FALL 2010 Colloquium Series
All talks are on Friday from 4:00 to 6:00 PM in Ballantine Hall 003, unless otherwise noted.
Calendar [click date for details]
Sep 10 Jochen Buttner Swinging and Rolling: the Experiment that midwifed Galileo's new science of motion 01 : 30 PM to 03 : 30 PM
Sep 17 James Mattingly Weyl versus Carnap on Spacetime Facts
Oct 08 Giuseppe Sergioli Entanglement - From an Embarrassment to an Asset 01 : 30 PM to 03 : 30 PM
Oct 15 Peter Dear Science as a topic for history
Oct 22 Wendy Parker The Target of Testing: models, adequacy and scientific knowledge
Nov 12 James Woodward Causation in Biology Coffa Lecture
Nov 19 Cesare Pastorino Between Invention and Experiment
Dec 03 Brooke Holmes Authorial Immunity and Disembodied Knowledge in Early Greek Medicine
Dec 10 Robert Goulding Deciphering Thomas Harriot's Optical Manuscripts 01 : 30 PM to 03 : 30 PM
Title: Swinging and Rolling: the Experiment that midwifed Galileo's new science of motion
Abstract: Amongst Galileo's working notes a sheet has been preserved containing the record of a remarkable experiment in which Galileo compared the motion of a pendulum to that of ball rolling down along an inclined plane. Despite the continuous interest historians of science have paid to questions regarding Galileo's experimental procedures this particular experiment has virtually been ignored to the present day. I will show that the experiment can be reconstructed to rather minute detail from the information preserved in the record. As it turns out the experiment is particularly intricate in that it couples two classes of phenomena, pendulum motion and naturally accelerated motion on inclined planes, and moreover rest on prior theoretical assumption in a strong sense. I will argue that based on the reconstruction of the experiment and its context existing accounts of the conceptual genesis of Galileo's theory of naturally accelerated motion need to be reconsidered.
University of Georgetown
Title: Weyl versus Carnap on Spacetime Facts
Abstract: In Space, Time, Matter (RZM) Hermann Weyl presents his own contribution toward solving the "space problem" for spaces of 2 or 3 dimensions, and a speculative extension of that contribution into spaces of any integral dimension. He later establishes the mathematical basis for that extension, thus moving it out of the realm of the speculative, in ``The Uniqueness of the Pythagorean Metric." As Weyl characterizes it in RZM the space problem is to explain why the metric of physical space (spacetime) is infinitesimally pythagorean. His solution begins from the extremely plausible and uncontroversial demand that very small displacements and rotations of bodies constitute a mathematical group of operations. He then demonstrates that only in infinitesimally pythagorean spaces can this requirement be met: essentially an infinitesimal version of the Helmholtz-Lie theorem establishing that free-mobility of bodies is possible only in spaces of constant curvature.
Weyl however takes himself to have established much more than that. He argues that he has shown that only in spacetimes that admit virtual changes in the metric can we demand not only that the metric be locally pythagorean, but the even more basic demands that it involves no cross terms, and no terms of higher order than quadratic. Here I will present Weyl's argument, assess it favorably, and then explain how it may be used to refute Carnap's early position on the conventional character of spatial geometry. That conventionalism is quite minimalist however, and so conventionalism in general appears implausible on this analysis.
I first introduce the space problem, as understood by Weyl and his contemporaries (and their immediate predecessors). I next present Carnap's solution to the problem, and show his conclusion proof against an updated version of a standard objection. I then outline Weyl's response, and reconstruct on his behalf an argument that his solution demonstrates the factual character of the metric of space. I call the form of argument ``inference to the implicit explanans". I will try to make it appear plausible that such an inference is generally available as a response to conventionalist challenges.
University of Cagliari
Title: Entanglement - From an Embarrassment to an Asset
Abstract: In this talk I shall retrace a path trodden by a number of physicists during the last century, investigating in detail the epistemological consequences of a physical experiment the results of which clash with our classical conception of nature, where causality principles and determinism are always accepted, and a famous thought experiment suggested by Einstein et al., which has led to a new way of thinking about computation and information transfer. This new way of thinking induces the use of a kind of logic - quantum logic - where truth values are not only "true" or "false". I will close with some interesting properties and foundational consequences of this quantum logic.
Title: Science as a topic for history
Abstract: Many scholars studying science have long since come to the conclusion that their subject is protean, if not simply a collection of quite different enterprises altogether. This talk discusses ways in which the unity of science as a temporally emergent historical topic may properly be located in its unique ideological structure, to be identified in the practices of self-representation by which the wide variety of modern sciences have justified themselves since at least the nineteenth century.
Title: The Target of Testing: models, adequacy and scientific knowledge
Abstract: I argue that usually what we should aim to test or confirm are not scientific models, but their adequacy for particular purposes. I explain why testing a model's adequacy-for-purpose can be quite difficult, involving challenges beyond those involved in testing whether the model embodies a true hypothesis about the workings of the target system. I then give some examples in which testing a model's adequacy-for-purpose is easier or harder and attempt to indentify some general features of easier and harder cases. Finally, I offer some brief remarks on how the notion of adequacy-for-purpose might figure in our understanding of science more generally.
University of Pittsburgh
Title: Causation in Biology
Abstract: This talk will explore some features of causal relationships that are that are important in biological contexts: stability, specificity and proportionality. Stability has to do with whether a causal relationship continues to hold under changes in background conditions. Proportionality is related to the idea of finding an appropriate "level" of explanation and has to do with whether changes in the state of the cause ''line up'' in the right way with changes in the state of the effect and with whether the cause and effect are characterized in a way that contains irrelevant detail. Specificity is connected both to David Lewis' notion of ''influence'' and also with the extent to which a causal relationship approximates to the ideal of one cause–one effect. The significance of these features for biological theorizing and their interconnections will be discussed.
Title: Between Invention and Experiment: Mechanical Arts in Francis Bacon
Abstract: In this talk I question the view that Francis Bacon's understanding of mechanical arts was purely theoretical, philosophical, and "literary," and that his links with artisans and craftsmen of his time were negligible or nonexistent. I discuss Bacon's institutional involvement in the early Stuart patent system, and his concrete contacts with entrepreneurs, projectors, and inventors. In general, I argue that Bacon's familiarity with the issue of technological innovation and the world of craftsmen significantly contributed to the development of the Baconian notion of experiment. I will justify this claim analyzing the key concept of "literate experience" (experientia literata), and showing that Bacon developed this idea paying close attention to the works and practices of inventors and mechanical artisans.
Title: Authorial Immunity and Disembodied Knowledge in Early Greek Medicine
Abstract: In Thucydides' famous account of the Athenian plague, he grounds the authority of his report in his own experience of the disease. In contrast, the personae of the authors of our earliest Greek medical texts, gathered in the Hippocratic Corpus, are developed on the assumption of the physician's invulnerability. Following the silences of these texts as well as their rhetorical strategies, I argue first, that the immunity of the physician cues his implicit disembodiment; and, second, that the related notions of immunity and disembodiment establish the authority of medical writers and practicing physicians to speak about the nature of bodies and disease as an authority located outside the experience of the body. Significantly, the claim to authority is not consistently coupled with a stance of impersonality, as is often the case in the later scientific and philosophical tradition. The talk thus explores the specific nature of "disembodied" knowledge in classical medical writing, taking into account, as well, the relationship of such a model to other ways of configuring the nexus between knowledge and vulnerability in classical Greece.
University of Notre Dame
Title: Deciphering Thomas Harriot's Optical Manuscripts
Abstract: For a variety of reasons, the scientific papers of Thomas Harriot (1560-1621) have proven very difficult to decipher. In the last half century, scholars have made great advances in understanding them, with the result that Harriot is now considered a pioneer in the modern physical sciences. In the most recent scholarship, attention has turned from Harriot's remarkable results to his day-to-day working practice, as it is revealed in the thousands of pages of rough working papers that he left behind. In this paper, I examine one of Harriot's early optical investigations -- his exploration on paper of the properties of a vast, imaginary lens suggested by a correspondent, John Bulkeley