Skip to main content
Indiana University Bloomington

Colloquium Series

Spring 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]

Jan 14 Steve Lawrie Exploring Exploratory Experimentation 1:30 PM - 3:30 PM
Jan 28 Kevin Davey Frequentism and Probability
Feb 25 David Hyder Kant on Time and Quantity
Mar 4 Tom Lassman Quantum Mechanics in the Steel City: The Growth and Diversification of Physics Research in Pittsburgh, 1925-1940
Mar 25 Wiliam Newman Isaac Newton's Alchemy and the Chymistry of Isaac Newton Project 1:30 PM - 3:30 PM
Apr 1 Mark Kaplan Jeffrey's Challenge 1:30 PM - 3:30 PM
Apr 8 Tiberiu Popa Aristotle on Chemical Laws
Apr 15 Lawrence Principe The Persistence of Chrysopoeia: Public Repudiation and Private Practice in Eighteenth-Century France
Apr 22 Carl Weinberg Fish Ancestors, Free Love, and Unlettered Proletarians: David Goldstein, Martha Moore Avery, and their Catholic Campaign against Evolution and Socialism, 1903–1920 1:30 PM - 3:30 PM

Jan 14          1:30 PM - 3:30 PM

Steve Lawrie

Indiana University

Title: Exploring Exploratory Experimentation

Abstract: Recent work in philosophy of science has brought additional focus on the actual practice of science. One example of this interest in a philosophy of experimentation is the notion of exploratory experimentation. Such experimental work is considered divorced from theory testing and represents a class of scientific work in which experiments are not considered to test specific hypotheses and yet are believed to generate significant scientific knowledge. Here I present a brief introduction of the concept, followed by a more detailed examination of recent works applying the idea to certain research in molecular biology, from Richard Burian, Maureen O'Malley, and Laura Franklin. I will argue that these works are indicative of a broader problem in applying more traditional theoretical frameworks in describing the nature of molecular biology. I will present an alternative interpretation for those recent works in which the emphasis is displaced from the relationship between experiment and theory and focused instead on the methodologies employed by the scientists, and I will argue that such a viewpoint allows us to see the underlying regularities in experimental practice that define the field, rather than the apparent surface differences. I will finally suggest some reasons why such a re-envisioning of molecular biology may prove to be a fruitful way to better understand the nature of the field, given its apparent lack of clear law-like generalizations or overarching theories.

Jan 28          

Kevin Davey

University of Chicago

Title: Frequentism and Probability

Abstract: Frequentism is a view in the philosophy of probability according to which probabilities should be defined in terms of frequencies. In the last few decades, frequentism has been attacked from a number of different angles. Not all of these criticisms are as effective as has often been supposed. In this talk, I consider the question of whether there is a version of frequentism that can withstand some of these objections.

Feb 25          

David Hyder

University of Ottawa

Title: Kant on Time and Quantity

Abstract: Kant repeatedly invokes the role of time when discussing mathematics. Time somehow grounds arithmetic truths, it is essential to the quantitative synthesis involved in determining geometrical magnitudes, yet the mathesis of time is kinematics, where we attend "not only, as in geometry, to the space which is described, but also to the time in which the point describes the space." (4.489)

Commentators have responded variously to this embarrassment of richness. According to the founder of the neo-Kantian movement, Hermann Cohen, we should identify kinematic with geometrical motion, so that geometry becomes a normative prescription of rigid body motion. But this approach was actually due to the Aristotelian philosopher Friedrich Trendelenburg and his student, the physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, both of whom argued that the Transcendental Aesthetic should be eliminated in favour of a pure doctrine of motion. They correctly saw their approach as a fundamental change to, and thus a partial rejection of Kant's views. But how then can we make sense of the role of time in Kant's theory of geometry?

I suggest breaking with the tradition of distinguishing sharply between Kant's theories of geometry and arithmetic. Instead, I will suggest, Kant is just as much concerned with a third species of mathematics, namely analytic geometry, in which spatial (or other) objects are described by means of algebraic functions—what contemporary mathematicians called "functions of variable quantity." The possibility of such mathematics, which is required by Galilean-Cartesian physics, is proven in the Axioms of Intuition of the first Critique. The variable argument of the quantitative function provides the missing link to time.

Mar 4          

Tom Lassman

Smithosian National Air and Space Museum

Title: Quantum Mechanics in the Steel City: The Growth and Diversification of Physics Research in Pittsburgh, 1925-1940

Abstract: The standard narrative of the emergence of theoretical physics in the United States goes something like this: Beginning in the mid-1920s, a small group of newly minted Ph.D.'s in physics began traveling to Europe to learn the new quantum mechanics, and upon returning home, transplanted the standards of this new knowledge at a handful of America's leading universities. Throughout the 1930s, the list of universities building major research schools in new subdisciplines of this field, primarily nuclear physics and the physics of solids, grew substantially. By the end of the decade, the United States had become a world leader in modern physics research, based largely within the academic community.

This presentation examines an unknown but significant exception to this standard narrative: the growth and diversification of physics research in Pittsburgh—home to the largest concentration of heavy industry in the United States—prior to World War II. The European standards of modern theoretical physics emerged not in Pittsburgh's major universities—the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) and the Carnegie Institute of Technology (Carnegie Tech)—but rather through one of its most well-known, science-based industrial firms—the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company. The University of Pittsburgh tried to capitalize on Westinghouse's expertise by establishing a broad, collaborative physics research program that would appeal to the city's sprawling industrial infrastructure. Although this effort largely failed due to the chronic lack of resources, inchoate program goals, and competition from Carnegie Tech, which had already built strong research relations with local manufacturing firms (including Westinghouse), Pitt's experience highlights the often marginalized role of economic regionalism in defining patterns of knowledge production and diffusion in academic science during a crucial period in the evolution of physics research in the United States.

Mar 25          1:30 PM - 3:30 PM

Wiliam Newman

History & Philosophy of Science

Title: Isaac Newton's Alchemy and the Chymistry of Isaac Newton Project

Abstract: For at least a generation it has been widely known that Isaac Newton wrote about a million words on the subject of alchemy. Yet until the last six years, the vast majority of this material, including what is arguably Newton's most significant experimental notebook, has remained in manuscript and inaccessible to all but the most devoted scholars. As a result, even Newton-specialists have until quite recently been forced to base their judgments about Newton's alchemy on "core samples" rather than taking the greater part of his "chymical" corpus into consideration. This situation is rapidly being remedied, however, by the implementation of the Chymistry of Isaac Newton project, a digital edition of Newton's alchemical corpus housed at Indiana University. Additionally, important changes have come about in our understanding in the meaning and scope of "alchemy" in the seventeenth century, as a result of a generation of new scholarship on the subject. In the present talk I will discuss how the newly available documents and the new scholarship on chymistry are combining to yield a very different picture of Newton's alchemy than the one that traditional scholarship has portrayed.

Apr 1          1:30 PM - 3:30 PM

Mark Kaplan

Philosophy Department, Indiana Universit

Title: Jeffrey's Challenge

Abstract: In 1953, Richard Rudner published a paper called, "The Scientist Qua Scientist Makes Value Judgments." There he argued that since it is part of the business of a scientist to decide what hypotheses to accept, and because a scientist's decision as to whether she ought to accept a hypothesis is a consequential one, it is part of the business of a scientist to look at what the consequences of her accepting a given hypothesis might be, evaluate (from a moral and prudential point of view) the significance of these consequences, and decide whether she ought to accept H in the light of that information. Thus it is thus that the scientist qua scientist makes value judgments.

In 1956 Richard Jeffrey published a response to Rudner's article. In it, he gave a Bayesian explanation of why what the scientist accepts could not possibly be consequential in the way Rudner thought. And from this explanation he drew a remarkable moral. He did not conclude, as one might have expected he would, that Rudner had therefore failed to offer any reason to suppose that a scientist's decisions as to what hypotheses to accept need answer to anything other than epistemic concerns. Jeffrey concluded, rather, that it was no part of any scientist's business to decide what hypotheses to accept. By 1970, Jeffrey had concluded that it is likewise no part of the business of any inquirer to decide what she ought to believe. In this talk, I will (i) explain by what line of reasoning Jeffrey arrived at these conclusions, (ii) lay out the challenge this line of reasoning issues to those whose epistemology and/or philosophy of science would trade in talk of acceptance and/or belief, and (iii) suggest one way in which I think this challenge can be met.

Apr 8          

Tiberiu Popa

Butler University

Title: Aristotle on Chemical Laws

Abstract: My chief goal in this presentation is to demonstrate that Aristotle provided a fairly sophisticated and consistent account of natural regularities, especially with regard to chemical processes. The consistency of Aristotle's law-like statements is ensured partly by the recurrence of conditional accounts and of quasi-syllogistic formulations, among other things.

He often claims – with wondrous confidence – that if a uniform body (salt, wood, flesh, copper etc.) consists of certain ingredients present in it in a particular proportion, and if the right thermal conditions obtain, then a certain dispositional property will be manifested of necessity. Conversely, he seems just as eager to prove, that, if a body exhibits a certain behavior under specific conditions, for example, when affected by heat or cold in such and such a way, then it is bound to have this or that composition and microstructure. Instances of this type of inference are remarkably numerous in Aristotle's 'chemical treatise', Meteorology IV, and in some of his biological works which clearly echo his 'chemistry'.

Although my presentation will focus firmly on Aristotle's 'chemistry', it will implicitly tackle a few aspects pertaining to his metaphysics and natural philosophy (e.g., with respect to the place of necessity in the realm of 'for the most part') and it is also meant as a contribution to the ongoing discussion about the relationship between Aristotle's philosophy of science and his applied science.

Apr 15                   Westfall Lecture

Lawrence Principe

Johns Hopkins University

Title: The Persistence of Chrysopoeia: Public Repudiation and Private Practice in Eighteenth-Century France

Abstract: The general consensus holds that transmutational alchemy disappeared from serious scientific circles around 1700. In fact, the date of the disappearance of chrysopoeia was highly dependent upon locale, and its real causes and mechanisms remain assumed rather than explored or demonstrated. This lecture presents the pathway of alchemy's demise in France, showing who promoted its decline and who resisted it and why. Although it is true that chrysopoeia vanished from the French scene in the 1720s, new manuscript evidence indicates clearly that it survived "underground" and continued to be pursued by some of the most important chemists to at least the middle of the eighteenth century.

Apr 22          1:30 PM - 3:30 PM

Carl Weinberg

OAH Magazine of History

Title: Fish Ancestors, Free Love, and Unlettered Proletarians: David Goldstein, Martha Moore Avery, and their Catholic Campaign against Evolution and Socialism, 1903–1920

Abstract: This talk explores an aspect of the history of the campaign against evolutionary science that has been neglected by scholars: the relationship between anti-evolutionism and anti-socialism. It focuses on David Goldstein and Martha Moore Avery, influential Catholic converts and ex-members of the Socialist Party of America who made careers out of denouncing and "exposing" the moral sins of their former comrades. These sins included promotion of liberalized divorce, access to birth control, including abortion, and "free love." I show how Goldstein and Avery's opposition to evolution—spelled out in their jointly authored book Socialism: The Nation of Fatherless Children (1903)—provided the ideological glue that held their moral critique of socialism together.

Since evolution claimed that humans descended from animals and undermined the traditional biblical framework, Goldstein and Avery concluded that evolution removed any possible basis for a solid moral code. They held socialist propaganda, based on evolutionary thinking, responsible for what they viewed as a rising tide of immorality. Socialists, they feared, would reach ordinary "proletarians" with their sexualized evolutionary message and bring about a revolution if they were not stopped.

Understanding the interconnections between Goldstein and Avery's anti-evolutionism and anti-socialism not only sheds light on one Catholic response to the rise of evolutionary science, but also helps to make sense of the persistent appeal of creationism to a wide variety of Americans over the past century.