Spring 2012 Colloquium Series
All talks are on Friday from 4:00 to 5:30 PM in Ballantine Hall 003, unless otherwise noted.
Calendar [click date for details]
|Jan 13||Erik Banks||Extended Magnitudes|
|Jan 20||Michel Chaouli||"Kant on Beauty and Teleology (for Example Crystals)"|
|Feb 10||Christopher Irmscher||Writing the Life of Louis Agassiz||1:30 PM - 3:00 PM|
|Feb 24||C. David McCarty||The Lost Continuum, or Undoing a Whig Interpretation of Mathematics||1:30 PM - 3:00 PM|
|Mar 2||Sara Schechner||What Galileo Saw and How: Glass and its Challenges for 17th Century Telescope Makers|
|Mar 23||James Griesemer||On the Status of Hybrids: A Relational View of Individuality, Development and Units of Inheritance|
|Mar 30||J. D. Trout||Scientific Realism and Historical Contingency: Later Alchemy and ?The Steep Curve|
|Apr 6||Peter Galison||Digital Objectivity|
|Apr 20||Sherri Roush||Optimism about the Pessimistic Induction|
Wright State University
Title: Extended Magnitudes
Abstract: Leibniz?s famous project for constructing extended magnitudes was an ambitious attempt to undermine the extended space and matter of the seventeenth-century mechanical philosophy, in favor of what he hoped would be a more fundamental view of nature ?prior to extension.? On this view, extended magnitudes (such as space, time and objects) would remain ?well-founded phenomena,? founded upon a deeper construction, in terms of unextended items. This project of a construction of extended magnitudes ?from scratch? was continued by the philosopher J.F. Herbart and the mathematicians Riemann and Grassmann in the 19th century. Both Riemann and Grassmann insisted that space could not be considered a given; rather an account of space would have to be given that did not assume space or constructions in space. I ask: What is a construction of extended magnitude ?from scratch,? what results did these philosopher/mathematicians reach, and why is the project so little known among historians and philosophers of science?
Title: "Kant on Beauty and Teleology (for Example Crystals)"
Abstract: My aim in reading Kant's "Critique of Teleological Judgment," his most sustained reflection on what we now call biology, was to understand better how it relates to his "Critique of Aesthetic Judgment," since the "Critiques" make up two parts of one book, The Critique of Judgment (1790). To my surprise, the links between the two parts, though deep, are not of a sort that would radically alter our understanding of either part by itself. Still, there are powerful connections. I take as my point of departure an example that comes up in both parts, namely crystals, in order to understand better two ideas that sustain the book as a whole, the idea of purpose and the idea of life.
Feb 10 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM
Title: Writing the Life of Louis Agassiz
Abstract: I spent the last ten years or so researching and writing a biography of the Swiss-American scientist Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), a stubborn anti-Darwinist and incorrigible racist as well as an innovative science teacher and multilingual science writer. Enormously charming as well as often shockingly abrasive, haughtily arrogant as well as humble and generous, Louis Agassiz was a monster capable of extraordinary acts of kindness and a kind man capable of monstrous ideas, a devout believer in God who didn?t go to church and was forever skeptical of theological orthodoxies. Beloved by poets and peasants alike, Agassiz pioneered the use of field work in scientific inquiry. Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science, which will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the fall of 2012, is based on extensive archival research and attempts to restore Agassiz to his central place in nineteenth-century culture while also shedding new light on his ideological blind spots. In my talk, I plan to discuss the exhilarating and often frustrating experience of spending so much time in the shadow of another man's, and specifically this man's, life.
Feb 24 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM
C. David McCarty
Title: The Lost Continuum, or Undoing a Whig Interpretation of Mathematics
Abstract: Philosophical and methodological problems in today?s philosophy and foundations of mathematics may be consequent to (what Herbert Butterfield once named in another but analogous setting) `a Whig Interpretation? of the history of mathematics. Inter alia, a Whig interpretation of history sets up what purport to be ideas leading a constructed intellectual past, thereby canonizing historical heroes deemed to have furthered the cause of those ideas, and historical villains said to have opposed the same ideas. To shoehorn a past into such tight and tidy scheme requires, at least, that Whig historians be narrowly selective in the details of the histories they compose. In this paper, we subject to close examination the longterm effects of Whiggish selection when exercised upon the foundational mathematics of the late 19th Century, in particular, upon the days and writings of mathematicians Richard Dedekind, Georg Cantor, and Paul du Bois-Reymond.
Title: What Galileo Saw and How: Glass and its Challenges for 17th Century Telescope Makers
Abstract: What Galileo Saw and How: Glass and its Challenges for 17th Century Telescope Makers The invention of the telescope announced in The Hague in September 1608 caused excitement throughout Europe. By April 1609, low-power (3x) spyglasses were for sale in Paris, and by June or July, Galileo had made his first three-power instrument. In August, he offered the Venetian Senate an eight-power telescope, and by October or November, Galileo completed a twenty-power instrument. It was at this time that he turned the telescope skyward. His stunning discoveries, published in haste in the Starry Messenger in March 1610, opened up the European skies to telescopic observations and whole new areas of astronomical research. Why were some hesitant to accept Galileo?s discoveries or unable to replicate what he saw? Why did telescope magnification seem to stall at about thirty-power? The answers can be found through a better understanding of material culture. Acceptance of the telescope as a tool of scientific discovery and improvements to the instrument were limited by the quality of the glass; the methods of shaping, grinding, and polishing lenses; the difficulties in mounting the lenses and tubes; the field of view through the instrument; and optical aberrations caused by the shape of the glass. When we consider the challenges presented by glass instruments, Galileo?s achievements 400 years ago are even more remarkable. Hands-on activities with lenses and a replica Galilean telescope will be included
Mar 23 Coffa Lecture
University of Californiai Davis
Title: On the Status of Hybrids: A Relational View of Individuality, Development and Units of Inheritance
Abstract: Biological individuality can be viewed as a unit of investigation, that is, a relation between the attention, abilities and interests of someone who tracks biological phenomena, on the one hand, and the properties and relations, behaviors and activities attributed to the things tracked, on the other, rather than as an intrinsic property of concrete particulars. My aim is not a theory of individuality per se, but to understand the character and status of hybrid individuals in the biological sciences. ?Hybrid,? in biology, generally refers to concrete, material individuals produced in certain ways, from materials of several origins or provenances, and having certain characteristics that are of concern to biologists. The status of hybrids is important for my general philosophical views on a key biological process ? reproduction ? and its empirical and theoretical investigation. The character of biological reproduction as a process of theoretical interest turns, I argue, on how one understands the status of hybrids as units of investigation and analysis. In this talk, I explore the concept of hybridity, procedures of hybridization, and the role of geneticists and other biologists as trackers of phenomena that bear on processes of biological reproduction. I propose an account of units of inheritance to complement accounts of other sorts of units, such as units of selection, needed for a general theory of evolution.
J. D. Trout
University of Loyola
Title: Scientific Realism and Historical Contingency: Later Alchemy and ?The Steep Curve
Abstract: A simple count of cataloged scientific events receiving positive theoretical assessments reveals that later alchemy in Europe (circa 1600) provided a firm launching pad for the ?Newtonian Revolution?, just as some of the best scholarship in the history of science has argued. Scientific realists have always stumbled when explaining rapid theoretical progress from such recent occult roots. I argue that scientific realism should explain such great leaps of theoretical progress by appealing to insights and circumstances that are radically epistemically contingent ? conditions like geographic, economic, or psychological ?accidents? or luck. This contingent but sufficient correctness of the later corpuscular alchemy allows scientific realists to explain why a steep advance can be recently preceded by a theory otherwise indigestible, unearthly or mysterious. It would also explain another familiar problem in discussions of mature science: Why does a pattern of inductive reasoning (as Inference to the Best Explanation is often identified) fail to yield progress in one period under one theory, but performs wonderfully in another? Many philosophers will find this realist account of theoretical progress epistemically unprincipled. But naturalistic philosophers are not in the business of legislating methodological principles. We should take positions no more principled than the historical facts allow.
Place: BH 003
Title: Digital Objectivity
Abstract: Scientific vision is not static and never has been?instead, a constant upending of what counts as right depiction alongside a never-ending revision of the ethical position of the observer. Focusing on compendia of images, the defining guide of working ontologies of the sciences, one can see images aimed at idealization joined to the 18th-century observer-sage; a period in the 19th century of images aimed toward mechanical objectivity produced by the self-abnegating worker-observer; and a 20th century interpreted image powered by the apprenticed expert. We now stand in the opening era of new forms of digital images, and a radically new position for the observer. New image-forms have proliferated, including simulations, nano-manipulations, re-scalings, crowd-sourcing, and false-color renditions?alongside virtual, enhanced, and manipulable hybrid realities. Compendia of such images?these hyper-atlases?press us to ask the concomitant question: what is becoming of the ethico-scientific status of the human observer?
Title: Optimism about the Pessimistic Induction
Abstract: I argue that pessimistic inductions over the history of science have not made the case that the failures of our predecessors give us reason to dial down our confidence in our scientific theories. Moreover, the kind of attitude that can thus survive the pessimistic induction is all the realism we need. Simple points about induction, the preface paradox, and reliability, show that the only way to make any pessimistic induction work is to argue that 1) the supposed unreliability of our predecessors is relevant to what we should think about our own reliability, and 2) if we believe that we are lacking reliability ? a second-order property ? then we are rationally obligated to withdraw confidence in our first-order beliefs. On the pessimist?s behalf I explain why the second is true. However, I argue that the fact that we use different methods than our predecessors can be used to undermine the pessimistic induction from their unreliability to ours.