Ways and Whys

Professor Al Wilson delivers his Inaugural Lecture.

Our life is full of contingency. In every decision we face a range of alternative possibilities – ways for things to be – between which we have to choose as best we can. What sort of things are these elusive ways for things to be? How can we know anything about them? And why do we care about them? A novel answer comes from an unlikely source: quantum theory, understood in terms of parallel quantum worlds. But this approach leaves another kind of question open: why are things the way they are? I disentangle some possible answers to this new question suggested by the quantum account of contingency. Some why-questions can be wholly answered by quantum theory; other why-questions emerge as unanswerable, for principled reasons; but a third type of why-question seems to run deeper than any explanation quantum theory can provide.
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