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::: center home >> events >> lunchtime >> 2016-17 >> abstracts>> March

March 2017 Lunchtime Abstracts & Details

::: On the Persistence of the Electromagnetic Field
Marton Gomori
Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Inst. of Philosophy
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
12:05 pm
817R Cathedral of Learning

Abstract: According to the standard realistic interpretation of classical electrodynamics, the electromagnetic field is conceived as a real physical entity existing in space and time. The problem we address in this talk is how to understand this spatiotemporal existence, that is, how to describe the persistence of a field-like physical entity like the electromagnetic field. First, we provide a formal description of the notion of persistence: we derive an “equation of persistence” constituting a necessary condition that the spatiotemporal distributions of the fundamental attributes of a persisting physical entity must satisfy. We then state a theorem according to which the vast majority of the solutions of Maxwell's equations, describing possible spatiotemporal distributions of the fundamental attributes of the electromagnetic field, violate the equation of persistence. Finally, we discuss the consequences of this result for the ontology of the electromagnetic field.

::: Taxa and Trees: How does Phylogenetic Practice Impact the Metaphysics of Biological Classification?
Thomas Reydon
Leibniz U. Hannover, Inst. of Philosophy
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
12:05 pm
817R Cathedral of Learning

Abstract: Systematic biology is the field of biology in which organismal diversity is classified and systematized. Among the principal aims of systematic biology are the grouping of organisms into basic units of biodiversity and the clustering of such units into larger groups within a tree-like system that highlights evolutionary relationships between the groups in the system. While the foundation of both classification and systematization is common descent (which Darwin in the Origin of Species proposed as the “hidden bond which naturalists have been unconsciously seeking”), commonality of descent cannot be observed but only inferred on the basis of morphological, behavioral and molecular organismal traits that constitute reliable traces from past evolutionary events (see for instance Sober’s classic treatment of this matter in Reconstructing the Past). This leads to problems of phylogenetic inference, i.e., questions regarding how to find the correct units of biodiversity, and how to select the correct phylogenetic tree(s) on the basis of a particular data set that represents the traits of the organisms under consideration (and what ‘correct’ means in this context in the first place). In their investigative practices systematists deal with these problems by invoking a number of assumptions and methodological decisions on, among other things, the individuation, selection and coding of organismal traits for the data set that will be analyzed, and the selection of the preferred phylogenetic tree from the set of trees produced in a phylogenetic analysis. In this talk I want to explore the consequences of such practice-based assumptions and decisions for the nature of the products of systematic biology – taxa and trees. In particular, will try to show that taxa cannot be conceived of metaphysically as natural kinds (and trees as systems of kinds), but that conceiving them as individuals (with trees as larger individuals of which taxa are parts) is not an option either. Rather, a practice-based metaphysics of systematic biology leads to a view of taxa and trees as constraints on grouping: they provide a necessary backbone for the whole of biological research by constraining the possibilities researchers have for grouping some of the objects they study (i.e., organisms, their parts, and their traits) into units that can be investigated and about which generalized knowledge statements can be formulated.

::: The Need for Values in Science: The Contingency Argument

Matt Brown
University of Texas, Dallas
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
12:05 pm
817R Cathedral of Learning

Abstract: The process of scientific inquiry involves many contingent features and decision-points throughout. Logically speaking, these contingencies amount to unforced choices, even if they are practically settled by habit or institutional factors. Scientific inquirers are not always aware of these contingencies, but recent empirical research shows that it is possible for scientists to learn to recognize them as such and make them reflectively rather than implicitly or habitually. Insofar as these choices have significant and foreseeable social and ethical implications, scientists are responsible for exercising sound value judgment in making those choices. This argument generalizes from a range of commonly used arguments for the value-ladenness of science, better capturing the general structure that shows that science requires values.


Revised 2/21/17 - Copyright 2009