Spring 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]
Feb 05 Dr. Frederick Churchill “Another kind of Sex – or not? Protozoa and ‘Amphimixis’ in the Nineteenth Century” 01 : 30 PM to 03 : 30 PM
Feb 12 Cynthia Klestinec Learned Surgeons and the Cultures of Print in Renaissance Venice
Feb 19 Eric Winsberg Values and Uncertainty in the Predictions of Global Climate Models
Feb 26 Roberta Millstein The Causal Interactionist Concepts of 'Population' and 'Metapopulation'
Mar 26 Elly Truitt Translating Technology: Automata in the Medieval World
Apr 09 Adina Roskies Neurons, Mechanism, and Freedom of the Will Listen to the lecture
Apr 16 Grant Ramsey Solving and Dissolving the Problems of Fitness
Apr 23 Alan Richardson Carnap’s Logical Empiricism as Philosophy of Science and as Analytic Philosophy, historisch-kritisch dargestellt COFFA Lecture
Feb 05 01 : 30 PM to 03 : 30 PM
Dr. Frederick Churchill
Title: “Another kind of Sex – or not? Protozoa and ‘Amphimixis’ in the Nineteenth Century”
Abstract: Little has been done to advance a modern history of protozoology. Except for the perpetual reference to Leeuwenhoek of the seventeen hundreds and an occasional mention of Christian G. Ehrenberg, Otto Bütschli, and Ernst Haeckel of the eighteen hundreds, nineteenth century protozoology appears today as a nearly empty field. Some of this neglect may be due to the strange taxonomies of “Infusoria” that adorned much of the nineteenth century literature. The issues raised at that time, however, are fascinating and conceptually more important. Illustrations and texts illuminate how round-a-bout was the way for these microscopic organisms as zoologists tried to come to terms with their relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom. I intend to focus in particular on the examinations of these organisms by Bütschli, Émil Maupas, and August Weismann, all of which reflect this tortuous history.
A session at the 1986 annual meeting of the History of Science Society, published later in The Journal for the History of Biology, 1989, 22: 185-323 provides a useful introduction to the history of protozoology and is a source of references of earlier historical literature. Incidentally, four of the five participants were I.U. affiliates!
Title: Learned Surgeons and the Cultures of Print in Renaissance Venice
Abstract: In the early modern period, vernacular medical texts treated midwifery, herbal remedy, bloodletting, household ‘physick’ and a number of other topics that respond to the general and pervasive concern for healthy living in the sixteenth century (Pelling, 1998). In these exceedingly practical texts, the vernacular made medical knowledge more accessible and thereby increased readership. It also dissolved the integrity of the Latinate traditions dealing with gynecology, herbals, and medical diagnostics. In other arenas, however, the vernacular was not meant to give patients the power to diagnose or treat themselves or more generally, to reach a broader audience. It sought to maintain the integrity of the Latinate tradition even as it moved it into the vernacular. This presentation investigates this alternative role of the vernacular. Drawing on studies of the history of the book, this presentation focuses on surgery texts, in particular, a set of editions of Giovanni de Vigo’s Practica universale in cirugia, published in Venice between 1549 and 1560. These editions were learned; they claimed a classical heritage, an academic system of reference, and an elite audience. As the editors and translators of these editions struggled with variant Latin sources, classical conventions, and linguistic precision, they articulated a set of ideas about how a vernacular language could be cultivated: how it could transform the Latin tradition of surgery into a vernacular one without diluting its definitions and principles (at which point, it could more effectively counter the claims of empiricists); and how it was a more constitutive part of the language debates of the sixteenth century (the questione della lingua), which have heretofore been seen to turn on the literary expressions of Italian, found in Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch.
University of South Florida
Title: Values and Uncertainty in the Predictions of Global Climate Models
Abstract: There has been a great deal of emphasis, in recent years, on developing methods for assigning probabilities, in the form of quantitative margins of uncertainty (QMUs), to the predictions of global climate models.
Such an approach, and the attendant division of labor that it affords between those who discover the facts and those who decide what we should value, has obvious advantages. And it is in line with a famous defense of scientific objectivity, mounted by Richard Jeffrey against the arguments of Richard Rudner in the 1950’s: scientists qua scientists can avoid making value judgments by assigning probabilities to hypotheses rather than by accepting or rejecting them. These are the very considerations, or so I argue, that offer the strongest reasons for attaching precise QMUs to the predictions of climate models.
All of this, however, is predicated on the assumption that a conceptually coherent methodology is available for calculating QMUs based on the forecasts of complex deterministic models, like the global models of climate used by climate scientists. I argue that, at the present time, no such conceptually coherent method exists, and it is not clear where one will come from. In fact, I argue, the present practice of assigning QMUs provides an artificial precision to the predictions of climate models where no such precision is possible. But it is this very kind of precision which would be required for the method of QMUs to divide our intellectual labor into the epistemic and the normative.
So what ought climate scientists do? I examine some options and two conclusions emerge. First, climate modeling ought to focus more on exploring the space of possible outcomes than on narrowing in on what the likely outcomes are. Second, climate science ought to adopt a more self-conscious attitude towards the role that values play in that endeavor.
University of California Davis
Title: The Causal Interactionist Concepts of 'Population' and 'Metapopulation'
Abstract: Biologists studying ecology and evolution use the term "population" in many different ways. Yet little philosophical analysis of the concept been done, either by biologists or philosophers, in contrast to the voluminous literature on the concept of "species". This is in spite of the fact that "population" is arguably a far more central concept in ecological and evolutionary studies than "species" is. Differentiating one "patchy population" from a grouping of multiple populations (a "metapopulation") seems particularly challenging, yet also important, given the increasing use of metapopulation models. Getting these concepts right is important because different population structures may have different ecological and evolutionary dynamics and yield different expected outcomes. In this talk, I will characterize my proposed concepts, which I have dubbed the causal interactionist concepts of population and metapopulation. I will then illustrate how the concepts apply to six cases that differ in their population structure; this will also serve to flesh out and defend the concepts a bit more. Finally, I will respond to some possible objections.
Bryn Mawr College
Title: Translating Technology: Automata in the Medieval World
Abstract: Automata--self-moving objects most often in the form of animals, people, and the cosmos--first appeared in Europe in the late 8th and early 9th centuries as diplomatic gifts from Byzantine and Abbasid courts. Later European travelers reported and wrote about the mechanical marvels they saw on their travels to the "east," and writers of history, romance, legend, and philosophy re-imagined these objects and described them, in often fantastical terms, in their works. Yet as automata were translated from court to page, and from material to textual reality, they underwent a different kind of translation, as well: from mechanical to magical marvel. Until the turn of the fourteenth century, when European artisans succeeded in designing and building complex automata for court and Church pageantry, medieval philosophers, scholars, and artists imagined how these objects were made by using esoteric theoretical knowledge, astral science, necromancy, and natural magic. At they same time, they grappled with the distant, "eastern" origins of these objects, as they were often associated with schismatic, un-Christian, or pagan empires. As automata became more common in Europe in the fifteenth century, they became gradually decoupled from their more morally and intellectually disquieting roots.
Title: Neurons, Mechanism, and Freedom of the Will
Abstract: What can neuroscience tell us about free will? I discuss the traditional problem of free will, and the limitations of neuroscience for addressing it. However, I argue neuroscience can contribute positively to the discussion. I discuss some neuroscientific data from monkeys that illuminates the neural basis of decision-making, and argue that this simple model can be generalized to a picture that can accommodate complex decisions made for reasons. This picture accords well with some compatibilist views on free will, and may provide the first steps of a synthetic approach to a theory of freedom.
Title: Solving and Dissolving the Problems of Fitness
Abstract: The fitness debates in the philosophy of biology have taken a surprising path. The propensity interpretation of fitness (PIF), which seemed so promising at its introduction, has been under attack for the past thirty years. Alternative views quite distinct and quite radical are now being taken seriously, such as the position advanced by Mohan Matthen, Andre Ariew, Dennis Walsh and others, that natural selection is not a causal process. Such claims should not be taken lightly. In fact, I argue here that we should pause and reexamine two central assumptions that have formed the trajectory of the fitness debates. The first assumption is that the fitness of a type is simply the average of the individual fitnesses of individuals of that type. The second is that the propensities in the PIF must be understood as the expectation value of offspring in the next generation. Each of these assumptions is false and I will show why in this paper. More importantly, I will show how the falsity of these assumptions undercuts the critiques that have been made against the PIF. With these critiques out of the way, the PIF should be reconsidered.
Apr 23 COFFA Lecture
University of British Columbia
Title: Carnap’s Logical Empiricism as Philosophy of Science and as Analytic Philosophy, historisch-kritisch dargestellt
Abstract: One of the key features of Alberto Coffa’s monograph, The Semantic Tradition from Kant to Carnap, was that it offered an account of the historical development of logical empiricism that could make sense of logical empiricism’s place both in the history of philosophy of science and in the history of analytic philosophy. I intend neither to endorse nor even directly to take issue with Coffa’s history, but rather to reflect on the obligations of and problems for any attempt to locate logical empiricism in a joint history of philosophy of science and analytic philosophy. I start with a specific puzzle about an ambivalence one can find in Carnap’s work regarding a distinction important to the history of analytic philosophy—whether we should conceive of logic as language or as calculus. In diagnosing Carnap’s ambivalence on this issue, I locate Carnap’s main philosophical interests along a different dimension and his main philosophical innovation as deriving from a different disciplinary matrix than do those who seek to locate his work primarily within a history of analytic philosophy. My understanding of Carnap sees him as offering a specific applied science account of philosophy, one deriving from the characteristic early twentieth-century concerns of metrology. I use this account to ask certain questions about the relations of the early twentieth-century philosophy of science to the rise of analytic philosophy and, ultimately, about the place of philosophy of science within analytic philosophy today. I will also attempt to illustrate some oft neglected relations between the history of science and the history of philosophy in the past 150 or so years.