantum gravity, inflation, dark matter, or theories beyond the Standard Model of particle physics being assessed against each other, given the scarcity or inconclusiveness of empirical evidence (De Baerdemaeker & Dawid 2022; Wolf 2023; Smeenk & Weatherall 2023; Martens & King 2023)? 
  2. In particular, what is the current and past role of meta-empirical assessments in fundamental physics, for confirming theories or comparing their merit? (Dawid & McCoy 2023; Matarese 2020). Have certain theoretical developments (such as String Theory) departed from a more traditional empiricist method? (Dawid 2013; Dardashti, Dawid & Thébault 2019; Castellani 2018; Blum 2019)
  3. How should philosophers model the practice of scientific reasoning in these contexts? For instance, do physicists really form beliefs in a way consistent with Bayesian accounts (Sprenger & Hartmann, 2019) or should alternative approaches, like eliminative reasoning and IBE, be considered? (Kitcher 1993; Douven 2022; Norton 1995, 2000, 2011; Glymour 1980; Lipton 1991; Massimi 2004; McCoy 2021; Woodward 2024). 
  4. How do principles acquire their status in fundamental physics (Crowther 2018, 2019;, Crowther & Rickles 2014)? Has their role and justificatory mode changed in contemporary physics over the past decades? (Vidotto 2013; Borrelli & Castellani, 2019).
  5. What are the continuities and ruptures in recent philosophical accounts of (the) scientific method(s) themselves, in comparison to traditional positivist views? To what extent do practitioners of fundamental physics still reason according to these traditional understandings of the scientific method (e.g. Popperian views)? (Gattei 2008, Patton 2020)

Epistemic implications of recent methodological approaches and new methodological challenges

  1. Can data-driven methods, “model-independent” exploratory analyses (Karaca 2017), and effective field theories (which have recently gained momentum in high-energy physics, cf. Chall, King, Mättig & Stöltzner 2019), address the “theory-ladenness” of scientific knowledge (Karaca 2013; Franklin 2015)?
  2. What are the epistemic implications of the increasing recourse to deep-learning or simulations into fundamental physics (Boge 2020, 2021; Jacquart 2020; Massimi & Bhimji  2015; Beisbart & Norton 2013)?
  3. Are analogous experiments a potential solution to the lack of empirical access to certain phenomenal domains such those relevant to quantum gravity (Dardashti, Thébault & Winsberg 2023; Crowther, Linnemann & Wüthrich 2021; Thébault & Evans 2020)? What kind of information can be derived from thought experiments? (Norton 1996, Mattingly 2021)
  4. What have been the implications of increasing experimental and theoretical complexity in fundamental physics (Boge et al., 2023, Patton and Curiel 2023)? Have the material and organizational complexity of large-scale experiments (Galison & Hevly (eds.), 1992; Galison 1997; Collins 2004; Merz & Sorgner, 2022) affected the evidential strength of empirical data (Franklin 2002, 2013)?
  5. Is the difficulty of reaching agreement on complex theoretical computations (e.g. the anomalous magnetic dipole moment of the muon) a new methodological problem for fundamental physics and science? 
  6. Could the heuristic and ontological status of the concept of particle be challenged by a halt in the discovery of new particles in colliders? (Harlander, Martinez & Schiemann, 2023)

Social and other dimensions of scientific methodology

  1. Have scientific institutions become too conservative to allow for a proper exploration of alternative scientific paths (Stanford 2019)? Have research dynamics in fundamental physics become structured by bandwagon effects and pressures to conform as a result (Hossenfelder  2019)?
  2. How are issues related to dissensus and trust dealt with in large scale physics experiments? (Marcoci & Nguyen 2020) 
  3. What are the implications of recent developments in fundamental physics for methodological unity and methodological pluralism? Is methodological pluralism in fundamental physics related to axiological disagreements (about the aims of scientific practice?) (Camilleri & Ritson, 2015; Gautheron 2023)
  4. What has been the importance and relevance of pragmatic or opportunistic (Pickering 1984; Collins 2004) considerations in guiding developments in fundamental physics (as opposed to what would be “purely” epistemic considerations)? How do scientists renegotiate flexibility with respect to certain methodological standards and constraints?

Date & Location

The workshop will start on Monday, September 16th (in the morning) and end on Wednesday, September 18th. It will take place on the campus of the University of Wuppertal, 1500 meters away from the main train station (Wuppertal Hbf).

Submission guidelines

We welcome contributions from physicists, philosophers of science and philosophers of physics, historians, social epistemologists, and sociologists of science. Those interested in participating should submit a title and an abstract of 500 words to by June 1st and plan for a 30 minute talk.

Please contact if you have any question regarding the workshop.

  • Deadline for submissions: June 1st
  • Decision notification: June 15th