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Field theory, classical

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q036-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

A physical quantity (such as mass, temperature or electrical strength) appears as a field if it is distributed continuously and variably throughout a region. In distinction to a ’lumped’ quantity, whose condition at any time can be specified by a finite list of numbers, a complete description of a field requires infinitely many bits of data (it is said to ’possess infinite degrees of freedom’). A field is classical if it fits consistently within the general framework of classical mechanics. By the start of the twentieth century, orthodox mechanics had evolved to a state of ontological dualism, incorporating a worldview where massive matter appears as ’lumped’ points which communicate electrical and magnetic influences to one another through a continuous intervening medium called the electromagnetic field. The problem of consistently describing how matter and fields function together has yet to be fully resolved.

Citing this article:
Wilson, Mark. Field theory, classical, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q036-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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