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::: center home >> events >> lunchtime >> 2014-15 >> abstracts>> October

October 2014 Lunchtime Abstracts & Details

::: Explanation and Partiality in Cognitive Science
Maria Serban, Postdoctoral Fellow
University East Anglia (UK)
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
12:05 pm, 817R Cathedral of Learning

Abstract:  One salient challenge facing current attempts to provide empirically adequate explanations of cognitive phenomena concerns the level of analysis or abstraction at which such accounts should be developed. The standard view assumed by many philosophers of mind and cognitive science seems to be that there are basically two ways of investigating how cognitive processes emerge from neural activity: top-down or bottom-up. More recently, a number of theorists have urged a shift towards a more pluralist perspective on the explanatory practices of cognitive neuroscientists. According to this perspective, successful cognitive theories draw on different methodological tools and principles in order to account for various aspects of cognitive phenomena. Drawing on two examples from cognitive modelling, I argue that the task of understanding how cognition is achieved in biological systems like ourselves often requires multiple shifts in explanatory strategies which go beyond the standard top-down/bottom-up dichotomy. I also seek to show that this mixed-level view of cognitive explanation can accommodate some partiality in specific cognitive theories without falling into scepticism about their explanatory value.

::: Case Structure and the Epistemology of Disagreement
Joshua Alexander, Visiting Fellow
Siena College
Friday, October 10, 2014
12:05 pm, 817R Cathedral of Learning

Abstract:  One of the most hotly debated questions in contemporary epistemology concerns what we should do when we disagree. Some epistemologists argue that we should be moved by the fact that we disagree, while others argue that it is perfectly reasonable to remain steadfast in our own beliefs despite the fact that we disagree. Both sides to this debate use what’s sometimes called the “method of cases,” designing hypothetical cases and using what we think about those cases as evidence that specific theories are true (or false) and as reasons for believing as such. In this talk, we will examine some of the factors that influence how people think about the kinds of cases typically used in the epistemology of disagreement. In particular, we will explore the role that case structure plays in shaping how we think about the kinds of cases used in the epistemology of disagreement, focusing on five structural dimensions: actionability, affective valence, perceptions of content objectivity, perceptions of stakes, and perspective.


::: The Koan of Pyrrhonism
Armando Cintora, Visiting Scholar
Metropolitan Autonomous U. (Mexico)
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
12:05 pm, 817R Cathedral of Learning

Abstract:  An abduction of the rustic Pyrrhonist's epistemic attitude is offered, one in which this sceptic is an idealist that searches full epistemic responsibility (ER).  ER is analyzed as a set of three other values: intellectual autonomy, epistemic rationality and the search of truth as correspondence. This set of values would explain the Agrippa and the rustic Pyrrhonist's epistemic attitude (this without requiring the search for ataraxia); the Pyrrhonist, though, suspends judgment about the objective value of these goals, she just finds that she seems to value them. It is concluded that a revisionist rustic Pyrrhonist could do scientific research, once she uses and passively believes some ultimate and minimal set of independent conventions on the descriptions of her appearances about the methodological, inferential, axiological, metaphysical, epistemic uses and beliefs of her epistemic community, though again, with a suspension of judgment about the objective correctness of these communal uses. This, however, will open the gates to relativism.


::: Induction in the Socratic Tradition
John McCaskey
Friday, October 17, 2014
12:05 pm, 817R Cathedral of Learning

Abstract:  There is a nowadays unfamiliar kind of induction, and I want to introduce you to it—historically, philosophically, and with a few case studies. It goes back to Aristotle, who said he got it from Socrates. It was how “induction” was conventionally understood in antiquity and then again from the late Renaissance until the Mill-Whewell debate. This induction is a progression from particular to universal but not (or not primarily) from particular statements to universal statements. It turns on Aristotle’s notion of formal cause and holds that ampliation takes place at the conceptual, not the propositional, level. It challenges Kant’s notion that there is no such thing as analytic a posteriori. Use of this induction is easy to find in the history of science, especially scientific laws. I’ll describe a few such cases. I’ll propose that “the Humean problem of induction” simply does not exist when induction is conceived as it was in the Socratic tradition.


::: Biological Regulation: a Conceptual Clarification and Proposal
Leonardo Bich, Visiting Scholar
University of the Basque Country
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
12:05 pm, 817R Cathedral of Learning

Abstract:  Biological systems exhibit a wide range of molecular mechanisms and behavioral strategies to ensure their survival under variable conditions. All of these mechanisms tend to be interpreted as regulatory because they contribute to the maintenance of the system’s viability against perturbations by modulating their own basic dynamics.  However, despite the widespread appeal to the notion of regulation in biology, be it for explanatory, modeling or defining purposes, the meaning of this notion is left somehow vague and its relationship with akin concepts, such as homeostasis, robustness, feedback or adaptation is hardly stated in clear terms. I will propose an organizational approach to regulation, by focusing on the mechanisms at the basis of responses to perturbations in minimal living systems. In the first place, I will analyze different forms of control in the cell, and how they can be recruited by biological organization to respond to internal or external perturbations. In doing so, I will distinguish between two different classes of responses, based respectively on stability and regulatory mechanisms. I will describe the limits of stability as an adaptive response, and I will provide a definition and a basic set of organizational requirement for regulation, by pointing out the differences with similar concepts such as feedback and homeostasis.


::: West Coast Idealism:  Biological Mechanisms as Theoretical Posits
William Bechtel, Senior Visiting Fellow
U. California, San Diego
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
12:05 pm, 817R Cathedral of Learning

Abstract:  In their attempts to explain phenomena, biologists frequently posit mechanisms, which they proceed to decompose, recompose, and situate in order to show how the phenomena are brought about. Mechanisms are presented in these accounts as distinct entities, but do they really exist as such in nature? Some biological systems (cells, organisms, etc.) have relatively sharp boundaries and through control exercised over these boundaries, they maintain themselves as distinct entities. However, these do not correspond to mechanisms. As they develop their explanations, researchers set boundaries and choose which entities within them to treat as parts. But their own research often eventually reveals multitudinous interactions between what they take to be parts of a mechanism and other entities taken to be distinct from it. Likewise, although they initially identify a temporal horizon in which the mechanism produces a phenomenon, investigators often come to recognize that these mechanisms are influenced by activity in their distant past. The world is much more integrated and holistic than mechanistic explanations suggest. Recognizing this, however, does not require abandoning the pursuit of mechanistic explanation, but adopting an epistemic perspective in which the delineation of mechanisms is recognized to be based on the explanatory aims of scientists.


::: Dealing with Scientific Uncertainty:  The Case of the ‘Threshold of Toxicological Concern’ Approach in Health Risk Assessment
Karim Bschir, Visiting Fellow
ETH Zurich
Friday, October 31, 2014
12:05 pm, 817R Cathedral of Learning

Abstract:  I will discuss issues of uncertainty arising in the context of the so-called Threshold of Toxicological Concern (TTC) approach in toxicology. The TTC provides a probability-based risk assessment tool, which rests on the assumption that it is possible to derive risk estimates for substances with unknown toxicity present in food and food contact materials from toxicological data of structurally similar substances.
I will explain how the approach works, what it is supposed to accomplish, and what kinds of uncertainties arise in the context of its application. I claim that even if the TTC provides a useful tool for assessing quantitative uncertainty (i.e. risk), there exist additional qualitative uncertainties, which cannot be treated using probability-based approaches. These uncertainties include unconceived outcomes, second-order uncertainties regarding the robustness of the models used in extrapolations, controversies in the scientific community (e.g. about the adequacy of the underlying structural similarity approach or the extrapolation of animal toxicity data to humans), or normative questions related to the implementation of the approach. I will show that the available theories of uncertainty, and in particular Bayesianism, do not provide a suitable basis for dealing with qualitative uncertainties. I will end by discussing the delicate question whether philosophy has anything useful to contribute at all when it comes to complex real-world decision problems involving qualitative uncertainties.


Revised 9/30/14 - Copyright 2009