In this paper we have two aims: first, to draw attention to the close connexion between interpretation and scientific understanding; second, to give a detailed account of how theories without a spacetime can be interpreted, and so of how they can be understood. In order to do so, we of course need an account of what is meant by a theory ‘without a spacetime’: which we also provide in this paper. We describe three tools, used by physicists, aimed at constructing interpretations which are adequate for the goal of understanding. We analyse examples from high-energy physics illustrating how physicists use these tools to construct interpretations and thereby attain understanding. The examples are: the ’t Hooft approximation of gauge theories, random matrix models, causal sets, loop quantum gravity, and group field theory.
- Quantum gravity
- Scientific understanding