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Indiana University Bloomington

Colloquium Series

Spring 2006 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]

Jan 20Melinda FaganHANSON PRIZE LECTURE | 1:30 p.m.
Jan 20Amit Hagar2nd half of double feature
Jan 24Scott TanonaTUESDAY 6pm-8pm | Ballantine 103
Jan 27Christian Wüthrich 1:30 p.m.
Jan 27Manfred D. Laubichler2nd half of double feature
Feb 10Paul Griffiths1:30 p.m.
Feb 10Chris Smeenk2nd half of double feature
Mar 6Daniel DennettMONDAY 4 p.m. | Jordan Hall 124
Mar 07,09Daniel DennettPATTEN LECTURES | 7:30 pm | Jordan Hall 124
Mar 24Friedrich Steinle
Apr 07Pamela AsquithCANCELLED
Apr 21Michael Gordin
May 09PHIL/HPSC MiniconferenceMONDAY | 3:00-5:30 p.m. | IMU Persimmon Room

Jan 20 | HANSON PRIZE LECTURE | 1:30 p.m.
Melinda Fagan
HPS, Indiana University

Wallace, Darwin, and the practice of natural history

There is a pervasive contrast in the early natural history writing of the co-discoverers of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin. Wallace consistently emphasized species and genera, discussing individual organisms in rare, brief passages. In contrast, Darwin emphasized individual organisms, mingling his descriptions of individuals and groups.

I account for this contrast by placing the co-discoverers' natural history practices at the center of analysis. Briefly, Wallace's intense collecting activities led him to emphasize species and higher taxa in his early writings, while Darwin's habit of detailed observation led him to place greater emphasis on individual organisms. Their different practices, in turn, resulted from different circumstances and motivations. Causal connections may thus be drawn between the circumstances under which Wallace and Darwin came to practice natural history on their respective expeditions, their subsequent working routines, and the natural history writings that those routines produced.

This account provides an integrative starting point for further investigation of broader social factors that shaped natural history practices, and of their scientific products. It also sheds light on several contentious issues in Wallace and Darwin scholarship, notably the controversy over levels of selection.

Jan 20 | 2nd half of double feature
Amit Hagar
Philosophy, University of Delaware

Quantum Computing - Lessons from Two Halting Problems

Emerging as a visionary idea in the 1980s, quantum computing has become a small industry and one of the most fascinating domains in quantum mechanics to this date. The common view is that quantum computers, if built, may solve computational problems that are believed to be intractable for classical computers by harnessing some essentially quantum features. Concentrating on theoretical aspects rather than on practical ones, I shall discuss two halting problems that constrain any attempt to rewrite the abstract notion of computability using quantum mechanics. I will then use these problems to raise some good-natured philosophical doubts about the putative power of quantum computers.

Jan 24 | TUESDAY 6pm-8pm | Ballantine 103
Scott Tanona
Philosophy, Kansas State University

Theory ladenness and the interpretation of physical theories

The idea that observations are theory-laden poses a potential problem for accounts of objectivity and of continuity over radical theory change. I examine these topics in the context of ideas of broadly-encompassing conceptual frameworks from Kuhn and Friedman, especially as applied to modern physical theories that rely on abstract mathematical formalisms. I suggest that by recognizing that theories gain empirical content through coordination with other-theory dependent phenomena where not a single but rather multiple layers of conceptual frameworks can be used, we can explain how it is possible for there to be consistency over theory change. Moreover, I suggest that this idea can have far-reaching consequences for our understanding and interpretation of theories, because it can imply that some theories unavoidably rely on entirely other-theoretical frameworks for the description of the empirical phenomena the theories explain. I examine the implications of this idea for the interpretation of special relativity, and hint at implications for the interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Jan 27 | 1:30 p.m.
Christian Wüthrich
HPS, University of Pittsburgh

Approaching the Planck scale from a generally relativistic point of view

This talk highlights some of the major topics and results of my doctoral research. First, I will try to motivate the relevance of the quest for a quantum theory of gravity, and why philosophers should be interested in it and what they can contribute to it. Second, I will turn to a discussion of the first principles of loop quantum gravity, the approach to quantum gravity studied in my dissertation. I shall argue that two claims concerning these first principles generally made in the literature stand in need of correction. Third, I will scrutinize the claim that loop quantum gravity eliminates (some of) the singularities of general relativty. I shall criticize interpretations of cosmological models based on loop quantum gravity which insist on an understanding of the models in terms of a three-dimensional universe dynamically evolving from before the big bang to our epoch.

Jan 27 | 2nd half of double feature
Manfred D. Laubichler
Arizona State University

Ernst Cassirer and Theoretical Biology: Closer than you Think

In recent years Ernst Cassirer has experienced somewhat of a comeback. A new (25 volumes) edition of his collected works and an edition of his unpublished manuscripts and papers (planned for another 20 volumes) are well on its way. Several scholars, most prominently Michael Friedman and John Krois, have also contributed to a critical review of Ernst Cassirer's place in 20th century philosophy. We now have a better understanding of Cassirer's Neo-Kantian roots, his contributions to historical epistemology, the philosophy of science, the philosophy of symbolic forms and finally to philosophical anthropology. What is far less known are Cassirer's ideas on conceptual and philosophical problems of biology. In this talk I would like to advocate a thesis that Cassirer was keenly aware of a discourse on theoretical biology, that he was actively engaged in discussion with some of the leading contributors to this discourse, and that questions and problems of biology are featured prominently in his own thinking. In addition, I will argue that Cassirer's approach, in historical epistemology as well as in the philosophy of symbolic forms, still has a lot to offer to philosophers of biology and theoretical biologists, especially in the context of organismal biology.

Feb 10 | 1:30 p.m.
Paul Griffiths
Philosophy, University of Queensland

The Baldwin effect and genetic assimilation: contrasting explanatory foci and gene concepts in two approaches to an evolutionary process

Many evolutionary processes have been described in which a trait that initially develops in the members of a population as a result of some interaction with the environment comes to develop without that interaction in their descendants. Waddington's genetic assimilation is importantly different from the rest of this 'Baldwiniana' because his explanatory focus was not on the selection pressures at the point of transition, but on how developmental systems come to be structured in such a way that these evolutionary transitions are readily accessible to evolving lineages. Waddington's approach also replaces the simple contrast between 'acquired' and 'innate' with a non-dichotomous model of developmental canalisation and phenotypic plasticity that is in line with recent work on the evolution of development. From a Waddingtonian perspective evolutionary transitions between 'innate' and 'acquired' are only to be expected because those categories have little meaning in terms of developmental genetics and in some cases the difference between the 'innate' and 'acquired' may require only a minimal change in developmental mechanisms. But to see this it is necessary to use a gene concept suitable for thinking about development, and not a gene concept designed for theoretical population genetics or for the prediction of phenotypic differences within populations.

Feb 10 | 2nd half of double feature
Chris Smeenk
Philosophy, UCLA

Theory and Evidence in Early Universe Cosmology

Since the mid 70s early universe cosmology has become an increasingly important testing ground for fundamental physics. The "poor man's accelerator" (Zel'dovich's apt description of the early universe) reaches energy scales far beyond those accessible to earth-bound accelerators. Physicists now routinely turn to cosmology as the sole source of evidence for new theories, and my talk will focus on one aspect of the ensuing methodological problems. Cosmologists frequently invoke the apparent fine-tuning of the initial state required by the standard cosmological models as the main motivation for new theories such as inflation. Without new dynamics such as inflation, the argument goes, the universe as we observe it would be incredibly improbable or unnatural. As with the traditional argument from design, there are well-known problems with underwriting this appeal to probability. I will argue that the difficulty reflects a general feature of "fine-tuning problems": they are defined by a contrast between speculative extrapolations of existing theory and current observational and experimental results. The ability of a theory to solve a fine-tuning problem is only a significant success if the extrapolation of existing theory proves to be correct. In this sense, fine-tuning problems are an ambiguous and defeasible guide to formulating new theories. I will conclude with a brief discussion of the possibility that fine-tuning can be treated as a useful heuristic that is no longer necessary.

Mar 6 | MONDAY 4 p.m. | Jordan Hall 124
Daniel Dennett
Director, Center for Cognitive Studies
University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy
Tufts University

Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness

Mar 07, 09 | PATTEN LECTURES | 7:30 pm | Jordan Hall 124
Daniel Dennett
Tufts University

Lecture I: Freedom Evolves--a Dangerous Idea [audio archive]
Lecture II: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

Mar 24
Friedrich Steinle
University of Wuppertal, Germany

Scientific facts, empirical concepts, and the history of electricity

In his famous book "Genesis and development of scientific facts," the Polish bacteriologist Ludwik Fleck posed a major challenge to the then common view that scientific facts are taken as the firm ground on which theories are built. Drawing on cases from the history of bacteriology and immunology, he pointed to the flexibility and historical dimension of scientific facts. However, he left open the question of how we can explicate and understand this flexibility and historicity of scientific facts in epistemological terms. In my talk, I shall make an attempt in that direction. I maintain that the general claim of 'theory-ladeness' of all observation statements is too general and does not explain much. Rather I propose to differentiate further by taking a close look at empirical concepts and the processes of their formation in scientific research. To spell out even the simplest empirical statement, we need concepts (perhaps not theories...) - hence no facts without concepts. Scientific concepts have their histories, however, and it might be the historicity of concepts that transfers onto facts. I shall discuss and illustrate these questions based on historical studies of electricity.

Edith Sylla
History, North Carolina State University

Jacob Bernoulli, Father of Mathematics

In this talk I explore how the standard narrative of the Scientific Revolution of the Seventeenth Century might be revised by including as an integral part the life and work of Jacob Bernoulli -- taking him as representative of the mathematical school sometimes represented under the rubric "Leibniz and the Bernoullis." Both intellectually and institutionally, attention to Leibniz and the Bernoullis forces a decentering of England as the locus of the culmination of the Scientific Revolution. Instead of David Noble's "world without women" or Naomi Zack's "bachelors of science," the Bernoullis' world (centered on Basel) was one in which the new scientists were husbands, fathers, and teachers, as well as long-distance contributors to the new science through correspondence and the journals of the day.

Pamela Asquith
Anthropology, University of Alberta

Apr 21
Michael Gordin
Princeton University

Let Them Read German: The Zeitschrift für Chemie and the Creation of Russian Chemistry

In 1860, Russian chemists had no real outlet for publishing their research in their native language. At the time, the only possibilities for publishing chemical articles were in foreign journals or the Bulletin of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences which only published in French, German, and Latin. A brief attempt a few years earlier had failed largely because of a lack of interest in among Russian chemists. who favored international exposure among non-Russian-reading scholars. In 1868, the Russian Chemical Society was founded and its Journal quickly became the dominant publication outlet for chemists like D. I. Mendeleev, A. M. Butlerov, and V. V. Markovnikov. A central cause for the transformation in Russian attitudes about the desirability of a Russian-language chemical journal came from the experiences of a central group of young Russian chemists in the intervening decade with a German chemical journal, the Zeitschrift für Chemie und Pharmacie. In presenting a "biography" of this scientific journal, which played a central role in German-Russian scientific relations at precisely the moment that nationalist tensions began to erupt in the physical sciences, this talk argues that the Zeitschrift gave Russians a model for how to develop their own chemical periodical, and many of the peculiar features of Russian chemistry that can be detected in the Journal trace their roots back to a somewhat marginal German publication. This close study provides some insight into the rise, dominance, and problems of the scientific article's dominance of scientific communication in the modern world.

May 09 | MONDAY | 3:00-5:30 p.m. | IMU Persimmon Room
PHIL/HPSC Miniconference
The Third Annual Indiana University Philosophy/History & Philosophy of Science Miniconference on Philosophical & Scientific Methodologies