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The discrete versus continuous controversy in physics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2007

LPTMC UMR7600, Université Pierre et Marie Curie-Paris 6, 4 place Jussieu, F-75252 Paris And: Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques, 35 route de Chartres, F-91440 Bures-sur-Yvette, France Email:


This paper presents a sample of the deep and multiple interplay between discrete and continuous behaviours and the corresponding modellings in physics. The aim of this overview is to show that discrete and continuous features coexist in any natural phenomenon, depending on the scales of observation. Accordingly, different models, either discrete or continuous in time, space, phase space or conjugate space can be considered. Some caveats about their limits of validity and their interrelationships (discretisation and continuous limits) are pointed out. Difficulties and gaps arising from the singular nature of continuous limits and from the information loss accompanying discretisation are discussed.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2007

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