Monday, November 22, 2010

Ken Wharton: A Constructive Principle for Interpreting Quantum Phenomena

SCFS Visiting Fellow Ken Wharton is giving a 'current projects' talk at USyd today (Nov 22) at 1pm in the Philosophy Common Room.
"The ongoing efforts to interpret quantum mechanics typically ignore the Feynman path-integral approach, despite the fact that this mathematics most naturally extends to relativistic quantum field theory. While literally interpreting the path-integral mathematics seems untenable, it is notable that this mathematics implies strong symmetries between experiments that are typically assumed to be unrelated. If one adopts the principle that any underlying ontology must respect these same symmetries (the "action duality"), it turns out that quantum interpretations are strongly constrained. Furthermore, one can use this principle to construct new interpretations by considering pairs of experiments related by this symmetry, particularly cases where interpreting one experiment appears straightforward and the other problematic. The results generally support time-symmetric and retrocausal interpretations. (Joint work with Huw Price, David Miller, and Peter Evans.)"

Monday, September 6, 2010

Charles Wolfe public lecture on La Mettrie

Dr Charles Wolfe, History and Philosophy of Science, Faculty of Science


Julien Offray de La Mettrie, a medical doctor and philosopher was born in Saint-Malo (Brittany) in 1709, and died in 1751 in Berlin, where he was an intellectual-in-residence at Frederick II’s court ... of indigestion, food poisoning, or acute peritonitis after having consumed a whole pheasant pasty with truffles. He had been forced to flee from France and then even from Holland because of his writings, and was one of the most scandalous figures of the Enlightenment. I will focus especially on his best-known work, L’Homme-Machine or Man a Machine (1748), one of the greatest examples of materialist philosophy ever written - in which mind and body are explained as belonging to one material substance, which medical and physiological knowledge sheds light on. How is it that a philosopher admired today by all manner of ‘brain scientists’ was also the hero of the Marquis de Sade? Addressing this sort of question gets us to the heart of Enlightenment materialism.

All are welcome to attend this free series.

Venue: Lecture Theatre 101, Sydney Law School Building, Eastern Avenue, Camperdown Campus
Time: 6.00pm to 7.30 (includes Q & A)
Bookings: Free events, no registration or booking required

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Evolving the Future: An exploration of how evolutionary thinking can inform public policy

Tuesday 28 September 2010, University of Sydney

Evolution is an essential theory for understanding the living world–including our own species. With understanding comes the capacity for improvement. This workshop examines three fields in which the understanding offered by contemporary evolutionary theory may offer practical guidance: conservation, public health, and the urban environment.

The workshop will be led by evolutionary biologist Prof. David Sloan Wilson, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University. Prof. Wilson’s recent books include: Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society and Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives

Attendance at the workshop is limited to 50, to ensure that all participants are able to participate in a meaningful way in our discussions. Amongst the key questions to be addressed are:
• Is evolutionary theory genuinely mature enough to guide practical policy formulation on any or all of these three topics?
• What are the steps that evolutionary scientists can take to get their ideas onto the policy agenda?
• What are the potential pitfalls facing evolutionary scientists as they begin to take their ideas out of the academy and into the policy arena?

To lead the discussion alongside Prof Wilson we have four distinguished Australasian scientists, each with expertise on one of our focal topics:
• Rick Shine, Professor of Evolutionary Biology and ARC Federation Fellow, University of Sydney
• Sir Peter Gluckman, Head, Centre for Human Evolution, Adaptation and Disease, Liggins Institute, University of Auckland and New Zealand Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor
• Stephen Simpson, Professor of Biology and ARC Laureate Fellow, University of Sydney
• Roland Fletcher, Professor of Theoretical and World Archaeology, University of Sydney

For more information and to register, visit the conference website.

Organised by the Centre on the Human Aspects of Science and Technology & the Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science, University of Sydney

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Whitehead lecture at Sydney Ideas

25 August
Peter Farleigh, Physiology, and Centre for Human Aspects of Science and Technology

Venue: Lecture Theatre 101, Sydney Law School Building, Eastern Avenue, Camperdown Campus
Time: 6.00pm to 7.30 (includes Q & A)

What would the consequences be, if rather than substances and structures, we took events and processes to be the primary entities that make up the universe? And what if instead of the traditional mechanistic model we used the concept of the organism, as the key metaphor in our understanding of the world? These are two central questions that Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) wrestled with in his later years. Whitehead of course, was famous for his early collaboration with Bertrand Russell on one of the most important works of mathematics in history—the three volumes of Principia Mathematica. While the two equally shared the work of this heroic attempt to establish a logical foundation for mathematics, it is not commonly known that there had been a fourth volume planned, which Whitehead alone began working on. But what became of the unfinished volume and why was it important for his philosophical development?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Joint Colloquium, USYD-UNSW, Prof Jim Franklin, "Data-free Statistics"

Date: Friday, 20 August, 2010
Time: 2:30 pm
Venue: Room 175 Carslaw Building, University of Sydney

Abstract: Extreme risks must be evaluated in such contexts as quarantine, terrorism and banking. Unfortunately, an extreme risk is one that hasn't happened yet, so directly relevant data is non-existent. The talk surveys what is done in the Basel II compliance regime in banking and in Australian quarantine risk analysis, where there are formal processes for using small data sets to keep expert opinion honest. The usefulness of Extreme Value Theory is considered. Extreme risks raise in acute form the "reference class problem", of how to decide what is the right class in which to take statistics to bear on an individual case. The views of philosophers and legal theorists on the reference class problem are canvassed.

Enquires to Thomas Britz.

All welcome.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Current Projects seminar: Carlo Martini

Carlo Martini, who is visiting the SCFS from its partner institution, TiLPS, The Netherlands, will be giving a paper on the problem of disagreement and consensus: "A Puzzle About Belief Updating."

Philosophy Common Room (USYD)
Monday 2 Aug, 1-2.30pm

Thursday, July 15, 2010

International Ideas lecture: "Writing Science Lives" with Janet Browne, Harvard History of Science

What do we learn when we revisit scientists’ past worlds? How might one write a life as famous as Charles Darwin’s? Why is biography the best-selling genre of all? Pre-eminent Darwin scholar and Harvard Professor of the History of Science Janet Browne, talks with Sydney’s prizewinning historian Professor Iain McCalman, about the challenges and delights of the biographical genre for historians. In conversation with Alison Bashford, this is an evening that probes the intellectual life of these keen observers and interpreters of the world of Victorian science

The Seymour Centre, University of Sydney
12 August 2010, 6.30pm

More information here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The programs for the AAHPSSS 2010 conference is available here:

AAHPSSS 2010 conference program

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"What is HPS for?"

The program for this workshop later in June is very interesting and worth a look. One theme is the relations between HPS and science policy. This is the fifth in a series of Workshops on 'integrated history and philosophy of science' involving a good part of the UK's HPS community.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

AAHPSSS conference

Last days to submit an abstract for the AAHPSSS conference, which runs 9-11 July, 2010 at the University of Sydney....

More information here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

John Wilkins in the UK media

Our erstwhile colleague John Wilkins' ever-active blog attracts still more attention in The Guardian newspaper.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Elliott Sober on ABC TV

The video of Elliott Sober's lecture to a packed room on Darwin, Evolution, and Intelligent Design is now available on ABC TV's website, and is embedded below. An audio podcast is on the linked website, and also from the University of Sydney's podcast page.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Elliott Sober on ABC Radio

Recent Visiting Fellow Professor Elliott Sober was a guest on ABC Radio National's program, The Philosopher's Zone. Interviewed by Dr Alan Saunders, Professor Sober discussed intelligent design and Darwin. The podcast and transcript may be found here.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Reflections on the 2010 Sydney-Tilburg conference

The Sydney contingent is now all back home, having been variously delayed by the Icelandic ash cloud. The third Sydney-Tilburg conference was extremely successful - the most exciting so far, at least for me. The conference topic was 'The Future of Philosophy of Science' and on the last day of the conference we held an open discussion of this issue for all conference participants. Here are some of the themes from that discussion:

There was general agreement that the increasing specialisation of philosophy of science (hereafter PoS) is a problem. This is in part a consequence of the increased attention to the actual science in recent PoS. Hence work in philosophy of biology, or of economics, now assumes the kind of detailed knowledge of the actual science that philosophy of physics always has. But now, of course, we do not now all share the common background in one science (selected areas of physics) that earlier philosophers of science could draw on.

Jan Sprenger suggested that statistics and probability could act as unifying themes for PoS, given their importance right across the sciences, and their place at the heart of current models of confirmation, explanation, etc in PoS itself. But some participants argued that these formalisms were simply not that important in the sciences with which those participants were concerned. For example, although statistics are very important in bioinformatics, it is unclear that this is an important focus for work in the philosophy of the molecular biosciences, and recent work on that field has certainly not focused on issues in statistical inference.

Michael Friedmann and others pointed to the increasing importance of HOPOS (History of Philosophy of Science) as a part of the discipline of PoS. There was general agreement that this is the case, and, indeed, there were a remarkable number of papers looking at the ideas of Carnap at this conference. I myself wondered if PoS was not starting to work as many areas of philosophy traditionally have, analysing core problems through reading and interpreting earlier philosopher's work on those problems. Carnap in particular might play the role in future PoS that Kant or Hume do to general epistemology. The HOPOS approach has obvious potential to act as a unifying theme for the discipline.

Friedmann also pointed to the ambitions of early 20th century philosophers of science to do much more than offer a specialist philosophy of science, and in fact to reshape the whole of philosophy into a new, 'scientific philosophy'. Philosophy of science would thus be a central topic in philosophy because science matters to philosophy - to all of philosophy.

Another recent 'movement' within PoS had been so-called 'integrated History and Philosophy of Science' or iHPS. As I understand it, the idea is to repair the near-divorce between recent work in history of science and recent work in philosophy of science by encouraging philosophers of science to make historical research on the sciences they study an integral part of their own work. This sort of approach was not much in evidence at the actual meeting, so I asked for a straw poll of people in the room who saw historical research as an integral part of their own work in PoS. About half of the participants thought this was true of themselves.

One more strand of discussion concerned the role - and obligation - of PoS to interpret science for broader audiences. In the conference itself Massimo Pigliucci had outlined a role for PoS as 'science criticism', and there was some support in the room for the idea that PoS should seek to critically expound the significance of science to wider audiences.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Senior Research Fellow position

The Centre for Values, Ethics and Law in Medicine at University of Sydney is currently looking for a 0.6 FTE senior research fellow to work on a Clinical Ethics project for 2 years. The position would be suitable for someone with extensive experience in qualitative research and project management, from a discipline such as bioethics, health social sciences, medical humanities or other related areas. Details are available here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Elliot Sober, Sydney Ideas Open lecture

Current University of Sydney International Visiting Fellow, Hans Reichenbach Professor Elliott Sober (University of Wisconsin), will be giving a Sydney Ideas Open lecture on "Darwin and Intelligent Design," on Thursday, 22 April. For further information, click here.

Venue: Sydney Law School foyer, Eastern Avenue, Camperdown Campus.
Time: Thursdays 6.00pm to 7.00pm
Format: 40 minute lecture followed by 20 minute Q & A
Recording: Audio podcasts will be available three days after the lecture
Cost: This is a free series, and all are welcome. No RSVP or registration is needed, please just turn up.

Kristie Miller, presenting paper at University of Wollongong

Kristie Miller (USyd) will be presenting at the University of Wollongong Philosophy Research Seminar series next Tuesday. All are welcome to attend.

Title: "Motion, laws and plenitude: Are there objects to which the laws of nature do not apply?"

When & where: April 20th, 5:30pm in room 19.1003

Abstract: It is a natural to assume that the domain of the concrete objects is coextensive with the domain of the objects to which the natural laws apply, and therefore that if we can find any concrete object that is at rest and does not stay at rest unless acted on by a net force, then we have found something that violates the law of inertia. Recently, however, this assumption has been challenged. The locus of this challenge has come from a number of metaphysicians who sign up for what I will call a plenitudinous ontology. Given a plenitudinous ontology, a great number of entities seem to be ones that violate one or other law of nature.Friends of plenitude have responded by conceding that the entities in question do violate the laws in question, and suggesting that the correct response is to distinguish two different kinds of concrete entity: the ones to which the laws apply, and the ones to which they do not. In this paper I advocate an alternative strategy according to which when the laws are properly understood, no concrete entity in the plenitudinous ontology ever violates those laws.

Elliott Sober (Hans Reichenbach Professor, University of Wisconsin), "Darwin on Group Selection"

April 19th 2010
6pm – 8pm
(marked ‘Teaching’ on map)

Sydney-Tilburg "The Future of Philosophy of Science" conference

Several SCFS researchers are currently in The Netherlands this week, presenting papers at the Sydney-Tilburg conference on the The Future of Philosophy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

USyd Foundations of Physics Seminar: Wed 31st Mar

University of Sydney Foundations of Physics Seminars ( Wednesday, 31st March, 11:30am-1pm

Speaker: Pete Evans (University of Sydney)

Title: Sufficient structure for a dynamic view of time

"The traditional metaphysical debate between static and dynamic views in the

philosophy of time is examined in light of considerations concerning the

nature of time in physical theory. A sentiment commonly expressed in the

literature is that both static and dynamic views of time are consistent with

Minkowski's formulation of special relativity (in terms of Minkowski

spacetime). Adapting the formalism of Rovelli (1995, 2004), I set out a

precise framework in which to characterise some of the various

representations of time that we find in both physical theory and philosophy.

This framework is used to provide a new perspective on the argument for the

compatibility of the dynamic view of time and the special theory of

relativity. The origin of this compatibility is the dual representations of

time we find in special relativity. I extend this analysis to the general

theory of relativity with a view to prescribing the sufficiency conditions

that must be met for the dynamic view of time to be consistent with

classical physics."

Philosophy Common Room, Room S413, A14 Main Quad,

University of Sydney

1st annual workshop of the Early Modern Science Group

Charles Wolfe is organising the first annual workshop of the Early Modern Science group, to be held May 28. Further information can be obtained from Charles Wolfe.

The Body as Object and Instrument of Knowledge

Congratulations to Charles T. Wolfe and Ofer Gal on the publication of their edited book, The Body as Object and Instrument of Knowledge: Embodied Empiricism in Early Modern Science, available through Springer.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

CFP: Workshop on "Composition, constitution, and mereology," Otago University

The Philosophy Department, Otago University is hosting a one day workshop on "Composition, constitution, and mereology" to take place on Saturday, 5 June 2010. Invited speakers include former SCFS visiting fellow Patrick Greenough and SCFS researcher Kristie Miller. Abstracts can be sent to by 16 April.

"Credence, experts and executive summaries," talk by John Cusbert

Abstract: The credence you assign to a proposition is an important part of your epistemic attitude toward that proposition. But it's not the whole story. Another important factor is the stability of your credence: roughly the extent to which you expect it to change as you acquire new evidence. Expert probability functions -- be they the credences of your trusted weather forecaster, the credences of your future self or the objective chances -- serve to guide your credences to particular values. But they also serve to stabilize your credences, relative to particular types of evidence. By exploring this feature, I think we can better understand the relationship between credence and expert opinion, including the relationship between credence and objective chance.


22 March 1 - 2:30 pm


University of Sydney philosophy common room

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Philip Adams interviews Robert Olby

If you missed Robert Olby's lecture 'Francis Crick, Hunter of Life's Secrets' on Tuesday there was a very nice interview with Phillip Adams on Late Night Live which is available as a podcast here

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"The Status of the Fact-Value Distinction in the Teleological Sciences," talk by Jack Justus

Jack will be speaking in the Refectory, Wed 10 March, 3.30 - 5.00 pm.

Unlike descriptive sciences that are principally concerned with discovering, describing, and explaining phenomena, environmental sciences pursue more immediate goals, such as providing scientific bases for the preservation of biodiversity and natural resources. What distinguishes sciences of this kind from descriptive science is their emphasis on achieving non-epistemic objectives humans consider valuable. They can be labeled ‘teleological’ for this reason. Recent analyses have suggested teleological sciences are value-laden in a strong sense: attempts to demarcate the function of facts and values within them are misguided and obscure rather than illuminate their structure. In fact, the claim that values inextricably permeate teleological sciences has recently been taken to challenge the view that a “gap” exists between facts and values, the gap widely believed to explain why, for example, determining what agents should do is distinct from studying what they actually do and why they do it. These claims are overstated. Teleological sciences are better conceptualized as having a conditional form where stipulated goals reflecting ethical values set much of their general structure and methodologies, but in which this influence can be demarcated from the factual status of claims made within them. The conditional nature of teleological sciences makes this demarcation possible, and helps clarify the function of values in science in general.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Eliminating innateness with Paul Griffiths

Paul Griffiths will be talking about some recent issues arising from recent work seeking to resurrect the folk concept of innateness by defending either an explicative or stipulative definition.

Monday March 8 1 pm - 230 pm
University of Sydney philosophy common room

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mark Colyvan on Gödel on ABC's Philosopher's Zone

Mark Colyvan, SCFS Director, was recently on Alan Saunder's excellent ABC radio program and podcast, The Philosopher's Zone. Allan is an advisor to the SCFS, and Kurt Gödel was the topic of their conversation. The podcast (and the transcript) is available for download from The Philosopher's Zone website.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sydney-Tilburg "The Future of Philosophy of Science" conference

The program for the joint SCFS-TiLPS conference, "The Future of Philosophy of Science," to be held on March 15 2010 at Tilburg is now available.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sydney International Ideas lecture by Robert Olby

Professor Olby will be giving a Sydney International Ideas lecture on "Francis Crick: Who was the Man Who Discovered DNA?"

Tuesday 9 March 2010, 6.30pm
Seymour Theatre Centre
$20 Adult / $15 Concession

Click here for further information.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

2010 AAP Conference

Early bird registration and call for papers are now open for the 2010 Australasian Association of Philosophy (AAP) Conference, to be held at UNSW, 4-9 July 2010.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Australasian Postgraduate Philosophy Conference 2010

Registrations for the AAPC are now open.

University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
7-9 April, 2010
"The Trans-Disciplinary Nature of Philosophy"

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lecture by Hans Pols: "Notes from Batavia, the European's Graveyard"

SCFS Researcher in History and Philosophy of Medicine, Hans Pols, will be giving a lecture on "Notes from Batavia, the European's Graveyard: the Debate on Acclimatisation in the Dutch East Indies, 1820-1860," this Saturday, 30 Jan, at 2pm, to the Australian and New Zealand Society of the History of Medicine.

Large Conference Room (4.2)
Level 4, Kerry Packer Education Centre
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
Johns Hopkins Drive

Soon after the conquest of Batavia in 1619, the city was nicknamed the “graveyard of Europeans” because of the unusually high mortality rate of soldiers and merchants there. Consequently, the Dutch East Indies company (VOC) maintained as few soldiers and officials there as possible. After the demise of the VOC in 1799, Batavia developed into a city of sorts—and the issue whether the Indies were suitable for European habitation came to dominate medical and civil discussions. Willem Bosch, the founder of the Batavia medical school in 1851 and chief of the Indies Civil Health Service, had calculated that European civilians who moved to the Indies sacrificed 60% of their life expectancy, while for soldiers it was a staggering 80%. A number of local physicians protested against these views by arguing that Europeans could maintain their health by following a set of sensible rules. They believed that special attention should be given to individuals who had arrived recently, because they would be unusually vulnerable to disease during the period of acclimatisation.
In this paper I will analyse the often acerbic discussions between the advocates of these different perspectives, which was conducted in the first volumes of the first magazine that appeared in the Indies. Participants in this debate were the aforementioned Willem Bosch; the German explorer Franz Junghuhn, who charted volcanos and produced the first map of Java; the irascible German physician Carl Waitz, who later advocated the water-cure as a panacea; Cornelis Swaving, a physician known for his impenetrable prose; and Pieter Bleeker, a physician who later became famous as an ichthyologist.

The Darwin Show

A link to an article in the London Review of Books on 2009, the year of Darwin's anniversary, "history's biggest birthday party."
(Via Charles Wolfe.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New article

SCFS Honorary associate Zach Weber, who is about to take up a position at the University of Melbourne, has recently published an article: "Transfinite Numbers in Paraconsistent Set Theory," in Review of Symbolic Logic.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

PhD position at Tilburg

The Department of Philosophy and the Tilburg Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science (a partner of the SCFS) has recently advertised a PhD position. The advertisement reads:

The Department of Philosophy and the Tilburg Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science (TiLPS) invite applications for a three-year full-time PhD position, commencing September 1, 2010. The successful candidate is expected to work on a topic from the philosophy of science (including general philosophy of science, formal philosophy of science, philosophy of economics, and philosophy of psychology) and complete a PhD thesis within three years. The salary for a full-time employment agreement increases from 2.042 Euro gross a month in the first year to 2.492 Euro gross a month in the last year. The position is open to candidates with a master’s degree or equivalent in philosophy and an interest in working in a very active international and interdisciplinary research environment. Candidates are invited to submit a letter of interest, a curriculum vitae, a research proposal of 1000 to 2000 words, certificates, a transcript of courses taken (including grades), and two letters of recommendation. Please send your application package to PhD Position Search Committee, c/o P & O, Department of Philosophy, Tilburg University, Warandelaan 2, P.O. 90153, 5000 LE Tilburg, The Netherlands, or email to <> . The deadline for applications is April 15, 2010. Please mention the vacancy number 500.10.01 in your letter. Informal enquiries may be directed to Professor Stephan Hartmann (email: S.Hartmann “at” <> ).

Monday, January 4, 2010

Propositions and Same-Saying Workshop

Macquarie University, Sydney

Monday 18 January, 2010


David Chalmers (ANU), Susanna Schellenberg (ANU), Jonathan Schaffer (ANU), Laura Schroeter (Melbourne), Dave Ripley (Institut Nicod, Paris), Lionel Shapiro (USyd / UConn), Tama Coutts (Melbourne).

There's titles and a preliminary timetable here. More information will be added to the website nearer the date.

Propositions play a foundational role in many areas of philosophy, but what are they? Is there a single class of things that serve as the objects of belief, the bearers of truth, and the meanings of utterances? How do our utterances express propositions? Under what conditions do two speakers say the same thing, and what (if anything) does this tell us about the nature of propositions?

This workshop, consisting of 7 talks by some of Australia's best philosophers, will address these questions and more. It will cover topics in philosophy of language, perception, and metaphysics.

Registration is free but places are limited, so please email Mark Jago (mark.jago at if you'd like to attend. Coffee, biscuits and cake will be provided. A picnic lunch is available at a small fee (to cover costs) for those who RSVP.

Organized by Rachael Briggs (Centre for Time, University of Sydney), Albert Atkin (Macquarie) and Mark Jago (Macquarie).

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Oxygen of publicity

Catching up on journals after Xmas reveals that some associates of the SCFS have been afforded the oxygen of publicity.

Idan Ben Barak's book The Invisible Kingdom (Australian edition Small Wonders) is recommended in the December 11th issue of Science (p.1485).

Karola Stotz and I were captured by the paparazzi at a human nature workshop and the picture appeared in the December 17th edition of Nature (p.841). But we are only part of the entourage - the caption says 'John Dupre and his team'. The Nature article is an interesting discussion of the results of UKs 21 million pound investment in 'genomics in society' research, including an extended discussion of the value of philosophy in that context.