FALL 2011 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 16||Frederick Eberhardt||Methods and assumptions of causal discovery|
|Sep 23||Peter Taylor||What do we do if we think that researchers have overlooked a significant issue for 100 years?--The case of quantitative genetics and underlying heterogeneity||1:30 PM - 3:30 PM|
|Sep 30||Susanne Bauer||Genogeography and the Micropolitics of Difference. On Soviet Human Genetics at the End of the Cold War||1:30 PM - 3:00 PM|
|Oct 14||William Demopoulos||CARNAP’S THESIS|
|Oct 21||Justin Smith||Sharks' Teeth and Snakes' Tongues: Fossils as an Epistemological Problem from Leibniz to George Gaylord Simpson|
|Oct 31||Evelyn Fox Keller||CANCELLED|
|Nov 11||Sharon Kingsland||Reinventing the ecological laboratory in the atomic age: the international phytotron|
|Nov 18||Colin Allen||From Umwelten to Abstraction: Making meaning in a world of differences||1:30 PM - 3:00 PM|
|Dec 2||Gary Hatfield||The Embodied Eyes: On Seeing Distance Directly||2:00 PM - 3:45 PM|
Washington University of St. Louis
Title: Methods and assumptions of causal discovery
Abstract: The talk will aim to give an overview of the currently known techniques for causal discovery using experiments. The focus will be on a precise specification of the assumptions needed to draw causal inferences, and how they combine (or fail to combine) to yield useful methods that can be applied in a variety of fields. Since these normative methodological results lead to obvious question about the descriptive success in human causal learning, I will indicate where some of the connections and related open questions lie.
Sep 23 1:30 PM - 3:30 PM
Place: BH 204
University of Massachusetts, Boston
Title: What do we do if we think that researchers have overlooked a significant issue for 100 years?--The case of quantitative genetics and underlying heterogeneity
Abstract: Claims of issues overlooked are routinely made or implied in the conceptual systemization of biologists' work that dominates philosophy of biology in the North America. Even if I am wrong about the specific case, the title question (reduced, if need be, to 5 or 10 years) should be asked by scientists and by sociologists and historians as well as philosophers of science. In this talk I address the in-principle question, describe a specific case, and review a range of ways I have been working to influence scientific debates around the case. The crux of the case is that quantitative genetics has not given much attention to the implications of underlying heterogeneity. By this I mean that, although relatives may be similar for a given trait because they share more genes or environmental conditions than unrelated individuals, the genes and environmental conditions underlying the development of the trait need not be the same from one set of relatives to another. The possibility of underlying heterogeneity has significant implications for the analysis and interpretation of classical and modern quantitative genetics.
Sep 30 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM
Max Planck Institute
Title: Genogeography and the Micropolitics of Difference. On Soviet Human Genetics at the End of the Cold War
Abstract: In this talk I will follow the technique of genogeographic map-making and examine the ways in which they generate, reify, or challenge group categories in population genetics, human ecology and public health in the Soviet and post-Soviet context. Since the 1970s Soviet human biologists took up early Soviet traditions of genogeography (as introduced by Serebrovsky in 1928). Two strands of research set the conditions for this reimplementation of human genetics after the Lysenko era – first, radiation biology and, second, biological anthropology. These contexts also co-shaped the distinct developments of late Soviet genetic epidemiology and ecological genetics. At the end of the Cold War, genogeographic maps kept surfacing in a range of contexts – human geography, medical genetics, environmental health – and entered renegotiations of identity and citizenship in the transition period.
University of Western Ontario
Title: CARNAP’S THESIS
Abstract: The doctrine which I call “Carnap’s thesis” holds that certain applied mathematical theories are not factual. This thesis does not stake out a position on the metaphysical question of the reality of mathematical objects, but seeks to illuminate the methodological status of different applied mathematical theories. The defense of Carnap’s thesis that I develop makes essential use of Frege’s notion of a criterion ofidentity, formulated in §62 of his Foundations of Arithmetic. I argue that Frege’s notionforms the basis of a general framework for distinguishing between applied mathematicaltheories that are, and applied mathematical theories that are not, factual. A novel aspect of my development of Carnap’s thesis is that it does not represent the thesis as a versionof conventionalism; nor does it require a notion of analyticity. Another is that it provides an alternative to those accounts of the distinctive place of arithmetic and analysis in our conceptual framework that are based on Quine’s notion of centrality.
Title: Sharks' Teeth and Snakes' Tongues: Fossils as an Epistemological Problem from Leibniz to George Gaylord Simpson
Abstract: "Sharks' Teeth and Snakes' Tongues: Fossils as an Epistemological Problem from Leibniz to George Gaylord Simpson" In his influential 1951 article, "The Species Concept," George Gaylord Simpson highlights a number of important respects in which the classification of paleontological species on the basis of fossil remains is a project that must necessarily contend with conceptual problems that do not arise in the classification of living species. For one thing, if, as has often been supposed, species boundaries are to be determined at least in part by the interfertility of individual organisms, then the obvious fact that fossils cannot mate with one another means that placing two of them in the same species, simply on the basis of perceived morphological similarities, is to employ a rather more dubious criterion than the one deployed for living species, which is based not so much on how two individuals look, as on what they are able to do. The dubious nature of morphology-based classification is compounded by the fact that fossils are by definition not remains so much as traces: that is, they are the form of a hard part of an animal, preserved through the replacement of the original matter. This replacement process, as well as the simple elapsing of time and the long-term impact of environmental factors, inevitably causes a great deal of distortion, and for this reason paleontological classification must remain provisional, and constantly aware of the possibility that perceived similarities or differences in specimens are artefacts of external forces. But these challenges to the identification of paleontological species have themselves served as an important engine for the working out of a theoretically adequate model for a science of the past that must of necessity work through singular things in its aim of reconstructing a general picture of past processes. The working out of such a model began in earnest in the 17th century, with the widespread debate in learned Europe about the nature and origins of the fossils of Pleistocene mammals that were in that period turning up at a rapid pace (particularly the remains of woolly mammoths and Irish elk). An important insight in the era, one had independently by G. W. Leibniz, Thomas Burnet, Hans Sloane, and others, is that the distortions caused by the passing of time might be seized upon as providing clues to the character of the thing being studied, rather than being regretted as impediments to a proper understanding of the thing. Thus in a short 1720 'Account of Elephants Teeth and Bones found under Ground', Sloane argues of a fossilized mammoth tusk that "the very manner of its falling to pieces is an evident Proof of its Structure." In this talk I would like to chart out the history of paleontological theory as it develops from this sort of early insight. I would like to argue, in particular, that the idea that decay may be a tool of, rather than an impediment to, inquiry into the past would play an important role well beyond paleontology in the working out of an adequate theoretical framework for historical sciences in general. It would be evident, for example, in Carl Hempel's attempt to ground history as a science within a positivist framework. I will conclude with some speculative suggestions as to how this insight may also serve to ground the sort of historical inquiry that works through textual traces of the past (of which this talk is itself an instance).
Evelyn Fox Keller
Johns Hopkins University
Title: Reinventing the ecological laboratory in the atomic age: the international phytotron
Abstract: One of the problems hindering progress in biological disciplines such as ecology, which combines fieldwork and experimental analysis, was the lack of well-designed laboratories for the study of whole organisms. In the mid-20th century this situation improved with the construction of new types of laboratories which were used for physiological as well as ecological research. One innovative design, the Earhart Laboratory for Plant Research, opened in 1949 at the California Institute of Technology. It was dubbed a “phytotron” in humorous reference to the cyclotron. Among the more ambitious laboratories influenced by Caltech’s model were phytotrons constructed in Moscow, outside Paris, and in Canberra; the diverse ways in which these three contributed to ‘phytotronics’ as a new kind of scientific practice will be explored. The phytotron’s inventor, Frits Went, desired that phytotrons should help to unite biological disciplines and counteract the divisive impact of molecular biology. These lofty goals were not fulfilled in the end, but the phytotron movement helps us to understand the culture of the postwar years, when feeding the world’s growing population was viewed as one of the most serious problems of the present and future. A select look at some of the larger phytotrons around the world enriches our picture of postwar science, showing what was happening apart from the stories of molecular biology and genetics with which we are more familiar.
Nov 18 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM
Title: From Umwelten to Abstraction: Making meaning in a world of differences
Abstract: It is a truism among ethologists that one must not forget that animals perceive and represent the world differently from humans. Sometimes this caution is phrased in terms of von Uexküll's Umwelt concept. Yet it seems possible (perhaps even unavoidable) to adopt a common ontological framework when comparing different species of mind. For some purposes it seems sufficient to anchor comparative cognition in common-sense categories; bats echolocate insects (or a subset of them) after all. But for other purposes it seems necessary to find out more about how organisms organize their perceptions into biologically significant and perhaps cognitively meaningful states. Complex animals have high bandwidth sensory channels that feed into large nerve networks with very complex dynamics. Even for relatively simple animals belonging to species believed to have a small, fixed number of neurons, the odds are very much against any two animals of the same species, let alone different species, having exactly the same couplings to the environment, the same dimensionality in their nervous systems, or the same dynamics. Given such diversity (which von Uexküll himself recognized), how should we think about shared representation, shared meaning, and cognitive similarity between individuals and species?
Dec 2 2:00 PM - 3:45 PM Westfall Lecture
University of Pennsylvania
Title: The Embodied Eyes: On Seeing Distance Directly
Abstract: Kepler’s discovery of the retinal image (1604) inspired two centuries of intensive work in optics and the theory of vision. Although optics – as a complete theory of vision that includes physiological and psychological aspects – had been pursued as a geometrical science from antiquity, Kepler’s discovery, when paired with Renaissance practices of making perspective images, revealed a new and basic fact about how vision works: it starts from an optical image. This finding in turn generated a deeply held theory that persists today: that what we “really see” is a two-dimensional image like that on the retina, with depth and distance added through judgment, interpretation, or in-grained habit. Indeed, Jonathan Crary’s influential 1992 book has entrenched a false narrative in which the camera obscura, a device for projecting scenes into two-dimensional images, was a model of vision itself throughout the early modern period (up to ca. 1810). Focusing on Descartes’ Dioptrique and Berkeley’s New Theory of Vision, I challenge this understanding of the history of visual theory. For both Descartes and Berkeley, the binocular eyes are embodied physiologically and/or psychologically, and bodily processes produce an experience of depth and distance that is phenomenally immediate. The camera obscura is a model of the eye but not of vision. The eye does not see: it enables the embodied mind to see. Friday, December 2, 2011 Ballantine 204 2:00 p.m.-3:45 p.m. Reception at Faculty Club at the IMU 6:00 p.m. Co-sponsored with Philosophy