Archive for March, 2013


How to Kill a Phoenix: Problems with an eternal cyclic universe model

March 29, 2013

Nora Boyd

Despite significant criticism, inflation is a fixture of our standard model of cosmology.  Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok have introduced an eternal cyclic model as an alternative, which they claim avoids some of inflation’s most significant afflictions.  Instead of providing a cosmology where the particular features of our universe are in some sense accidental (that is, unexplained by anything other than anthropic reasoning, insofar as that counts as an explanation at all), these theorists hope to demonstrate how the features of our universe are to be expected.  In this talk I will show that such features are “mathematically necessary” according to the cyclic model only if we already agree that the universe cycles eternally with cycles like our own.  I argue that this does not constitute reason to prefer the cyclic model over merely stipulating initial conditions.


Laplacian Determinism and Leibnizian Metaphysics

March 22, 2013

Marij van Strien (Guest WIP)

In this paper I examine the foundations of Laplace’s famous statement of determinism in 1814, and argue that this statement depends on Leibnizian metaphysics. Laplace wrote in 1814 that an intelligence with perfect knowledge of the present state of a system and perfect calculating capacities can predict future states with certainty. It is usually supposed that Laplace derived this statement from his physics, specifically, the statement is thought to be based on the fact that classical mechanics is deterministic: each system in classical mechanics has an equation of motion which has a unique solution. However, Laplace could not have proven this result, since it depends on a theorem about uniqueness of solutions to differential equations that was only developed later on: it was developed by Cauchy in the 1820’s and further refined by Lipschitz in 1876. (Furthermore, the theorem left open the possibility of indeterminism in systems that are not “Lipschitz-continuous”).
I argue that on the basis of his physics, Laplace could not be certain of determinism. However, I argue that there was a strong metaphysical background to Laplace’s determinism. In fact, the only motivation that he explicitly gives for his determinism is Leibniz’ principle of sufficient reason. Furthermore, Laplace was far from the first to argue for determinism, and as I show in this paper, he was also far from the first to do so in terms of an intelligence with perfect knowledge and calculating capacities. In particular, he was very likely influenced by similar statements in D’Holbach and Condorcet. The ideas of both Condorcet and D’Holbach were clearly philosophically motivated; in particular, Condorcet made an appeal to the law of continuity, which was attributed to Leibniz and in turn thought to be derived from the principle of sufficient reason. By tracing out these connections, we can understand how exactly Laplace’s determinism is supported by Leibniz’ principle of sufficient reason.

The WIP email

March 1, 2013

For readers who are not members of the graduate student body here at Pitt, one of the traditions of the WIP talks is for the WIPmaster (responsible for bringing the projector, buying beer etc.) is to announce the WIP talks by humerous group email to the other graduate students.  This weekly test of wit can leave the nerves ragged.  Joe McCaffrey, current master of ceremonies, is a master of the art of the WIP email.  This week’s email deserves preservation for future generations as an exemplar of the heights to which future WIPmasters may aspire.

Tom Pashby

WIP Webmaster

Subject: New WIP on the block

Faithful WIP-folk,
As we all know, sometimes philosophizing about a problem will have a certain distinctive quale.  For example, pondering whether species or psychological constructs are natural kinds feels like trying to staple jello to a wall made of jello while pondering the nature of consciousness feels like trying to build a bridge made out of balsa wood by starting in the middle  of the chasm when you are unsure what two things you are trying to build the bridge between and all you have is a stack of comic books and a waffle iron.  The scientific realism debate, on the other hand, feels like a Mexican standoff* between two brutally armed opponents hell-bent on each other’s doom.  On one hand, the pessimistic meta-induction has a knife to the belly of the no miracles argument.  On the other hand, the no miracles argument has the pessimistic meta-induction’s head lodged in a car door.  For years, it has looked like one or the other would emerge victorious.
Philosophers of science have tried to send various flails, muskets, and trebuchets to the warring arguments, but their results have (in some estimations) resulted in an escalation-without-resolution scenario not unlike the Butter Battle.  While this situation has kept philosophers of science well-fed, it has been unfortunate for the American taxpayers who need to know now whether science really discovers the really real.  Whether it is merely because he loves a good philosophical battle or for some benevolent cause, tomorrow our own Aaron Novick will attempt to disarm both sides of the realism debate to end this standoff for good.  So join us tomorrow, Friday March 1 at 5PM as Aaron gives his first HPS WIP, which promises to be an exciting new take on the scientific realism debate.
* A Mexican standoff is a situation where two or more people have weapons (usually guns and knives) aimed at one another, seemingly to no one’s disadvantage.  The urban dictionary defines it as “the poor man’s mutually assured destruction”
See you then,
Your faithful WIPmasters




Scientific Realism

March 1, 2013

Aaron Novick

My general aim is to refocus the scientific realism debate by suggesting that one major strand—that which negotiates between the pessimistic meta-induction and the no miracles argument—is premised on faulty assumptions. Taking a lesson from Norton’s material theory of induction, I suggest that the warrant for theory choice comes locally and ‘from the ground up’. Consideration of this point undermines assumptions crucial to both realist and anti-realist arguments. Both sides of the negotiation are bluffing; neither has any legitimate claim on our reason.