Charles "Chip" T. Sebens

Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology

office: Dabney 301E email:

Curriculum Vitae | Research

I study the philosophy of physics, focusing on the foundations of quantum mechanics, classical field theory, and quantum field theory. I use tools from metaphysics and epistemology to assess competing proposals about what physical laws govern the quantum realm (such as Bohmian mechanics, the many-worlds interpretation, and GRW theory). I also work towards improving our understanding of classical field theories, including our theories of the electromagnetic, Dirac, and gravitational fields. At the intersection of these two topics, I am interested in the way that classical field theories are quantized to arrive at quantum field theories.

I am an assistant professor of philosophy at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). As a student I studied physics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Oxford, and the University of Michigan. Before coming to Caltech, I was an assistant professor at the University of California, San Diego.

For an introduction to my areas of research, you can read the article I wrote for Aeon ("What's everything made of?") or this recent interview.


Particles, Fields, and the Measurement of Electron Spin (forthcoming), in Synthese [abstract] [arXiv]

The Mass of the Gravitational Field (forthcoming), in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science [abstract] [arXiv] [related notes]

Electron Charge Density: A Clue from Quantum Chemistry for Quantum Foundations (2021), in Foundations of Physics [abstract] [arXiv]

Possibility of Small Electron States (2020), in Physical Review A [abstract] [arXiv]

Putting Positrons into Classical Dirac Field Theory (2020), in Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics [abstract] [arXiv]

How Electrons Spin (2019), in Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics [abstract] [arXiv]

Electromagnetism as Quantum Physics (2019), in Foundations of Physics [abstract] [arXiv]

Forces on Fields (2018), in Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics [abstract] [arXiv]

Self-Locating Uncertainty and the Origin of Probability in Everettian Quantum Mechanics (2018), with Sean Carroll, in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science [abstract] [arXiv] [blog I, II, III] [quanta]

Constructing and Constraining Wave Functions for Identical Quantum Particles (2016), in Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics [abstract] [arXiv]

Killer Collapse: Empirically Probing the Philosophically Unsatisfactory Region of GRW (2015), in Synthese [abstract] [PhilSci archive]

Quantum Mechanics as Classical Physics (2015), in Philosophy of Science [abstract] [arXiv] [blog] [featured in Nature News]

Many Worlds, the Born Rule, and Self-Locating Uncertainty (2014), with Sean Carroll, in Quantum Theory: A Two-Time Success Story, Yakir Aharonov Festschrift [abstract] [arXiv (updated version)]

My thesis is available here. The majority of it appears in the articles above. However, the fourth chapter, "A Laws-First Introduction to Quantum Field Theory," is not available elsewhere.


Philosophy Through Science Fiction [spring 2021 syllabus]

Introduction to Philosophy of Science [spring 2021 syllabus]

Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics [fall 2019 syllabus]

Philosophical Issues in Quantum Physics [spring 2019 syllabus]

Book Review

Review of Quantum Ontology: A Guide to the Metaphysics of Quantum Mechanics by Peter J. Lewis (2016), in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

General Audience

What's Everything Made of? (2019), Aeon [reprinted in American Scientist with figures and captions added by their editors] [quote in Nature Briefing]

Philosophy Through Science Fiction (2019), interview with Whitney Clavin, Caltech Magazine

On the Edge of Philosophy and Physics (2019), interview with Whitney Clavin, Caltech News

Into the Impossible Podcast, Episode 25: A Discussion of Quantum Theory and the book “What Is Real?” by Adam Becker (2019), with Adam Becker and Andrew Friedman

Guest Post: Chip Sebens on the Many-Interacting-Worlds Approach to Quantum Mechanics (2014), on Sean Carroll's Preposterous Universe blog


Electron Spin and Field Quantization (2020), talk at Harvard Foundations of Quantum Field Theory Mini-Workshop

Notes on Gravity, Electromagnetism, and Gravitoelectromagnetism (2018)