Marcus Elstner

Simulation and Explanation

Classical mechanics is considered as hallmark for modern science, because it became possible, for the first time, not only to predict the outcome of experiments on a quantitative level, but also to give a rational explanation of the world around us. However, the underlying concepts were build on controversial ground, as shown by Relativity Theory and as already discussed at the time of Galileo and Newton. Although textbooks of mechanics pretend that everything is clear, cut into marble, and unequivocal, physical theory has always been subject to philosophical debate. The great names of physics were at the same time also great men of natural philsophy.

What do we expect of a true explanation - is it sufficient that it can simulate the empirical world, or do we expect more? What is causality, what are the "Natural Laws"? How can it be that science can generate reliable knowledge on quite controversial ground? What is the criterion for scientific "truth"? Is it success, is it validity, or is it a convincing philosophical base?

How does the necessity get into the laws? Laws, Explanation and Causality in Physics. To separate laws from random regularities, it seems that a sort of necessity is required, which connects events in nature. But it is an open question, how this connection is to be identified, since it must not be a logical necessity and the connection has to be contingent. A purely semantic analysis does not seem to be effective until today. More fundamental laws seem to guarantee the necessity of phenomenological laws, but here one obviously runs into the classical reasoning trilemma.



After studying physics, philosophy (and also saxophone) in Munich and Berlin, Marcus Elstner moved to the German Cancer Research Institute in Heidelberg, and defended his Ph.D. 1998 in Theoretical Physics in Paderborn on Quantum Mechanical Simulations of Organic Molecules. After a postdoc period at Harvard, he returned to Paderborn, where he was habilitated in Theoretical Physics. After a assistant professorship in Braunschweig, he joined the KIT in 2009, where he holds the chair for Theoretical Chemical Biology.