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::: center home >> events >> conferences >> 2017-18 >> frontier


Frontier in the Philosophy of Specific Sciences
19 - 20 August 2017
Tsinghua University

Tsinghua, China




To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Pitt-Tsinghua Summer School in Philosophy of Science, Professor Wang Wei at Tsinghua University and the Center for Philosophy of Science are organizing a symposium, “Frontier in the Philosophy of Specific Sciences,” to take place at Tsinghua University.

If you are interested please contact Professors Edouard Machery, Director of the Center for Philosophy of Science (machery@pitt.edu), or Wang Wei, Institute of Science, Technology and Society at Tsinghua University (wangwei@tsinghua.edu.cn).




1. Sandra Mitchell (Professor, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh)

"Perspectivism, Pluralism and Pragmatism: Lessons from Protein Science"
Abstract: Model pluralism is rampant in contemporary science, especially in attempts to predict, explain and intervene on complex systems. Some have argued that this is a symptom of the immaturity of science, or of our cognitive limitations. I will argue that there are normative grounds for pluralism, structured by the partial, perspectival, and interactive character of representational models. I will apply this analysis to contemporary scientific models of protein structure and describe novel forms of model integration that are entailed.

2. James Lennox (Professor, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh)

"Aristotle and Darwin: Antagonists or Kindred Spirits?"
Abstract: In the decades following the forging of the so-called Neo-Darwinian Synthesis in the 1940s, a number of its philosophical defenders created a myth about what Charles Darwin was up against, a viewpoint called “typological essentialism” often attributed to Aristotle. In this paper I first sketch the history of how this myth was created. I then establish that it is a myth by providing an account of Aristotle’s essentialism as it is actually displayed in his philosophy of biology and in his biological practice. It has nothing to do with the ‘mythic’ version. We then turn to what Darwin was really up against—a common, anti-evolutionary way of defining the species concept in Darwin’s time (that owes nothing to Aristotle), and to his attempts to re-orient thinking about it. I will close by reconsidering Aristotle and Charles Darwin: Does it make any sense to think about the relationship between two thinkers separated by more than two millennia living in such vastly different cultures? What did Charles Darwin himself think about Aristotle?

3. Edouard Machery (Distinguished Professor, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh, Director of the Center for Philosophy of Science)

"Is There Any Hope for Classical Statistics?"
Abstract: In this talk, I will examine the call for statistical reform in psychology and other sciences. Many statisticians and methodologists believe that classical statistics should be replaced with other statistical frameworks, such as Bayesian statistics. I will examine closely an influential argument for the call for statistical reform: Classical statistics leads to paradoxes. I will explain how classical statistics can be salvaged from these paradoxes.

4. Malcolm Forster (Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin–Madison)

"Predictive Brains and the Principle of Common Cause"
Abstract: The new ‘predictive’ paradigm in brain research says that the brain is constantly ‘trying’ to predict new sensory inputs from a representation of the external world fine-tuned from past sensory experience. In some sense, the external world is the common cause of both the internal representation (doing the predicting) and the next sensory input (being predicted). According to the principle of common cause, any such probabilistic dependence between two ‘variables’ must have an external common cause (if it’s not internally caused). A degree of predictive success, even approximate, establishes a probabilistic dependence, which establishes a connection with the external world. Hierarchically organized predictive brains, therefore, establish hierarchically layered connections with the external world.

5. Brad Weslake (Associate Professor of Philosophy, NYU Shanghai)

"Fitness and Variance"
Abstract: I argue that a consequence of natural selection in populations with variance in reproductive success is that the fitness of a type does not reduce to the fitnesses of individuals of that type.

6. Wei Wang (Professor, Institute of Science, Technology and Society, Tsinghua University)

"Case Study Method Revisited: Overgeneralization or a Straw in the Wind"
Abstract: Case Study Method Revisited: Overgeneralization or a Straw in the Wind
The case study method is very common in the social researches. However, it meets several challenges in recent decades, especially generalization from a single case or a few cases to a social theory may commit the inductive fallacy of overgeneralization and general applicability of case study fails frequently. So some social scientists even claim that the only generalization is there is no generalization. The paper reviews the central debates on case study in social sciences. Using an analogy with laboratory tests in natural sciences, the author suggests that a well-constructed single case can be regarded as an experimental prototype, from which scientists build, confirm or disconfirm theories, but transferability of case study may often fail due to too complex situation and conditions.


7. Xiang Huang (Professor, School of Philosophy, Fudan University)

"Modeling Scientific Rationality with Heuristic Structures"
Abstract: We argue in this paper for the idea that scientific rationality should not be characterized purely with algorithms. We characterize some non-algorithmic cognitive resources as heuristic structures, which possess systematic biases and depend crucially on certain technical systems. Even though heuristic structures are not universally applicable, they are fallible but reliable resources for the scientific rationality and for objective knowledge.

8. Jianhui Li (Professor, School of Philosophy, Beijing Normal University)

"Isn’t Evolution Progress? — Critical Thinking on Stephen Jay Gould’s Philosophy of Evolutionary Theory"
Abstract: hen we learn about evolutionary theory, we generally get such kind of ideas: the evolution of life is from simplicity to complexity, from single forms to diversity forms, and from lower organisms to higher organisms. Thus, the idea of evolutionary progress appears obvious. However, in contemporary academic circle, some biologists and philosophers, such as George C. Williams and Stephan Jay Gould, challenge this idea. They either believe that Darwin himself disagreed evolutionary progress, opposed to the use of words such as “lower” and “higher”, and considered that the idea of progress is anthropocentric and subjective; or believe that biological evolutionary events are contingent and unpredictable, and there is no so-called progress in evolution. With the translation of Gould’s books into Chinese, a number of Chinese scholars accepted Gould’s thoughts and use his ideas to criticize evolutionary progress. They even think that translation of “evolution” as “progressive evolving” is a fault, and claim that “processed evolving” is the real meaning of “evolution”. This research concludes that Darwin did not deny evolutionary progress; the facts of evolution show that though sometime there is degeneration in evolution, the general trend of evolution is progress. The critics of evolutionary progress are unreasonable.

9. Stefan Petkov (Assistant Professor, School of Philosophy, Beijing Normal University)

"Unification, Contradiction, Integration in the Case of Predator-Prey Modelling"
Abstract: I argue for the application of the paraconsistent concept of approximate truth for the purpose of reconstructing the dynamics of integrating models that initially claim an equal level of general applicability but display inconsistent observational consequences. I claim that during the controversy, successful explanations derived from the models depend not only on empiric adequacy but also on establishing a meaningful contrast between the idealizations that both models make. This contrast is also essential in defining the limits of application of both models and facilitates their integration. My aim is to show that approximate truth as a paraconsistent notion can be successfully incorporated into the analysis of scientific unification, thus advancing towards a more realistic representation of theory development that takes into account the controversies that often loom alongside the progress of research programmes. I support my analysis by a case study on the recent debate in ecology centered around the existence of the paradox of enrichment and the controversy between ecological models of predation that employ prey-dependent and ratio-dependent functional responses.

10. Shan Gao (Professor, Research Center for Philosophy of Science and Technology, Shanxi University)

"A Particle Ontological Interpretation of the Wave Function"
Abstract: The ontological meaning of the wave function is an important problem in the metaphysics of quantum mechanics. The conventional view is wave function realism, according to which the wave function represents a real physical field in a fundamental high-dimensional space. In this talk, I will introduce a new particle ontological interpretation of the wave function, which has been recently proposed in my book "The Meaning of the Wave Function: In Search of the Ontology of Quantum Mechanics" (CUP, 2017). According to this interpretation, the wave function of a quantum system describes the state of random discontinuous motion of particles in three-dimensional space, and in particular, the modulus squared of the wave function gives the probability density that the particles appear in every possible group of positions in space. Moreover, I will argue that the difference between particle ontology and field ontology may result in different predictions under certain reasonable assumption, and it is the former, not the latter, that is consistent with the predictions of quantum mechanics. Finally, I will discuss similar pictures of motion of particles suggested by others. It is argued that Bell's Everett (?) theory also implies the picture of random discontinuous motion of particles.

11. Zhu Xu (Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, East China Normal University)

"Self-knowledge and Objectivity in Participant Observation"
Abstract: Participant observation is mainly flourished in anthropology in 20th century. It requires the researcher to take part in activities in order to grasp the agent’s experience and point of view on native life, as well as to maintain intellectual distance for the purpose of critical reflections upon what she participates. As a research technique, participant observation firstly connects with Bronislaw Malinowski, who carried out studies on native life in the Trobriand Islands, and published Argonauts of the Western Pacific in 1922.

Julie Zahle (2012; 2013; 2016) recently defenses the objectivity of participant observation in philosophy of social sciences. She argues that participant observation could be a reliable method for knowing native ways of life, especially knowing tacitly how to be an appropriate agent in practices.

Though “observations of her own actions” made by social scientists has been identified as one of the four types of observation, Zahle seems not to attribute particular significance upon that issue. Nevertheless, it is the researchers’ self-knowledge that configures the objectivity of participant observation as a much more sophisticated issue, than most scientific observations. In order to defense an objective status, it is not enough merely to avoid “the observer’s distortion of the situation”, claimed by Zahle, but also to resolve particular concerns involved in self-knowledge. And I will argue for a layer-model upon non-observational and observational self-knowledge, which is supposed to guarantee the objectivity of participant observation.


12. Feng Yu (Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, East China Normal University)

"Two Visual Systems and Egocentric Character of Visual Consciousness"
Abstract: Many neuroscientists and philosophers think that two visual systems (TVS) hypothesis (Milner & Goodale, 1992,1995,2006) is incompatible with the egocentric character of visual experience (Brogaard,2012; Wu,2014). According to their analysis, TVS argues for two claims, one of which is that the ventral stream of human visual systems, which contributes to our visual experience of the world, works in an allocentric frame of reference, whereas the dorsal stream, which the visual control of action, uses egocentric frames of reference. The other claim of TVS is that there is division of labor between the two visual streams, to wit, dorsal-stream processing for action does not contribute to the contents of visual experience and is largely isolated from ventral-stream processing. However, based on the following two premise, (1) Visual experience is egocentric, (2) Egocentric information is processed by the dorsal stream alone, the contradictive conclusion follows, namely visual experience is influenced by dorsal stream content. In this paper, I will explain there are three varieties of egocentric representations in the visual system and why there is no incompatibility between TVS and egocentricity of visual consciousness.


13. Shijiang Yang (Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, Xiamen University)

"How to Characterize the Individuality of Holobionts?"
Abstract: There is recently a heated debate upon the individuality of holobionts. A holobiont is a symbiotic collective formed by a multicellular animal/plant organism and the microbial community living inside its body. Godfrey-Smith insisted that holobionts with horizontal transmission do not have clear lineages, thus do not qualify as units of selection (2012). With the framework by Hull (1980), Booth raised a middle-way idea that a holobiont with horizontal transmission could be regarded as a unit of selection, only as far as an interactor, but not a replicator (2014). Pradeu showed that holobionts could be viewed as organisms, with the standard of immunological continuity (2012). On the other hand, Queller and Strassman argued that most holobionts do not qualified as organisms, using high cooperation and low conflict as the criteria of organismality (2016). Later, Doolittle and Booth raised a new idea that the holobiont construct an interaction patterns which could be viewed as units of selection. (2017). It seems that people have their own viewpoints and arguments, based on their conceptual frameworks respectively, but those systems could hardly be reconciled with each other. Here I propose that what has been missing in previous discussions is a careful examination on various levels of biological organization in the holobiont, which might serve as a common ground for reasonably analyzing the status of holobionts.


14. Shaohua Xue (Assistant Professor, Centre of Science, Technology& Society, Beijing Institute of Technology)

"The Differences of Space Experience: Mary’s Room Argument in Virtual Reality"

Abstract: Virtual reality is an emerging computational technology that has a very wide range of applications. This technology provides immersive perceptual experiences to each user, and users can make adaptive behaviors for this kind of experiences. Both Gibson's ecological optics theory and Chalmers' mirror experience argument can offer a strongly theoretical explanation for this. However, users always have a huge difference experience about virtual reality and real environment. Some experiment data from neural science can illustrate this. The main reason for making this situation is the limitations of current computing display technology and the few channels of multi-sensing interaction. For supporting this viewpoint, I propose a thought experiment that named “Mary’s room argument in virtual reality” and makes an argument to Chalmers’ relative point. In the end, it also provides a possibility solution to solve this problem in the future.



The speakers will each have at total one hour, 40 minutes for presentation and 20 minutes for discussion.

More details TBA.

The Center for Philosophy of Science











Revised 8/17/17 - Copyright 2010