Lee Wins Sanders Metaphysics Prize


Andrew Y. Lee, assistant professor at the University of Toronto, is the winner of the 2024 Sanders Prize in Metaphysics.

Professor Lee was awarded the prize for  “A Puzzle About Sums“. Here’s the abstract of the paper:

A famous mathematical theorem says that the sum of an infinite series of numbers can depend on the order in which those numbers occur. Suppose we interpret the numbers in such a series as representing instances of some physical quantity, such as the weights of a collection of items. The mathematics seems to lead to the result that the weight of a collection of items can depend on the order in which those items are weighed. But that is very hard to believe! A puzzle then arises: How do we interpret the metaphysical significance of this mathematical theorem? I first argue that prior solutions to the puzzle lead to implausible consequences. Then I develop my own solution, where the basic idea is that the weight of a collection of items is equal to the limit of the weights of its finite subcollections contained within ever-expanding regions of space. I show how my solution is intuitively plausible and philosophically motivated, how it reveals an underexplored line of metaphysical inquiry about quantities and locations, and how it elucidates some classic puzzles concerning supertasks. 

The prize, which is administered by Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers) includes publication of the paper in Oxford Studies in Metaphysics as well as $5000.

You can learn more about the prize and see the previous winners here.

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Nicky Drake
Nicky Drake
17 days ago

That’s fantastic Andrew, congratulations!

Darryl Mathieson
17 days ago

Congratulations, Andrew! Well deserved.

Under-labourer
Under-labourer
16 days ago

Congrats, of course!

— Though I can’t help but see the alleged puzzle about weights and other physical quantities via Riemann as akin to suggesting that Hilbert has posed a problem for hotel management.

Andrew Y. Lee
Reply to  Under-labourer
12 days ago

Here’s a relevant passage from the paper:

“The puzzle…doesn’t require one to think of infinite scale scenarios as metaphysically possible…Instead, think of the thought-experiments as illustrative tools that allow us to more vividly assess some general questions concerning quantities, objects, and locations. As analogies, consider the role that scenarios like Hilbert’s Hotel, philosophical zombies, and Cartesian demons play in discussions of infinity, consciousness, and knowledge.”

Under-labourer
Under-labourer
Reply to  Andrew Y. Lee
8 days ago

Though perhaps such thought experiments are just philosophical play-time… which is not to say there’s anything wrong with having fun once in a while! 😉

XtG
XtG
16 days ago

Bringing the idea (numbers), into the material realm (weight), by necessity makes this a questionable solution.

Also doesn’t the ever expanding regions of space affect the weight values you’re using, making them non-static?

You lost the ability to separate weight and space when you brought the problem the material realm.

Benj
14 days ago

Way to go AL!