Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Quantum spooks in the Philosopher's Zone

"Does physics offer us a fuzzy picture of a clear reality or a clear picture of a fuzzy reality? In 1947, Albert Einstein told Max Born - a great physicist and the grandfather of Olivia Newton-John - that he couldn't accept quantum theory because it involved 'spooky actions at a distance.' But does having quantum theory without the spooks mean believing in time travel? Huw Price, philosopher and physicist, helps us boldly go." ABC Radio National, 1:35pm, Saturday 2 May. Details here.

SydFoP: A new mailing list for Foundations of Physics in the Sydney region

Pete Evans, Owen Maroney and I have just set up a mailing list for advertising events in Foundations and Philosophy of Physics, in the Sydney region. If you would like to sign up, visit the list information page: http://lists.arts.usyd.edu.au/mailman/listinfo/sydfop.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Foundations of Science reading: Woodward

Our reading group in general philosophy of science anticipates meeting weekly for the near future. Over the next couple weeks, we will be looking at Jim Woodward's manipulationist theory of causal explanation in his book Making Things Happen. We will focus this time on Chapter 2, "Causation and Manipulation." This chapter lays out an account of causation which is developed into an account of causal explanation in later chapters we anticipate reading. Various brief motivating arguments are developed in the introductory Chapter 1, and they may be worth a skim.

We will meet the first time at 4PM on Thursday April 30 at the Centre for Foundations of Science, N293 on the first floor of the Main Quad building.

Email me (Chris) if you need a copy of Chapters 1 and 2. An electronic version of the text is available on the Sydney Uni library site, though the interface strikes me as suitable for searching but designed to frustrate rather than facilitate actual reading.

Citation: J. Woodward. Making Things Happen: A Theory of Causal Explanation. Oxford University Press, New York, 2003

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Events Calendar

The SCFS events calendar has been populated with events relating to the history and philosophy of science in Australia.  If you would like to have an event added to the calendar, please email rodney.taveira@usyd.edu.au with the relevant information.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dupre and Griffiths reply to Collins

Nature have published my and John Dupre's reply to Harry Collins foolishness about the future of science studies. It's in Nature, April 9th 2009, 458 (7239) pp679-796. Here's the content:

Sir, Far from being dominated by scepticism about science, as Harry Collins claims in his Essay 'We cannot live by scepticism alone' (Nature 458, 30–31; 2009), mainstream philosophy of science opposes the relativism that Collins decries. We are both philosophers of biology, a field that analyses key biological concepts such as species and genes, dissects theoretical debates in biology and examines emerging fields such as systems biology. This work often involves criticism of scientific positions. But if any of it is part of Collins's sceptical 'second wave' of science studies, Richard Dawkins is a bishop.

Collins dismisses philosophy of science as a 'first wave of science studies' largely coinciding with post-war confidence in science and superseded by the work of sociologists of knowledge like himself. In fact, mainstream philosophy of science — which was being developed before the Second World War by Rudolph Carnap, Carl Hempel, Karl Popper, Hans Reichenbach and others — remains a thriving discipline in most universities. It teaches students that science is neither the 'voice of a God' nor merely the view of one social group, just as Collins advocates.

The only contemporary 'philosopher' Collins mentions (though not by name) is Steve Fuller, whose statement to a US court that intelligent design is science Collins uses as evidence that post-modern scepticism pervades science studies. However, Fuller is a professor of sociology. All the philosophers of science who, like Fuller, were witnesses or advisers in the Dover Area School District case (see Nature 439, 6–7; 2006) appeared for the other side, supporting evolution.

Working in an interdisciplinary research centre alongside historians and sociologists of biology and medicine, we can assure Collins that post-modern science sceptics are thin on the ground. The 'science wars' of the 1990s were whipped up by a selective focus on the work of a very few scholars, many of whom did not work in the philosophy, history or sociology of science. Let us hope that Collins's remarks do not reignite this unproductive controversy

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Caterpillar memory

Without looking into any of the technical details, I wonder if this week's discussion of Gilbert suggests alternate interpretations of what "memory" means here:
Adult moths can remember their "childhoods" as caterpillars, a new study has found. Recently scientists trained tobacco hornworm caterpillars in the lab to avoid a nail polish-like odor delivered in association with a mild shock. [...] As adults, they also avoided the nail-polish odor—showing that they had retained their larval memory.
(National Geographic story reporting on this PLoS One article.)

I wonder how one methodologically disentangles memory in the sense of conscious or semi-conscious recall and memory in the sense of encoded during the fixation period of developmental plasticities.