Wednesday 24 March; Leiden Richard Healey 'A Lego Universe? The Physical Construction of the world’



Time: 17.00h
Location:  ‘Kamerlingh Onnes building’ of Leiden University,
Steenschuur 25, Leiden.

The lecture will be followed by a reception, at 18.00h.

For further information, visit the following websites:  or; or contact Mieke Schutte, Lorentz Center (+31-71-5275404; or Johan Kwantes, NIAS (+31-70-5122700;

What is everything made of? For millennia, philosophers and scientists have approached this question by different methods and proposed different answers. Many philosophers today look to square their answers with a popular conception of physical science as a successful, though unfinished, search for the ultimate building blocks of the world. But the details of recent physics suggest an alternative view.

Against the popular conception, Richard Healey will argue that current physical theories do not present us with clear candidates for ultimate building blocks, even though the aim of finding such building blocks (shared with the ancient Greeks) has often motivated scientific progress. Physicists model an object’s constituents in a fascinating variety of different ways that do not conform to any unified principles of composition. It is hard to say what objects their fundamental theories describe. When physics does successfully analyze a system into parts, it conforms to Einstein’s remarks: ‘ “Being” is always something which is mentally constructed by us... The justification of the constructs, which represent “reality” for us, lies alone in their quality of making intelligible what is sensorily given’.

The Speaker  
Richard Healey is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona. He has an impressive track record in the philosophy of science and metaphysics. A continuing aim of his research is to shed light on topics such as holism, realism, time and causation. His latest research project “Physics without Building Blocks” is currently supported by the US National Science Foundation. In pursuing it Healey explores the relations between physics and metaphysics from a broadly pragmatist perspective.

Richard Healey has published numerous papers in philosophy and physics journals, authored two books, and edited two other volumes. In his first book, The Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics, he developed an approach toward the understanding of quantum theory, according to which the theory portrays a non-separable world. For his second book, Gauging What’s Real: the Conceptual Foundations of Contemporary Gauge Theories, he received the Lakatos Award in 2008, for an outstanding contribution to the philosophy of science. In the summer of 2009 he was a visiting Templeton Research Fellow at the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Vienna, Austria), and in the Fall of 2009 he was invited for two months at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (Waterloo, Ontario). Earlier in 2010, he was a visiting Research Fellow at the University of Sydney (Australia), to deliver a series of weekly seminars on “Physics without Building Blocks”.