Monday, March 30, 2009
This year the axis is expanding. Anyone interested in matters logical is invited. We will be meeting in Adelaide over the weekend of May 9.
From Melbourne you can expect Graham Priest, Greg Restall and Ross Brady. In Adelaide you can expect Chris Mortensen and his school, who do (among other things) some intriguing work on impossible pictures: http://www.hss.adelaide.edu.au/philosophy/inconsistent-images/.
You can present a talk, or just listen in. It's always interesting good fun.
For more information, contact me (zweber [at] usyd.edu.au).
Friday, March 27, 2009
Bacon v. the Projector: Vernacular Perspectives on Technological Invention in Early Modern England
Visiting Scholar, Department of Science & Technology Studies, Cornell University
Visiting Scholar, Unit for History & Philosophy of Science, University of Sydney
Judging from their depiction in the vernacular literature, inventors in early modern London were about as well regarded as Wall Street executives are in the United States today. Seventeenth-century stage comedies, poems and pamphlets present, on the whole, a distinctly negative attitude—a cynical and derisive attitude—towards technological inventors. One character type in particular that embodied this negative stereotype: the projector (or projectress)—“one whose head is full of projects”. Following the literary trail of the projector brings the historian to a little-used vantage point from which to consider the place of invention and inventors in the culture of the period. Far from being the exclusive domain of savants, it seems anyone might try his or her hand at invention. Reports and claims about new inventions were commonplace—common enough, at least, to be the subject of parody. And inventors themselves were closely associated with the Crown, capital investment schemes, and, above all, the much maligned patent system. Overall, what we get is a clear picture of the challenges that would have been faced by anyone seeking to establish authority, expertise, or trustworthiness in the realm of technology-making. On a different level, this vantage point is in direct contrast to that which one obtains by following the trail left by the influential work of Francis Bacon and Samuel Hartlib. Opposing they may be, the two perspectives were undoubtedly in dialogue. I would argue that these widespread negative portrayals of invention are key to explaining why Baconian rhetoric gained the force that it did among the elite of mid-seventeenth-century London.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
Life of Charles Darwin by George Thomas Bettany (1887)
An early biography.
Medicine in Virginia, 1607-1699 by Thomas P. Hughes (1957)
It's the 17th century in the new colonies and humoral theory is waning, while illnesses and their putative causes and management are among the strongest social and political forces. Lots of quotations from original sources, like:
In September the weather usually breaks suddenly, and there falls generally very considerable rains. When the weather breaks many fall sick, this being the time of an endemical sickness, for seasonings, cachexes, fluxes, scorbutical dropsies, gripes, or the like which I have attributed to this reason. That by the extraordinary heat, the ferment of the blood being raised too high, and the tone of the stomach relaxed, when the weather breaks the blood palls, and like overfermented liquors is depauperated, or turns eager and sharp, and there's a crude digestion, whence the name distempers may be supposed to ensue.Among the most deadly and universal diseases is Seasoning, which appears seasonally in July and August and affects nearly all new arrivals from Europe.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
There is an extraordinary article by the sociologist of science Harry Collins in Nature last week.
Collins argues that social scientists and humanists have undermined public confidence in science to such an extent that we now have some serious social and political problems as a result of this. He presents himself as the sensible middle way between science worship and science scepticism. Frankly, this is a bit like Martin Luther offering to 'mediate' in the thirty years war.
The elephant in the room here is traditional, mainstream history and philosophy of science, so Collins has to pretend that for the past thirty years the only people in humanities and social science writing about science have been people like himself. He does this by describing traditional HPS as a ‘first wave of science studies’ which was superceded by people like him in the 1970s. This 'earlier' approach was a product of post-Second World War confidence in science, and culminated with Karl Popper (he suggests it was his work that really sank Popper!)
The villains of Collins' article are 'postmodernists' whose relativism has sapped public confidence in science. He claims that he was simply misinterpreted by these people to support their case.In a breathtakingly self-serving twist Collins gives as an example of 'postmodernism' "a philosopher acting as an expert witness in a court case in the United States [who] claimed that the scientific method, being so ill-defined, could support creationism". The person in question is, of course, Steve Fuller, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick, who has since written a book defending his position at the trial. Fuller has degrees in History and Sociology and in History and Philosophy of Science. For twenty-one of the past twenty-four years he has held appointments in Sociology or Science and Technology Studies. Philosophers of science were actively involved in the trial as witnesses and advisors, but all on the other side.
You have to give it to Collins for chutzpah, but it would be a travesty if he were to succeed in getting this fantasy accepted by scientists.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
The Social Function of Self-Representation: From Adam Smith to Cognitive Neuroscience
Unit for History & Philosophy of Science, University of
The HPS Research Seminars will take place, as always, on Mondays at 6, in Carslaw 450 (the Faculty of Science meeting room).