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Indiana University Bloomington

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Previous semesters' colloquia

2014 - 2015 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]

Sep 19Michael Hunter'The Image of Restoration Science: The Frontispiece to Thomas Sprat's History of the Royal Society (1667)'
Sep 26Amit HagarLength matters, or the HPS of fundamental length in modern physics
Oct 17Bret RothsteinGetting Things Wrong
Oct 24Randy BeerMilking the Spherical Cow: Toy Models in the Behavioral and Brain Sciences
Oct 31Joel KleinDaniel Sennert, The Philosophical Hen, and The Epistolary Quest for a (Nearly-) Universal Medicine
Nov 14Karen DetlefsenGeneration, Individuation, and Teleology: Malebranche's and Leibniz's Theories of Pre-formation
Feb 6Meredith Beck SayerTBA4:00 PM - 6:00 PM
Feb 27Michael WeisbergTBA
Mar 6Ann PyburnArchaeology and Science
Apr 10Thomas RyckmanTBA
Apr 17James BeverTBA

Sep 19                   Westfall

Michael Hunter

Emeritus Professor Michael Hunter, Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, Birkbeck College

Title: 'The Image of Restoration Science: The Frontispiece to Thomas Sprat's History of the Royal Society (1667)'

Abstract: Wenceslaus Hollarís print celebrating Charles II as founder of the Royal Society, based on a design by John Evelyn, has been much reproduced but little studied. In fact, though published in 1667 as the frontispiece to Thomas Spratís History of the Royal Society, it had not originally been intended for that book but for an apologetic work by the Somerset virtuoso, John Beale, which proved abortive: I showed this in 1981 and I will recapitulate these findings in the course of my lecture. But I will also examine the image in its own right as a visual statement of the core values of the Royal Society in its early years, analysing its debt to earlier exemplars and considering the significance of its various components. It turns out that, through its design, Evelyn may have been trying to align the society as much with the legacy of Raphael as with that of Copernicus, while the scientific instruments that are profusely depicted provide evidence about the scientific and technological innovations with which the society wished to associate itself, from astronomy to chymistry and from meteorology to navigation Ė although some puzzles remain as to just what is and what is not included, and why. I will also investigate aspects of the printís publishing history, and particularly the extent to which choice copies of it were produced, probably at the behest of Evelyn, which themselves illustrate how Baconianism and connoisseurship interconnected in the values of the societyís early Fellows.

Sep 26          

Amit Hagar

Indiana University, History and Philosophy of Science

Title: Length matters, or the HPS of fundamental length in modern physics

Abstract: In this talk I shall present some of the historical and philosophical insights that arise from trying to answer the question that has haunted scientists and philosophers for thousands of years, namely, can we forever look closer and ever closer into space, time, and matter? Or is there a fundamental limit, and if so, what is it, and what is it that dictates its nature?

Oct 17          

Bret Rothstein

Indiana University Fine Art History

Title: Getting Things Wrong

Abstract: This talk is part of a larger project on various sorts of visual enigmas Ė mechanical puzzles, hoaxes, calculatedly stupid artworks, and the like. In this particular case I am interested in a wily scientific instrument: James Ferguson's Mechanical Paradox (ca. 1750). Though nominally an orrery, this particular instrument arose from a theological dispute Ferguson had had with a watchmaker. As he noted in the Select Mechanical Exercises (1773), he sought to baffle his opponent with the mechanism that drove that orrery. Consequently, one might suggest that this object served not to advance understanding but to provoke misunderstanding, that it was an example of artful science meant to expose artless thought. To be sure, Ferguson seems to have expected that the viewer's misunderstanding would be neither total nor permanent. (In the Select Mechanical Exercises he writes of having ridiculed his opponent, both for the speciousness of his arguments and for failing to understand the tools of his own trade.) Nonetheless, such an interest in provoking misprision is of some historical note, for it enabled the Mechanical Paradox to function as something of a mechanical parable by directing the intellectually lazy or uninformed viewer toward comprehension specifically via incomprehension. Neither a disingenuous mountebank nor a fully honest broker, Ferguson's instrument thus occupies a peculiar place in the history of scientific instruments.

Oct 24          

Randy Beer

Indiana University, Cognitive Sciences

Title: Milking the Spherical Cow: Toy Models in the Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Abstract: "Consider a spherical cow ..." serves as the punch line of countless jokes about a physicist being asked by a dairy farmer to improve the milk production of his farm. The target of such jokes is the (theoretical) physicistís tendency to reduce a problem to its simplest possible form in order to begin to reason about its solution. What makes such jokes funny is that treating a cow as a sphere seems like such a ridiculous distortion of the experimental facts that no scientifically-useful conclusions could possibly follow from it. And yet the history of physics is full of examples of important progress that was triggered by the careful analysis of such idealized or "toy" models. In this talk, I will argue that toy models also have an important role to play in the theoretical development of such "data-rich but theory-poor" sciences as neuroscience (and biology more generally). After distinguishing between quantitative and qualitative toy models, I present a specific methodology for developing qualitative toy models of the mechanisms of behavior in brain-body-environment systems. I will then show several examples of the sorts of insights that the analysis of such models can provide. Finally, I will describe recent work on utilizing this approach in a more quantitative mode, with the goal of reconnecting with the rich data sets that are becoming available.

Oct 31          

Joel Klein

Indiana University, History and Philosophy of Science

Title: Daniel Sennert, The Philosophical Hen, and The Epistolary Quest for a (Nearly-) Universal Medicine

Abstract: Of the various chymico-medical experiments that Wittenberg professor of medicine Daniel Sennert (1572-1637) described in his published works and private correspondence, one called the Philosophical Hen was given particular importance and involved feeding a hen noble metals during propitious astrological intervals to fill its belly with metallic eggs. Sennertís support of this remarkable experiment can be partially explained by looking to an extensive tradition of medicine and natural philosophy, but also a similarly influential natural historical tradition regarding birds and metals. Likewise, far from being a minor foray in Sennertís career, the Philosophical Hen was a significant experiment at the convergence of several major branches of his experimental philosophy of nature Ė namely, Sennertís atomism and his pursuit of quintessential medicines and universal purgatives that were thought to heal the body of nearly all maladies. Focusing on this experiment and the fallout after Sennert failed to reproduce another chymistís allegedly successful result reveals the importance given to experience in his philosophy of nature, but also the variant conceptions of credulity among different schools of chymical medicine and natural philosophy. Focusing on Sennertís description of this experimental medicament and its failure in his candid letters gives a more historicized portrait of chymical medicines as they entered the university at a major site of chymical experimentation in the seventeenth century, and shows, in particular, a collaborative experimental process at the dawn of the Republic of Letters.

Nov 14                   Joint Speaker for History and Philosophy of Science and Department of Philosophy

Karen Detlefsen

University of Pennsylvania, Department of Philosophy

Title: Generation, Individuation, and Teleology: Malebranche's and Leibniz's Theories of Pre-formation

Abstract: When some early modern natural philosophers rejected Scholastic substantial forms in favor of a parsimonious, and often explanatorily powerful, mechanistic philosophy, one natural phenomenon they had particular difficulty accommodating was the generation of new living beings. In this talk, I look at how Malebranche and Leibniz deal with this difficulty, and the different ways they draw upon teleology to help them provide theories of generation that can preserve the new mechanism. In the process, I underscore the complexity of theories of teleology in the 17th century.

Feb 6          4:00 PM - 6:00 PM

Meredith Beck Sayer

Indiana University, Visting Scholar, History and Philosophy of Science

Title: TBA


Feb 27          

Michael Weisberg

University of Pennsylvania, Department of Philosophy

Title: TBA


Mar 6          

Ann Pyburn

Indiana University, Department of Anthropology

Title: Archaeology and Science


Apr 10                   Coffa Lecture

Thomas Ryckman

Stanford University, Department of Philosophy

Title: TBA


Apr 17          

James Bever

Indiana University, Biology Department

Title: TBA