Archive for October, 2016


“How to Stop Worrying about Model Microfoundationality: Lessons from Multiscale Cancer Modeling” (10/31/16)

October 31, 2016

Jacob Neal

Abstract: Microfoundational or bottom-up models aim to reproduce high-scale behavior of a system by modeling interactions between lower-scale entities. Epstein and Forber (2013) posit five virtues of microfoundational models, claiming they have advantages over other model types. I argue that bottom-up modeling is not so special. The virtues Epstein and Forber associate with microfoundational models are not exclusive to bottom-up models. Analysis of cancer modeling shows that middle-out modeling that spans multiple spatial and temporal scales also embodies these virtues. These virtues cannot differentiate between bottom-up and middle-out modeling, thereby suggesting we ought to be pluralists with respect to biological modeling.


“Darwin reading Macleay: a re-assessment”(10/27/16)

October 27, 2016

Aaron Novick

Abstract: It has long been recognized that, from July 1837 to November 1838, Darwin engaged extensively with William Sharp Macleay’s quinarian system of classification. His species notebooks are full of attempts to explain how the strange patterns “discovered” by the quinarians could have appeared plausible. But there is a puzzle. The first indication that Darwin actually read any of Macleay’s work does not appear until February 1838. By this time, Darwin’s opinion of the quinarian system had taken a decided turn for the worse. And indeed, in his comments on Macleay’s work that he had read, we see little attempt to further develop his explanations (away) of the quinarian system. Nonetheless, he read a great deal of Macleay’s work at this time. Why did he do so, if his interest in the quinarian system was waning? I argue that what Darwin found interesting in Macleay’s work was not his defense of the quinarian system, but his views on more general topics: (a) the distinction between humans and animals, (b) the distinction between species and varieties, and (c) the methodology of classification. I suggest, further, that Darwin’s reflections on Macleay’s methodology led to a shift in Darwin’s thinking that persisted into the Origin.


“Vivisection and Cross-Species Inference in Nineteenth-Century Physiology” (10/27/16)

October 27, 2016
Zina B. Ward
Abstract: The rise of experimental physiology in the nineteenth century sparked lively debate about whether experiments on living non-human animals could be used to gain insight into human physiology. A key contributor to these discussions in France was physiologist Claude Bernard, who believed strongly in the legitimacy of cross-species inference in vivisection, writing in his (1865) Introduction à l’étude de la médecine expérimentale that, “all results obtained on animals may be perfectly conclusive for man when we know how to experiment properly.” In this paper I trace French thought about cross-species inference through the early and mid-nineteenth century, arguing that Bernard’s striking confidence reflected the attitudes of the scientific and medical elites by the 1860s. This consensus, however, emerged in the absence of any overarching theoretical justification of cross-species inference. Bernard’s innovation, I suggest, was in trying to articulate such a justification using the category of “fundamental properties.” Bernard’s proposal, and the discussions about cross-species inference to which it contributed, left a mark not only on the disciplines that employ such extrapolations, but also on organized criticism of vivisection in the second half of the century.

“Causally Interpreting Hodgkin and Huxley” (10/21/16)

October 21, 2016

Evan Pence

Abstract: The import of Hodgkin and Huxley’s classic model of the action potential has been hotly debated in recent years. In particular, there has been controversy surrounding claims by prominent proponents of mechanistic explanation (Bogen, 2008; Craver, 2008). For these authors, the Hodgkin-Huxley (HH) model is an excellent predictive tool but ultimately lacks causal/explanatory import. What is more, they claim that this is how Hodgkin and Huxley themselves saw the model. In the following, I argue that these claims rest on a problematic reading of the work. Hodgkin and Huxley’s model is both causal and, in an important sense, explanatory.


“Exploratory Experimentation in Neuroscience: The Gendered Connectome” (10/21/16)

October 21, 2016

Morgan Thompson

Abstract: I argue that distinctions from philosophy of experimentation should enter the debate about the existence and extent of sex/gender differences in the brain, and in particular, the connectome—macroscale network models of human brain organization. Sex/gender difference studies have features associated with exploratory experiments: use of wide instruments, large data sets, lack of local guiding theory or hypotheses, and the goal of discovery of empirical regularities. In exploratory experimentation as opposed to hypothesis-driven experimentation, researchers are more likely to interpret their findings according to folk psychology of gender.


“The accident of explanation” (10/18/16)

October 18, 2016

Fons Dewulf (Ghent)

Abstract: In this presentation I investigate the 20th century emergence of the philosophical inquiry into explanation. I challenge the standard history of explanation written by Wesley Salmon. I argue that our modern concept of explanation forms a radical break with previous modes of thinking about science – and that Hempel’s motivations for introducing the modern concept of explanation are, at least historically, unclear. I conclude that the current mainstream view, that science explains, is historically contingent and in need of more critical scrutiny.

My investigation starts from Hempel’s first use of the concept of explanation in his paper “The Function of general Laws in History” from 1942. Contrary to the standard reading, I argue that this paper is not about explanation as we now know it. On my reading, Hempel does not claim anything about historical explanation. Instead, he argues that the historical sciences use general laws in a similar way as the natural sciences contrary to the dominant view within contemporary German neokantian philosophy. Whenever Hempel talks about explanation and introduces the deductive nomological inference, he is presenting it as a formal mode of subsumption, which also serves as the methodological unity of science. My reading of this paper is supported by two different types of evidence. On the one hand, there are many passages in Hempel’s paper that only make sense as a reaction against specific German neokantians, namely Windelband, Rickert and Dilthey. On the other hand, the first reception of the 1942 paper also understands Hempel’s argument in this way. To prove this last point I investigate the first reaction against Hempel’s paper written in 1943 by Paul Oskar Kristeller.

Next, I show how the modern concept of explanation emerges in Hempel’s and Oppenheim’s 1948 paper “The Logic of scientific Explanation”. This paper radically shifts the underlying conception of science that was inherent in logical empiricist philosophy of science up until that time. Moreover, Hempel and Oppenheim do not seem to recognize this shift. I argue for this by, first, giving a short overview of the anti-explanatory vibes of early 20th European philosophy of science in Duhem, Poincaré and Cassirer. Second, I show how Hempel’s use of the deductive nomological account in 1942 is still in line with these vibes. Next, I argue that the 1948 paper introduces a radical shift which, however, goes unrecognized by Hempel himself.


“Georges Lemaître and observations in relativistic cosmology building” (10/14/16)

October 14, 2016

Siska De Baerdemaeker

Abstract: This paper demonstrates how Georges Lemaître’s “observation first”-methodology was a unique approach to the role of observations in early twentieth century cosmology. During the early days of relativistic cosmology, observations played a dubious role. Einstein’s lack of attention to observational data is often contrasted to de Sitter’s, Tolman’s, Eddington’s or Lemaître’s attitude. Although this contrast is not wrong, it is crude and doesn’t do justice to Georges Lemaître’s extreme concern with empirical adequacy. This paper will argue for Lemaître’s unique attitude by focusing on the development of his first and his final model of the evolution of the universe. While the first episode demonstrates his concern with empirical adequacy, it is the latter that shows how extreme his concern with empirical adequacy was, and how different it was from some of the more moderate views of, for example, de Sitter, Tolman or Eddington.