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2008-2009 Colloquia

Spring 2009

January 23, 2009 1:30-3:00 pm

Peter Galison will present an informal seminar on his book Objectivity with Center discussion group participants. He will also give a lecture in the IAS Thursdays at Four series on January 22, 2009 at 4 pm.

The discussion meetings on Objectivity and Galison's visit are jointly sponsored by the Theorizing Early Modern Studies Group, (TEMS).

January 23, 2009 - Annual Science Studies Symposium

“Teaching Science Lawlessly”

Douglas Allchin: Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine & Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science - Abstract

“Objectivity as Trustworthiness”

Naomi Scheman: Departments of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies & Philosophy, University of Minnesota - Abstract

“Verbal–Visual Interaction in Science”

Alan Gross: Department of Communications Studies, University of Minnesota - Abstract

January 30, 2009

“Stephen Jay Gould, Niles Eldredge, and the 'True' History of Punctuated Equilibria”

Cosponsored by the Program in the History of Science and Technology
David Sepkoski: Department of History, University of North Carolina

February 6, 2009

“The Story of N: Sustainability and Society's Changing Interaction with the Nitrogen Cycle”

Cosponsored by the Program in the History of Science and Technology
Hugh Gorman: Department of Social Sciences, Michigan Technological University

February 13, 2009

“Sympathetic Contagions and Investment Scheme Crazes: Mesmerism and Nineteenth-Century Theories of Social Influence”

Cosponsored by the Program in the History of Science and Technology
David Schmit: Department of Psychology, College of St. Catherine

February 20, 2009

“Darwinian Evolutionary Ethics: Between Patriotism and Sympathy”

Peter Richerson: Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis - Abstract

February 27, 2009

“Is Chess the Drosophila of AI? Computer Games as Experimental Technologies in Artificial Intelligence”

Cosponsored by the Program in the History of Science and Technology
Nathan Ensmenger: Department of History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania

March 6, 2009

“Herman Boerhaave and the Demarcation of Chemistry from Alchemy”

Cosponsored by the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology of Medicine and the Program in the History of Medicine
John Powers: Department of History, Virginia Commonwealth University

March 26, 2009 THURSDAY Noon 2-233 Carlson School of Management

“Funding Opportunities at NSF in History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Technology”

Frederick Kronz: National Science Foundation - Abstract

March 27, 2009

“On Actual and Virtual Chances”

Frederick Kronz: National Science Foundation - Abstract

April 3, 2009

“Impersonal Rule: Logistical Power and the Canal du Midi”

Cosponsored by the Theorizing Early Modern Studies (TEMS) Research Collaborative
Chandra Mukerji: Communication Studies, University of California, San Diego

April 10, 2009

“Studying Behavior Biologically: Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen, and the Founding of Ethology”

Cosponsored by the Program in the History of Science and Technology
Richard Burkhardt: Department of History, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

April 13, 2009 MONDAY 3:30 PM 330 Blegen Hall

“Measurement and Particle Interactions in Field Theory”

Jeffrey A Barrett: Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of California, Irvine -Abstract

April 17, 2009

Special Colloquium in Honor of Alan E. Shapiro

Cosponsored by the Program in the History of Science and Technology
"Isaac Newton and the History of Civilization"
Jed Z. Buchwald
: Department of History, California Institute of Technology
"Galileo's Theory of the Tides"
Noel M. Swerdlow
: Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Chicago

April 20, 2009 MONDAY 3:30 PM 330 Blegen Hall

“The Science of Causal Inference”

Peter Spirtes: Department of Philosophy, Carnegie Mellon University - Abstract

April 24, 2009

“Evolution and Relativism”

Jon Marks: Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina-Charlotte - Abstract

May 1, 2009

“What's 'The Big Idea'?: Patents and the Ideology of Invention”

Cosponsored by the Program in the History of Science and Technology
Kathryn Steen: Department of History & Politics, Drexel University

Abstracts for Spring 09 colloquia:

Abstract – Allchin
Boyle's law is the epitome of science in the classroom. Yet using recent philosophical perspectives on scientific laws, one can see that Boyle's law is not universal or invariant, as implied by the term 'law'. Indeed, Boyle's law—and other scientific "laws"—are not lawlike at all. In addition, from a cultural studies perspective, we might also examine why we teach laws in science and what it means to name them after someone. Science studies thus seems critically poised to inform science education. Indeed, properly understood, it might well lead us to revolutionize what and how we teach.

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Abstract – Scheman
Why does objectivity matter? I argue that its importance stems from epistemic dependency: we are irremediably dependent on others, including institutionally accredited experts, notably scientists, for much of what we need to know. Objectivity is supposed to allow scientists to serve as generic knowers, in part by bracketing the influence of social location. But traditional accounts of objectivity leave unexamined factors crucial to the actual trustworthiness of scientific claims: (1) broader questions of the trustworthiness of the institutions within which science is done; and (2) the relevance of diverse social locations for understanding how the world works.

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Abstract – Gross
My current work focuses on the interaction of words and images in the creation of meaning in the sciences. Since the majority of scientific texts—from laboratory notebooks to published papers—consist of both words and images, an examination of their interaction seems a worthwhile means of illuminating scientific meaning. I approach the problem from the point of view Peirce's semiotics viewed within the framework of a general theory of cognitive processing, Allan Paivio's Dual Coding Theory. I ground my work in the philosophy of science of Martin Heidegger, a philosophy that, unlike analytical philosophy, does not privilege the proposition; rather, it places /seeing as /at the center of the scientific enterprise.

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Abstract – Richerson
Darwin believed that his theory of evolution would stand or fall on its ability to account for human behavior. No species could be an exception to his theory without imperiling the whole edifice. One of the most striking features of human behavior is our very elaborate social life involving cooperation with large numbers of other people. The evolution of the ethical sensibilities and institutions of humans was thus one of his central concerns. Darwin made four main arguments regarding human morality: (1) that it is a product of group selection; (2) that an immense difference existed between human moral systems and those of other animals; (3) that the human social instincts were “primeval” and essentially the same in all modern humans; and (4) that moral progress was possible based on using the instinct of sympathy as the basis for inventing and favoring the spread of improved social institutions. Modern studies of cultural evolution suggest that Darwin's arguments about the evolution of morality are largely correct in their essentials.

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Abstract – Kronz, March 26
NSF's Science, Technology, and Society supports a broad variety of research in history and philosophy and sociology of science and technology via several distinct funding modes. After reviewing the range of research areas covered by the program and the various modes of support (including budgetary guidelines and eligibility requirements), the discussion turns to other funding opportunities at NSF for researchers (both individuals and groups) in these areas. Some guidelines for writing effective STS grant proposals will also be provided.

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Abstract – Kronz, March 27
The standard account of the two-slit experiment is presented, and that is followed by a careful examination of some of the key assumptions involved in the account. Logical, metaphysical, and probabilistic assumptions are revealed and then called into question. The standard logic of the experiment presupposes a particle model, and that leads to paradoxical probabilistic consequences. An alternative logical structure is proposed for the experiment; it is based on a wave model. That logical structure leads to a non-standard theory of probability that has distinct advantages, including the ability to give a coherent account of the two-slit experiment. That account explicitly involves a distinction between actual and virtual chances, which may have important interpretive consequences for the quantum realm and more broadly including such areas as economics, queuing theory, and psychology.

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Abstract – Barrett
I will argue that if one adopts the standard interpretation of quantum states and if one supposes that measurement interactions generate determinate local records, then measurement interactions must violate relativistic constraints in field theory. David Albert has recently shown that local particle interactions between entangled systems may also violate relativistic constraints. While I take providing a faithful account of measurement to pose a serious and particularly difficult problem for field theory, I will explain why Albert's problem is likely not a problem for field theory.

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Abstract – Spirtes
Much of the work in the social sciences and elsewhere that attempts to infer causal relationships uses data gathered under conditions where fully controlled experiments are not possible. Despite the fact that a significant part of the practical application of statistics attempts to infer causal structure from statistical data, within some segments of the statistical community there is serious doubt whether this is possible at all. By being explicit about the interpretation of causal models, the methods of causal inference that are being employed, the assumptions that are being made, and the standards of success, philosophers can both (i) clarify the issues, and (ii) improve upon the current methodology.

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Abstract – Marks
In The Grammar of Science (1892), Karl Pearson explained the application of Darwinian evolutionary principles to the human species: “a capable and stalwart race of white men should replace a dark-skinned tribe which can neither utilize its land for the full benefit of mankind, nor contribute its quota to the common stock of human knowledge,” and later clarified, “there is cause for human satisfaction in the replacement of the aborigines throughout America and Australia by white races of far higher civilization.” This is problematic because if the choice is between genocide or creationism, the correct choice is obviously creationism. It is also problematic because if Pearson was misrepresenting Darwinism (and where were you when he laid the foundations of quantitative biology? – Job 38:4) then it undermines the credibility of other generations of scientists who also claim to speak authoritatively about evolution. Accepting that creationists seek to undermine science education in America, I will discuss the failure of biology to deal adequately with them. I will suggest that an anthropological, relativistic approach may have some value in identifying and solving some of the problems raised by the persistence of creationism.

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Fall 2008

September 12, 2008

“Phlogiston Revisited: An Argument for Scientific Pluralism”
Hasok Chang
University College London
Abstract – Chang

September 15, 2008 MONDAY 3:30 pm

731 Heller Hall - Note different day, time and place
“Newton on the Structure and Parts of Space”
Edward Slowik
Winona State University
Abstract – Slowik

September 26, 2008

Author Meets Readers:
The Mantra of Efficiency
From Waterwheel to Social Control

by Jennifer Karns Alexander

HSTM and Mechanical Engineering, University of Minnesota

1. Naomi Scheman, 
Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies & Philosophy, University of Minnesota

2. Andrew Feenberg, School of Communication, 
Simon Fraser University
3. David Valentine, Anthropology, University of Minnesota
Abstract — Alexander

October 10, 2008

"The Uses of Infinity: A philosopher looks at emergent phenomena in physics"
Jeremy Butterfield
University of Cambridge
Abstract – Butterfield

October 13, 2008 MONDAY 3:30 pm

1-143 Carlson School of Management - Note different day, time and place
“Natural Kinds: Between Metaphysical Conservatism and Epistemological Liberalism”
Thomas Reydon
Leibniz University of Hannover
Abstract — Reydon

October 31, 2008

“Philosophical Issues in the Levels of Selection Debate: Reduction, Causality, Emergence”
Samir Okasha
University of Bristol
Abstract — Okasha

November 5, 2008, WEDNESDAY noon

HHH room 20 - Note different day, time and place
“The Many Faces of Fitness: A Pluralist Interpretation of Natural Selection Theory”
Marcel Weber
Science Studies Program, University of Basel
Abstract — Weber

Abstracts for Fall 08 colloquia:

Abstract – Chang
Through a re-examination of the Chemical Revolution, I advance an argument for scientific pluralism. My assessment, made on the basis of a comprehensive list of epistemic values, returns the verdict that there was no compelling rational reason for 18th-century chemists to discard the phlogiston theory. I then examine the benefits that could have (or could still) come from retaining or reviving phlogiston, with particular reference to Douglas Allchin's work. Finally I sketch some general arguments for scientific pluralism, building on existing arguments especially by Feyerabend and by Kellert, Longino and Waters.

Abstract – Slowik
This presentation will investigate the status of the parts of space in Newton's spatial ontology. An enigmatic discussion in Newton's unpublished tract, De Gravitatione, has brought about recent reappraisals by Nerlich and Huggett: in short, does Newton's pronouncements on the parts of space, which seems to base their identity on the structural relationships among these parts, undermine his alleged substantivalism (since all the parts in an infinite Euclidean space bear the same structural relationships with one another)? In order to better grasp the possible intentions underlying Newton's treatment of these issues, this presentation will explore the neo-Platonic background and possible sources of influence on Newton's ontology of space. In conclusion, the arguments of both Nerlich and Huggett will be shown to be deficient in various respects, such that Newton's conception of space avoids the problems that they have raised.

Abstract – Alexander


  1. Naomi Scheman, Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies & Philosophy, University of Minnesota
  2. Andrew Feenberg, Simon Fraser University
  3. David Valentine, Anthropology, University of Minnesota

Efficiency—associated with individual discipline, superior management, and increased profits or productivity—often counts as one of the highest virtues in Western culture. But what does it mean, exactly, to be efficient? How did this concept evolve from a means for evaluating simple machines to the mantra of progress and a prerequisite for success? This provocative and ambitious study, explores the growing power of efficiency in the post-industrial West. Examining the ways the concept has appeared in modern history—from a benign measure of the thermal economy of a machine to its widespread application to personal behaviors like chewing habits, spending choices, and shop floor movements to its controversial use as a measure of the business success of American slavery—Alexander argues that beneath efficiency's seemingly endless variety lies a common theme: the pursuit of mastery through techniques of surveillance, discipline, and control. Six historical case studies—two from Britain, one each from France and Germany, and two from the United States—illustrate the concept's fascinating development and provide context for the meanings of, and uses for, efficiency today and in the future.

Abstract – Butterfield
‘Emergence', and its contrary ‘reduction', are buzz-words in both physics and philosophy. Both physicists and philosophers disagree about the extent to which we can understand large-scale or complex phenomena in terms of their microscopic parts. Examples include both everyday phenomena like the freezing and boiling of liquids, and fancy ideas like fractals. I will pour some oil on these troubled waters—partly by the philosopher's usual tactic of distinguishing different senses of the contentious terms! But I will also show that some cases of taking an infinite limit of a physical theory are cases of both emergence and reduction.

Abstract – Reydon
Current philosophy of science is witnessing a renewed interest in the theme of natural kinds. This interest takes the form of two largely distinct lines of work. One the one hand, there is the so-called “new essentialism”, proponents of which attempt to bring at least some of the kinds that feature in some of the special sciences under some version of the traditional essentialist account of natural kinds. On the other hand, a number of philosophers (particularly in philosophy of biology and philosophy of psychology) are trying to use Boyd's “Homeostatic Property Cluster” (HPC) theory to develop a non-essentialist account of special-science kinds as kinds of entities that exhibit similar properties due to their being subject to similar natural causes. While the “new essentialism” tends to be too conservative with respect to which groupings it recognizes as natural kinds, the HPC-line of work runs the risk of being too liberal with respect to recognizing natural kinds, as in principle any grouping of similar entities can be a natural kind under HPC-theory. I shall examine how HPC-theory could avoid this risk, focusing on two questions that any adequate theory of natural kinds should answer: What distinguishes natural kinds from other kinds of kinds? And which factor(s) determine(s) the kind membership for given entities and thus the extensions of natural kind names?

Abstract – Okasha
In recent evolutionary theory, multi-level selection models have attracted considerable attention. In these models, natural selection acts simultaneously at more than one level of the biological hierarchy, e.g. the individual level and group level, leading to interesting evolutionary outcomes. I analyse a number of philosophical issues that arise in multi-level selection theory. In particular, can selection at one level ever be 'reduced' to selection at another? Can selective processes at different levels causally affect each other? Does the notion of emergence have a role to play, in understanding multi-level selection?

Abstract – Weber
Philosophers often speak as if there were one concept of fitness, and a unified theory of natural selection that goes with it. Both are pure fictions. I show that the concept of fitness only takes on a well-defined meaning in the context of specific models of natural selection, which make highly variable modeling assumptions. So there is really no such thing as one concept of fitness; there is a whole family. Which concept is used in a particular case depends on the epistemic goals and research questions that evolutionary biologists are pursuing. By the same token, there is no such thing as a unified theory of natural selection. Any attempt to formulate a universal principle of natural selection at best yields empirically vacuous, informal characterizations of certain classes of models (at worst they are vacuous, period). The implications for "applying" selection theory to areas other than evolutionary biology will be discussed.

Abstract – Giere
Although interest in the role of models in science has greatly increased in recent years, there remains considerable confusion over relationships among different things often called theories and models. Here I develop an extensive elaboration of a hierarchical account of these relationships. It turns out that there are three major variations on this account depending on the role of high-level principles typically identified as theories.

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