Wednesday, July 24, 2013

TALK: Spatial and Temporal Analogies Revisited

Presented by

Stefano Catelan

Time and space do not seem to be as alike as they supposedly were in the early days of the analytic enterprise. Recent works in the Philosophy of Physics seem to acknowledge a clear difference between the two. In this paper, I shall first look at the traditional philosophical thesis that space and time are radically alike. Secondly, I shall contrast such thesis with the current tendency which argues that time, being somehow special, is fundamentally different from space. Lastly, after remarking on a number of the assumptions made by both parties, I shall conclude that there may be a sense in which the two fall short of their purpose.

When: Monday, July 29th, 1:00pm - 2:30pm
Where: Philosophy Common Room

Monday, May 6, 2013

Conference report: 6th Munich-Sydney-Tilburg Philosophy of Science: Models and Decisions

This was the 6th conference in the annual Munich-Tilburg-Sydney series of philosophy of science conferences.

This year the conference was in Munich, hosted by the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy at the Ludwig-Maximilians University. The theme was "Models and Decisions", with the aim of bringing together two distinct groups of researchers from within philosophy of science and from further afield. The keynote speakers were: Luc Bovens (Professor of Philosophy at the London School of Economics), Itzhak Gilboa (Professor of Economics and Decision Sciences at HEC, Paris, and at the Eitan Berglas School of Economics, Tel-Aviv University), Ulrike Hahn (Professor of Psychology at Birkbeck College, University of London), Michael Strevens (Professor of Philosophy at New York University), and Claudia Tebaldi (Professor of Statistics and Climate Science University of British Columbia, Vancouver and at Climate Central). The conference was a great success, with terrific papers and discussions. The next conference will be hosted by the Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science in April 2014 at the University of Sydney.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Communicating about DNA - is there a problem?

Science writer Phillip Ball spoke out in Nature last week against what he claimed is simplistic and outdated science communication about DNA, on the 60th anniversary of Watson and Crick's April 1953 publication.  ABC Science Online has published commentary from Australian researchers, including SCFS researcher Paul Griffiths, on Ball's claims.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Structure in Chemistry and Biology workshop



The aim of the workshop is to bring philosophers and scientists together to probe fundamental questions about the role and status of appeals to structure in chemistry and biology.

Philosophers will be interested in what structure is and what various structures, from the macroscopic structures of crystals to the quantum mechanical structures involved in the physicists characterisation of molecules, have in common. They will ask whether one kind of structure is more fundamental than another, and whether chemistry and molecular biology are reducible to physics and they will wonder whether some are all of the structures invoked by chemists and biologists are useful fictions rather than depictions of states of affairs existing in reality.

Chemists and biologists typically find the level of abstraction involved in the talk of philosophers strange and mystifying. Yet the kinds of problems involving structure addressed by some philosophers of science appear in a tangible form in their work. There is not one, but a range of, characterisations of the structure of molecules (eg. interatomic geometry vs bond topology) and there is no general agreement about how these are related and which is more fundamental. Chemists do not agree on what the best representation of the benzene molecule is. They do not know how to reconcile the fact that glass has the amorphous structure of a liquid with the fact that the business end of golf clubs can be tailor-made from glass. Biologists wrestle with the question of how to relate the static picture of the structure of a protein or sugar and the dynamics of their actions that typically take place in solution.

Robin Hendry, from the University of Durham, is a leading international figure in the philosophy of chemistry. He will introduce some of the basic questions concerning structure at the beginning of the workshop. Then he will explore these issues by joining forces with some leading Australian scientists who deal with structure in their work.

If you would like to participate in the workshop, please contact Alan Chalmers, or Debbie Castle Unit for History and Philosophy of Science, University of Sydney

Thursday, September 13, 2012


AAHPSSS's 2012  DYASON LECTURE will be presented by:
Warwick Anderson

“ Fashioning the Immunological Self: The Biological Individuality of F. Macfarlane Burnet”.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the Australian microbiologist F. Macfarlane Burnet sought a biologically plausible explanation of antibody production. In this talk, I seek to recover the conceptual pathways that Burnet followed in his immunological theorizing. In so doing, I emphasize the influence of philosophical speculations on individuality, especially those of Alfred North Whitehead; the impact of cybernetics and information theory; and the contributions of clinical research into autoimmune disease at Melbourne. Accordingly, this talk describes an intellectual arc distinct from most other tracings of Burnet’s conceptual development, which focus on his early bacteriophage research and his fascination with the work of Julian Huxley and other biologists in the 1920s. No doubt these were potent influences, but they seem insufficient to explain Burnet’s sudden enthusiasm in the 1940s for immunological definitions of self and not-self. I want to demonstrate here how Burnet’s deep involvement in philosophical biology—along with ineluctable clinical entanglements—shaped his immunological theories.

WHERE: Eastern Avenue Lecture Theatre
WHEN: Thursday, 27 Sept, 6.30-8pm

The event is free and all are very welcome.

Call for Applications for Visiting Fellowships at the Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science

We are currently inviting applications for one-semester visiting fellowships at The University of Sydney, for either second semester (August to November) 2013 or first semester (February to May) 2014. This program is associated with The Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science (SCFS), a research centre promoting work into the logical, philosophical, and historical foundations of science (further details below). We are hoping to receive applications from leading historians and philosophers of science (including the special sciences and biomedical sciences) at any post-PhD career stage. This is the sixth round of such fellowships and we anticipate being able to offer them each year.

Up to four fellowships are available, and each fellowship will come with a travelling allowance of up to AUD 6,000. These fellowships will provide opportunities for academics on sabbatical from their home institution to spend a semester in a productive and collegial research environment (in a beautiful city), to work with members of the SCFS and with other visiting fellows. It is important that the applicant has a position at their home institution that extends beyond the term of the intended stay in Sydney and is on salary from their home institution for the duration of their intended stay. The allowance is to help offset some of the travelling and living-away-from-home expenses; it is not a salary. The successful applicants will be expected to work on a specific research project currently being conducted in the  SCFS. See the SCFS website for current research projects. One of the aims of the SCFS is to strengthen international links in history and philosophy of science, so expressions of interest from researchers outside Australia are particularly encouraged.

Applications should including a cover letter, a CV, an indication of which of the current research projects you intend to work on and what your contribution to that project will be. Applications should be sent electronically to:

Dr Rodney Taveira
Administrative Officer
Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science
School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry
A14, Main Quadrangle
University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW, 2006

by 14th November 2012. Applicants will be informed of decisions by 19th December 2012.

About The Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science
The SCFS is an interdisciplinary research centre at the University of Sydney. We draw together researchers from philosophy, history, history and philosophy of science, science and medicine, with research concentrations in and around foundations of physics, decision theory, history and philosophy of biology, history of early modern science, history of medicine, and decision theory. Senior members of the SCFS include, Warwick Anderson, Stephen Bartlett, Alison Bashford, David Braddon-Mitchell, Mark Colyvan, Clio Cresswell, Ofer Gal, Stephen Garton, Stephen Gaukroger, Paul Griffiths, Ian Kerridge, Dominic Murphy, Maureen O'Malley, Hans Pols, Dean Rickles, Nick Smith, and Karola Stotz. We also have a number of mid-career and junior faculty, as well as several postdoctoral fellows and graduate students associated with the SCFS. Further details can be found on our website:

Friday, September 7, 2012

Report on Integration workshop

Former SCFS Visitor Sara Green and Prof Olaf Wolkenhauer have written a report on the recent "Integration in Biology and Biomedicine" workshop, held by the SCFS at the University of Sydney in May 2012. You can find a copy of the report here: Many thanks to Sara and Olaf for their efforts!