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::: center home >> events >> annual lecture series >> lectures 2010-11

50th anniversary
annual lecture series, 2010-11

Scientific Exercises and Speculations: Maxwell's Three Methods
Peter Achinstein
Johns Hopkins University, Department of Philosophy
Yeshiva University, Center for Philosophy of Science
Friday, 1 October 2010, 3:30 pm

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Abstract: I formulate three different methods advocated and employed by James Clerk Maxwell (in 1855, 1860, and 1875) to deal with “unobservables.”   Each of them is different from standard scientific methods, including hypothetico-deductivism, Newtonian and Millian inductivism, Whewellian consilience, and others.  Each of the three has different legitimate aims – ones not sufficiently emphasized by philosophers of science these days - and each is a perfectly reasonable method for achieving those aims.  (One of these methods is discussed in my recent article “What to do if you want to defend a theory you cannot prove,” Journal of Philosophy, Jan. 2010.)

Contextual Emergence
Paul Humphreys
University of Virginia, Department of Philosophy
Friday, 19 November 2010, 3:30 pm

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Abstract: There is currently no plausible unified account of emergence. There are plausible ontological theories and plausible but distinctively different prediction-based theories of emergent phenomena.  In this talk I shall describe a characterization of ontological emergence that is diachronic and accommodates something like the standard holism condition for emergent phenomena. It subsumes my earlier fusion based account as a special case and in most cases is compatible with a form of compositionality. The approach is not comprehensive but it does account for a number of central cases in the emergentist literature. Illustrative examples will be drawn from the physical and social sciences but not from the philosophy of mind.

Beyond Reduction vs. Autonomy in Psychology
David Danks
Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Philosophy
Friday, 28 January 2011, 3:30 pm

Abstract: In much of the cognitive sciences and the philosophy of mind, there are two major, competing views about the nature of cognitive states, representations, processes, and so forth:  (i) Autonomy: they are definable and understandable without (significant) reference to their underlying implementation(s); versus (ii) Reduction: they are ultimately definable and understandable only by reduction to (types of) underlying neural systems, processes, circuits, etc. In this talk, I will argue that both of these approaches are fundamentally flawed. Instead, the central notion for understanding the nature of cognitive objects should be one of “constraint”: the ways in which objects, processes, etc. at one level of description constrain and inform objects, processes, etc. at a different level. I will defend a particular account of the nature of constraint and argue that it enables us to make sense both of the successes of the cognitive sciences, and also the myriad connections between the different cognitive and neuro sciences.

Descartes’ Mechanism Revisited
Helen Hattab
University of Houston, Department of Philosophy
Friday, 25 February 2011, 3:30 pm

Abstract: There is, as yet, no consensus on the exact nature of early modern mechanism, or the mechanical philosophy.  It was first defined in opposition to Aristotelianism and animism:  mechanists reduce matter to extended particles in motion so as to replace the forms and occult qualities of their predecessors with intelligible, mathematical explanations.  However, many self-described mechanical philosophers either fail to advance a reductive theory of matter or the requisite explanations.  E.g., while arch mechanist, René Descartes fulfills the first condition, the bulk of his scientific explanations are not mathematical in our sense.  In chs. 5 and 6 of Descartes on Forms and Mechanisms, I show that he instead aims at demonstrations that fulfill criteria spelled out in the mixed mathematical science of mechanics.  Building on this result, I propose that the initial shift to mechanism is more fruitfully understood as a response to methodological problems raised by the recovery of Euclid’s Elements and other ancient mathematical texts than by metaphysical and epistemological worries about Aristotelian forms and occult qualities.  I support my proposal by examining an example of such a problem that would have been familiar to both Descartes and Hobbes, so as to show how it informs their respective methods and mechanistic views.

Philosophical Issues in Psychiatry
Kenneth Kendler
Virginia Commonwealth University, Department of Psychiatry
Friday, 25 March 2011, 3:30 pm

Abstract: The soft medical model for psychiatric illness, which was operationalized in DSM-III, defines psychiatric disorders as syndromes with shared symptoms, signs, course of illness, and response to treatment. Many in our field want to move to a hard medical model based on etiological mechanisms. This talk explores the feasibility of this move and asks whether psychiatric disorders have the needed single clear level of explanation for an etiologically based nosology. I propose seven criteria for a good explanation: i) strength, ii) causal confidence, iii) generalizability, iv) specificity, v) manipulability, vi) proximity, and vii) generativity.  Applying them to cystic fibrosis, a gene-level approach to etiology performs well across the board. By contrast, a detailed review of alcohol dependence and a briefer review of major depression suggests that psychiatric disorders have multiple explanatory perspectives no one of which can be privileged over others using scientific data alone. Therefore a move toward an etiologically based diagnostic system cannot assume that one level of explanation will stand out as the obvious candidate on which to base the nosology.  This leaves two options. Either a hard medical model will be implemented that will require a consensus about a preferred level of explanation which must reflect value judgments as well as science. To take this approach, we need to agree on what we most want from our explanations. Alternatively, we will need to move away from the traditional hard medical model that requires that we ground our diagnoses in single biological essences, and focus instead on fuzzy, cross-level mechanisms which may more realistically capture the true nature of psychiatric disorders. 

Measurement of Hawking Radiation in an Analog System
William Unruh
University of British Columbia, Department of Physics and Astronomy
Friday, 15 April 2011, 3:30 pm

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Abstract: Recently a group at UBC has measured the thermal spectrum of Hawking Radiation from a horizon in an analog system (surface waves in a flume with the water forced to travel faster than the waves by an underwater obstacle). This raises a variety of questions-- to what extent does such a measurement provide confirmation of Hawking's prediction for black holes? To what extent is it permissible to assume that quantum theory is valid in confirming a quantum effect in what might be regarded as a classical experiment?
This talk will describe the problem (the desire to confirm Hawking's prediction and to obviate the absurd physical assumptions that entered his work), the experiment, and will try to raise the issue of how far such an experiment could be considered as confirmation of the theory.


The Annual Lecture Series is hosted by the Center for Philosophy of Science.

Generous financial support for this lecture series has been provided by
the Harvey & Leslie Wagner Endowment.      

Revised 10/5/11 - Copyright 2011