The heuristic function of duality

05 Apr 2018

I conceptualise the role of dualities in quantum gravity, in terms of their functions for theory construction. I distinguish between two functions of duality in physical practice: namely, discovering and describing 'equivalent physics', vs. suggesting 'new physics'. I dub these the 'theoretical' vs. the 'heuristic' functions of dualities. The distinction seems to have gone largely unnoticed in the philosophical literature: and it exists both for dualities, and for the more general relation of theoretical equivalence. The paper develops the heuristic function of dualities: illustrating how they can be used, if one has any luck, to find and formulate new theories. I also point to the different physical commitments about the theories in question that underlie these two functions. I show how a recently developed schema for dualities articulates the differences between the two functions.