Space-time within general relativity : a structural realist understanding


Request a copy
Serval ID
PhD thesis: a PhD thesis.
Space-time within general relativity : a structural realist understanding
Lam L.
Esfeld M.
Institution details
Université de Lausanne, Faculté des lettres
Publication state
Issued date
Number of pages
This dissertation investigates the, nature of space-time as described by the theory of general relativity. It mainly argues that space-time can be naturally interpreted as a physical structure in the precise sense of a network of concrete space-time relations among concrete space-time points that do not possess any intrinsic properties and any intrinsic identity. Such an interpretation is fundamentally based on two related key features of general relativity, namely substantive general covariance and background independence, where substantive general covariance is understood as a gauge-theoretic invariance under active diffeomorphisms and background independence is understood in the sense that the metric (or gravitational) field is dynamical and that, strictly speaking, it cannot be uniquely split into a purely gravitational part and a fixed purely inertial part or background.
More broadly, a precise notion of (physical) structure is developed within the framework of a moderate version of structural realism understood as a metaphysical claim about what there is in the world. So, the developement of this moderate structural realism pursues two main aims. The first is purely metaphysical, the aim being to develop a coherent metaphysics of structures and of objects (particular attention is paid to the questions of identity and individuality of these latter within this structural realist framework). The second is to argue that moderate structural realism provides a convincing interpretation of the world as described by fundamental physics and in particular of space-time as described by general relativity. This structuralist interpretation of space-time is discussed within the traditional substantivalist-relationalist debate, which is best understood within the broader framework of the question about the relationship between space-time on the one hand and matter on the other. In particular, it is claimed that space-time structuralism does not constitute a 'tertium quid' in the traditional debate.
Some new light on the question of the nature of space-time may be shed from the fundamental foundational issue of space-time singularities. Their possible 'non-local' (or global) feature is discussed in some detail and it is argued that a broad structuralist conception of space-time may provide a physically meaningful understanding of space-time singularities, which is not plagued by the conceptual difficulties of the usual atomsitic framework. Indeed, part of these difficulties may come from the standard differential geometric description of space-time, which encodes to some extent this atomistic framework; it raises the question of the importance of the mathematical formalism for the interpretation of space-time.
substantivalism, relationalism, general covariance, background independence, structural realism, space-time points, identity, fibre bundles, space-time singularities, locality, Einstein algebras
Create date
15/09/2010 9:44
Last modification date
20/08/2019 13:13
Usage data