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Gauging What's RealThe Conceptual Foundations of Gauge Theories$
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Richard Healey

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199287963

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199287963.001.0001

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The empirical import of gauge symmetry

The empirical import of gauge symmetry

Chapter:
(p.149) 6 The empirical import of gauge symmetry
Source:
Gauging What's Real
Author(s):

Richard Healey (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199287963.003.0006

This chapter argues that gauge symmetry is a purely formal feature of our theoretical representations with no empirical consequences. It distinguishes theoretical symmetries of a theory from empirical symmetries of situations to which a theory may be applied. A theoretical symmetry is purely formal if it implies no corresponding empirical symmetry. The chapter responds to several objections based on phenomena whose explanation apparently requires that gauge symmetry have empirical consequences. It argues that gauge symmetry is not observable and criticizes ‘the gauge argument’ from gauge symmetry to the existence of fundamental interactions. ‘Ghost’ fields are not real fields: despite its name, ‘spontaneous symmetry breaking’ does not involve any breaking of ‘local’ gauge symmetry; the theta-vacuum is not a superposition of distinct states inter-related by ‘large’ gauge transformations; anomalies in empirically successful theories do not involve breaking of any empirical gauge symmetry.

Keywords:   empirical, gauge symmetry, formal, theoretical, model, gauge argument, spontaneous symmetry breaking, theta-vacuum, large gauge transformation

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