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The Ontology of Patterns in Empirical Data

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


This article defends the following claims. First, for patterns exhibited in empirical data, there is no criterion on which to demarcate patterns that are physically significant and patterns that are not physically significant. I call a pattern physically significant if it corresponds to a structure in the world. Second, all patterns must be regarded as physically significant. Third, distinct patterns must be regarded as providing evidence for distinct structures in the world. Fourth, in consequence, the world must be conceived as showing all possible structures.

Research Article
Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

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I presented a previous version of this article in the “Phenomena, Data, and Patterns” symposium at the Twenty-first Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, Pittsburgh, November 2008. I thank the other speakers, James Bogen, Katherine Brading, Paul Teller, and James Woodward; our chair, James Robert Brown; and the audience for a lively and enjoyable session. I also thank Anjan Chakravartty and a second, unnamed referee of this journal for useful comments.


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