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Indiana University Bloomington

News & Activities

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]

Feb 6Meridith Beck Sayre"From New France to Bloomington, Indiana: Transforming Spiritual Parables into Scientific Data”
Feb 20Stefano GatteiA 'School of Athens' for Astronomy: The Engraved Frontispiece of Kepler's Rudolphine Tables
Feb 27Michael WeisbergConfirmation Theory for Idealized Models
Mar 6Ann PyburnArchaeology and Science3:30 PM - 5:00 PM
Mar 27Dana TulodzieckiNovel prediction, approximate truth, and the miasma theory of disease1:30 PM - 3:30 PM
Apr 10Thomas RyckmanOn Some Alleged Philosophical Consequences of Inflationary Cosmology
Apr 24James BeverA Paradigm Shift in Ecology? From Competition to Microbial Feedbacks as Frameworks for Understanding Plant Communities.

Feb 6          

Meridith Beck Sayre

Indiana University, Visting Scholar, History and Philosophy of Science

Title: "From New France to Bloomington, Indiana: Transforming Spiritual Parables into Scientific Data”

Abstract: In this talk, I will discuss the claims made in my doctoral dissertation—entitled “The Process of Conversion: A Biography of the Jesuit Relations”—in which I examined the dynamic life of a book series, known as the Jesuit Relations. Written by Jesuit missionaries stationed in New France during the 17th century, these texts provided their predominately French-Catholic audience with carefully crafted news about the North American colony and spiritual lessons from an ostensibly uncivilized land. Modern scholars, however, tend to approach these early-modern texts as a rich storehouse of information on First Peoples and the colonial encounter. In addition to fleshing out how this radical transformation in interpretation took place, my talk will lay the foundations for a much larger argument about the forgotten contribution of experts in book-related disciplines to the 20th-century social sciences.

Feb 20                   Co Sponsored: Renaissance Studies

Stefano Gattei

IMT Lucca, Italy, and Visiting and the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia)

Title: A 'School of Athens' for Astronomy: The Engraved Frontispiece of Kepler's Rudolphine Tables

Abstract: In the 16th and 17th centuries, most scientific books presented engraved frontispieces and title-pages, providing learned and aesthetically pleasing decorations for them. However, after Galileo's telescopic discoveries and the publication of the Starry Messenger, 1610, engraved images began to be used to complement the printed words. Indeed, from 1610 on and for a few decades, engraved images became part and parcel of the overall argument of the book they appeared to be decorating, and were often used to say (or suggest) what was not possible - or forbidden - to openly state in print. The paper offers a few examples of such engraved images, especially focusing on Kepler's most elaborate frontispiece for his last major work.

Feb 27          

Michael Weisberg

University of Pennsylvania, Department of Philosophy

Title: Confirmation Theory for Idealized Models

Abstract: When a flu pandemic strikes, who should get vaccinated first? What's our best strategy for minimizing the damage of global climate change? Why is Philadelphia racially segregated? Why do most sexually reproducing species have only two sexes, in roughly even proportions? These and many other scientific and practical problems are studied with highly idealized mathematical and computational models. When should we believe these models and follow the advice they suggest? Philosophy of science tells us that we should believe models when they are well-confirmed, but this simple answer isn’t very helpful here. Traditional confirmation theory explains how empirical evidence bears on the truth of hypotheses and theories, but the highly idealized models at the heart of the life and social sciences are known to be false from the outset. Moreover, classical ideas about confirmation have been developed for relatively simple hypotheses, while many contemporary models have thousands of variables. Despite these challenges, it is possible to develop an account of model confirmation that can speak to the reliability of models and their results. I will sketch a theory that has two parts: First, theorists validate models, confirming hypotheses about model/target system relations. Second, they employ robustness analysis to investigate the stability of model results. Taken together, validation and robustness tell us when models are reliable and help us understand the appropriate domain of their application. Not only does this theory better align our accounts of scientific method with modern theoretical practice, it also helps us understand when to believe the results of models.

Mar 6          3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Ann Pyburn

Indiana University, Department of Anthropology

Title: Archaeology and Science

Abstract: Is archaeology a science? What sort of science? Can test implications be derived from hypotheses about ancient societies? The answers to these philosophical questions have a surprising amount of political significance for nation states, Indigenous groups, impoverished communities, and multinational corporations. In this talk I will consider the history of archaeology as a science, and discuss what is at stake when archaeologists claim to “predict the past.”

Mar 27          1:30 PM - 3:30 PM

Dana Tulodziecki

Purdue University Department of Philosophy

Title: Novel prediction, approximate truth, and the miasma theory of disease

Abstract: The pessimistic meta-induction (PMI) seeks to undercut the realist’s alleged connection between success and (approximate) truth by arguing that highly successful, yet wildly false, theories are typical of the history of science. Realist responses to the PMI try to rehabilitate this connection by stressing various kinds of continuity between earlier and later theories. In this talk, I will argue that these extant realist responses are inadequate, by showing – through the example of the 19th century miasma theory of disease – that there are cases of genuinely successful, yet false theories, that do not exhibit any of the required realist continuities.

Apr 10                   Coffa Lecture

Thomas Ryckman

Stanford University, Department of Philosophy

Title: On Some Alleged Philosophical Consequences of Inflationary Cosmology

Abstract: The consensus ΛCDM (cosmological constant + ‘cold dark matter’) model in contemporary cosmology incorporates a phenomenologically successful posit of an extremely brief (billionths of billionths of a sec) inflationary epoch during which the very early universe exponentially expanded. Current inflationary models generically maintain that on account of uncontrollable random quantum fluctuations of a primordial scalar field, inflation is self-perpetuating or eternal to the future (though it stops in certain regions, space expands so rapidly that it always goes on in others). This has prompted the dictum that “In an eternally inflating universe, anything that can happen will happen; in fact, it will happen an infinite many times”. I suggest that such affirmations overlook a significant mathematical distinction between ‘potential infinite’ and ‘actual (or ‘completed’) infinite’ and that, unless inflation is eternal to the past (which is widely denied), the hypothetical mechanisms of inflation can produce at most a potential infinity of inflating regions. I further suggest that the use of the term ‘infinite’ in describing the consequences of eternal inflation arises as an artifact of conformal representation of asymptotically flat space-times and from standard physicist jargon for divergent integrals, normally taken as a sign that a physical problem is not well posed. The ulterior motive for invoking an actual infinite set of inflating regions seems to be an overwrought solution to the so-called problem of ‘fine- tuning’.

Apr 24          

James Bever

Indiana University, Biology Department

Title: A Paradigm Shift in Ecology? From Competition to Microbial Feedbacks as Frameworks for Understanding Plant Communities.

Abstract: Plant communities have historically been viewed by ecologists through the lens of competition. Resource partitioning has been the accepted explanation of coexistence of competing species, with logical extensions to species distributions and the ecosystem benefits of diversity. While plants clearly compete for resources, the evidence for resource partitioning leading to coexistence of plant species is weak (and this framework has notably failed to explain patterns of plant invasion) leading to dissatisfaction with the competition paradigm. My work has explored an alternative explanation for coexistence of plant species; that plant species accumulate host-specific pathogens thereby generating negative feedback on plant populations. I will briefly present the framework of plant-soil feedback and review recent evidence that this framework can explain patterns of plant diversity, ecosystem benefits of diversity, and patterns of plant invasion.