Louis Vervoort

Louis Vervoort
Key terms
  • General philosophy
  • History and philosophy of science
  • Foundations of quantum mechanics
  • Probability theory
  • Causation
  • (In)determinism and free will
  • Methods of creativity
  • Foundations of neuroscience
  • Einstein, Spinoza, Tolstoy: three men, one theory
BIO:

I studied physics in Ghent (MSc in engineering physics), Marseille (PhD) and the École Normale Supérieure in Paris (post-doc). Already in this period my main interests shifted from classic physics to the foundations of the field – a research area in which the fundamental axioms are questioned and investigated. This brought me naturally to philosophy, which I studied at the University of Montreal (PhD). Some of the advantages of working in philosophy are that it allows to address a broad range of interests, and that it somehow incites to look for the unifying ideas, the fashionable ‘big picture’ (I will leave this little idea here very vague). Philosophy also encourages to ask ethical questions on research, technology, science and society. If I would have to summarize my most eye-opening experience of these last years, then it would be the observation that, at the very fundamental level, science and philosophy are solidly intertwined, and can greatly inspire each other. An idea popular among interdisciplinary practitioners, but not yet popular enough in other communities!

RESEARCH INTERESTS:

My main research interests are in foundations of (quantum) physics, philosophy of science, naturalized ontology and epistemology, and the methods of creativity and innovation. More concretely, at the moment I am working on projects related to: (1) free will; (2) determinism; (3) causation / causality; (4) new theories underlying quantum mechanics (Bell’s theorem, the Bohmian and hydrodynamical interpretation of quantum mechanics); (5) probability theory; (6) methods of creativity and innovation.

In somewhat more detail:

  1. Free will: At the School of Advanced Studies, State University of Tyumen, Russia, I am principal investigator of a project entitled: “Free will : implications of state-of-the-art research in natural sciences for humanities and social sciences”. Whether humans have a free will or not is one of the classic questions of philosophy; a staggering number of philosophers and scientists (neuroscientists, physicists, psychologists,…) have studied it. It touches on a large spectrum of philosophical and scientific questions. I look in particular forward to investigating the neuroscientific basis of consciousness, the mind, and free will, and to studying how this field can help clarify our concepts. More info can be found here.
  2. Determinism: I believe that the deterministic worldview, dear to e.g. Spinoza, Einstein and Tolstoy (to name only these), is far from having disclosed its full heuristic potential – i.e. its potential for finding new underlying mechanisms or explanations in a variety of fields. Consider, as one example, the now longstanding ‘crisis’ in physics, notably related to the difficulty to unify quantum mechanics and gravity (cf. The Trouble with Physics, by notable physicist Lee Smolin). I sometimes suspect that this crisis is due to the very approximate understanding we have of the divide between deterministic versus probabilistic systems. This research is in progress; some more technical papers can be found here and here. As another example, I believe it is also possible to show the heuristic value of determinism for mathematics (e.g., first investigations show that it is possible to generalize the Central Limit Theorem of probability theory, a result to be published). For the relevance of determinism for a philosophy of a fulfilling life, my favorite reference is the Ethics of Spinoza.
  3. Causation / causality: Another longstanding debate in philosophy concerns the notion of ‘cause’. In philosophy of science and metaphysics it is now widely believed that cause is a multifarious concept, and that an overarching definition does not exist. I disagree. Here and here are first publications on the subject.
  4. Quantum mechanics and its problems: Quantum mechanics is the powerful and uniquely precise theory of atomic and subatomic particles and systems. It is considered by physicists as absolutely ‘fundamental’, in the sense that projected future theories will have to comply to quantum mechanics. However, as for intuitive and philosophical understanding, to my taste the standard (“Copenhagen”) interpretation of quantum mechanics is remarkably unsatisfactory. This official interpretation, largely due to Niels Bohr, makes such counterintuitive assumptions as that quantum events have no causes; are somehow ‘nonlocal’ (but how precisely ?); and maybe even dependent on the knowledge of the observer – thus reviving ancient philosophies as those of Berkeley and Mach, among others. This theory, even if it suits many professional scientists because of the ‘minimal’ assumptions it makes (“there is nothing beyond what we can calculate and measure”), is upon closer inspection quite weak, I believe. For instance, the claim that quantum events are ‘acausal’ seems to me in the end self-defeating or an unjustifiable assumption – moreover one that is heuristically not helpful, since it proclaims in a sense the end of research. I am well aware this is a strong claim, because it goes against the mainstream beliefs. Surely much research still must be done in this area before definite answers can be given; so the interface between quantum mechanics and philosophy will remain fascinating for quite some time. Some publications: here, here, and here.
  5. The paradoxes and interpretation of probability: I argue that the countless paradoxes of probability theory are due to an imprecise interpretation of what a ‘probabilistic system’ is. Also, the mysterious role of the ‘observer’ in quantum mechanics actually comes from probability theory. A few publications can be found here and here.
  6. Methods and practices of interdisciplinary creativity and innovation: I had the opportunity to use and test some known and less known methods for creativity during consulting projects for companies as Altran Technologies, Carl Zeiss, Infineon (ex-Siemens), HydroQuebec and Bombardier Aerospace. There are surprisingly efficient methods, for instance based on ‘enhanced shared creativity’, which can lead to problem-solving or, in an industrial context, to patentable ideas (I am author or co-author of seven patents).
PUBLICATIONS: