Spring 2008 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]
After the Double Helix
Jan 25 Roy Laird The Secret at Galileo's Trial
Feb 08 Carl Pearson Cosmology and the Unity of Christianity in the Sixth Century
Feb 11 Yves Gingras The Collective Construction of Scientific Memory Informal Brown-Bag Lunch
Feb 14 Jeffrey (Jeff) Bub Two Dogmas About Quantum Mechanics Thursday
Feb 29 Otavio Bueno Scientific Representation and Microscopy
Mar 07 Hal Cook Information Exchange and the Scientific Revolution Westfall Lecture
Mar 28 Gianna Pomata TBA CANCELLED
Apr 04 Mark Schiefsky Medicine and philosophy in the second century AD: Galen on the elements
Apr 11 Patrick Suppes Neuropsychological Foundations of Philosophy Coffa Lecture
Apr 18 Mary Quinlan Art in Nature
Title: After the Double Helix
Abstract: Rosalind Franklin is best known for her informative X-ray diffraction patterns of DNA that provided vital clues for James Watson and Francis Crick's double-stranded helical model. However, her scientific career did not end when she left the DNA work at King's College. In 1953, Franklin moved to J. D. Bernal's crystallography laboratory at Birkbeck College, where she shifted her focus to the three-dimensional structure of viruses, obtaining diffraction patterns of Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) of unprecedented detail and clarity. During the next five years, while making significant headway on the structural determination of TMV, Franklin maintained active correspondence with both Watson and Crick, who were also studying aspects of virus structure. Developments in TMV research during the 1950s illustrate the connections in the emerging field of molecular biology between structural studies of nucleic acids and structural studies of proteins and viruses. They also reveal how the protagonists of the "race for the double helix" continued to interact scientifically and personally during the years that Watson and Crick's model for the double-helical structure of DNA was debated and confirmed. This paper was coauthored by Gregory J. Morgan.
Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
Title: The Secret at Galileo's Trial
Abstract: In his first deposition to the Inquisition in 1633, Galileo stated that in 1616 Cardinal Bellarmine had told him a "certain particular" that he "should like to speak to the ear of His Holiness before telling others." The Inquisitor did not ask what this might be, and over the course of the later interrogations it never came up again. But if this certain particular had a direct bearing on his trial—and Galileo would hardly have mentioned it if it did not—why did he apparently never reveal what it was, not even long after the trial was over? What did Bellarmine tell Galileo in 1616 that could now only be whispered in the ear of the Pope?
This secret conceals, I think, the reason why Galileo inexplicably claimed under interrogation that he could not remember whether in 1616 he had been ordered not to teach or discuss the Copernican opinion, and it holds the key to the contradiction between two key documents in the trial. In this talk I shall attempt to show what this secret was and why Galileo could not reveal it to anyone but the Pope at his trial, and why he would not reveal it to anyone afterwards. I also hope to explain with its help the reason for the so-called plea bargain arranged by the Commissary General, which some historians have claimed was abrogated at the last minute by command from above. Finally, I'd like to show why the trial took the tragic turn that it did—how it was that Galileo, by offering his best defence against the charges he thought he was facing, unknowingly precipitated his own condemnation for heresy.
Visiting Professor Indiana University
Title: Cosmology and the Unity of Christianity in the Sixth Century
Abstract: In the decade before the 1st Council of Constantinople in 553, a fierce debate raged about the proper way to construct cosmology and natural philosophy within the Christian empire. Two of the participants in this debate, John Philoponus and Cosmas Indicopleustes, were engaged in a dispute about the applicability and interpretation of the Bible, and the extent to which pagan philosophical arguments should come into play for Christians. Viewed in isolation, this intellectual struggle seems an idiosyncratic fight with clever but puzzling consequences. However, viewed through the lens of the fight for the unity of the Christian Church during the reign of Justinian, the debate between Philoponus and Cosmas makes more sense. This talk will highlight debates about rationalism and biblical hermeneutics in constructing a Christian cosmology which reflect on two competing views for the future of the Church—and the fading hopes for preserving its unity.
University of Québec at Montréal (UQAM)
Title: The Collective Construction of Scientific Memory
Abstract: One of the side effects of commemorations is often to reactivate old debates that had been forgotten or lay dormant. While this is obvious for political commemorations, it is no less true of scientific commemorations and the UNESCO international year of physics in 2005, celebrating Einstein's annus mirabilis of 1905 revived the old ghost of Poincaré's contribution to relativity.
Recent discussions concerning the relations between Einstein's and Poincaré's work on the electrodynamics of moving bodies leave curiously untouched some crucial historical/sociological questions
Jeffrey (Jeff) Bub
Unversity of Maryland
Title: Two Dogmas About Quantum Mechanics
Abstract: I argue that the intractable part of the measurement problem—the 'big' measurement problem—is a pseudo-problem that depends for its legitimacy on the acceptance of two dogmas. The first dogma is John Bell's assertion that measurement should never be introduced as a primitive process in a fundamental mechanical theory like classical or quantum mechanics, but should always be open to a complete analysis, in principle, of how the individual outcomes come about dynamically. The second dogma is the view that the quantum state has an ontological significance analogous to the significance of the classical state as the 'truthmaker' for propositions about the occurrence and non-occurrence of events, i.e., that the quantum state is a representation of physical reality. I show how both dogmas can be rejected in a realist information-theoretic interpretation of quantum mechanics.
Co-sponsored with Physics.
University of Florida
Title: Scientific Representation and Microscopy
Abstract: Physicists, chemists, and biologists often describe the results of experiments that use various kinds of microscopes in terms of "observation". Given the unobservable nature of some of the objects that are studied (nanoparticles, viruses, bacteria), one wonders how we should make sense of this way of speaking. Underlying this way of speaking is a particular cluster of epistemological views regarding the reliability and adequacy of microscopes. In this paper, I try to uncover key epistemological assumptions that may be in place, and discuss whether we have good reason to maintain them. The idea is to articulate the initial steps of an epistemology for microscopy. And in order to do that, the connections between scientific representation and microscopy will be explored
Title: Information Exchange and the Scientific Revolution
Abstract: Viewed from the perspective of the Dutch Golden Age, the major changes in natural philosophy that go under the rubric of the scientific revolution were due not to a few big ideas but to many, many incremental changes. These changes were rooted in more, and more accurate, description of the material things of the world, down to their tiniest parts. In this process of the discovery of the unknown, the systems of exchange fostered by the commercial economy and its need for accurate information underpinned the shift in values toward fact rather than speculation. It was engagement with the real world, not disinterested contemplation, that created the new science.
Title: Medicine and philosophy in the second century AD: Galen on the elements
Abstract: Galen of Pergamum (129 - ca. 210 AD) famously claimed that "the best doctor is also a philosopher". This presentation will explore one key aspect of this thesis, Galen's adoption of the Aristotelian theory of the four elements earth, air, fire, and water (and their associated qualities hot, cold, wet, and dry) as a fundamental principle of medical theory and practice. Through a close examination of the influential treatise On the elements according to Hippocrates, I will discuss Galen's reasons for thinking that a doctor must know about the elements, his arguments for the theory, and his attempt to read it into the texts of the Hippocratic Corpus.
Title: Neuropsychological Foundations of Philosophy
Abstract: The slow but steady accretion of the case for an empirical view of all human phenomena calls for a revision of much thinking in philosophy that still retains unfortunate remnants needing the kind of critique that Kant gave earlier, but now applied to a wider circle of philosophical ideas. The purpose of this lecture is not to make a systematic analysis of principles of a completely general kind, but rather to give four extended examples of problems that have often been thought of in philosophy or in mathematics as not being really empirical in nature. They will be presented as naturally empirical from a psychological and a neural standpoint. The first example tries to bring out the empirical character of the ordinary use of the concept of truth, and the psychological methods by which the truth of ordinary empirical statements is assessed. The second example deals with beliefs, especially that of Bayesian priors. I find unsatisfactory the thinness of the psychological foundations that are provided, for example by the forefathers of the modern Bayesian viewpoint, Frank Ramsey, Bruno de Finetti, and Jimmy Savage. The third example deals with problems of rational choice and rational thinking in general. The deeper psychological account of how choices are actually made is a matter of extended psychological development of concepts not usually brought to bear on the theory of rational choice. Finally, in the fourth example, I set forth a psychological thesis about an important aspect of modern mathematics that is troublesome for many people. The purpose of this example is to stress the psychological nature of verifying—mind you, not discovering, but verifying—the correctness of informal mathematical proofs, which still dominates the practice of mathematicians. The topic of neural phenomena, in particular neural computations, comes last, and I will say no more at this point.
Northern Illinois University
Title: Art in Nature
Abstract: Many of the great works of art and architecture in the Italian Renaissance were based on a scientific understanding of the connections between the heavens and the earth. St. Peter's Basilica, the great villa of the Farnese family at Caprarola, and the Sala dei Pontefici in the Vatican Palace are examples of this phenomenon. This talk will examine how the issues of science, especially astronomy and astrology, were understood to function within the artworks.