Archive for the ‘&HPS’ Category


DAY-O-WIPs 3.0

June 16, 2014

“Scales of Motion, Atmospheric Dynamics and Clouds” Marina Baldissera Pacchetti

“William Henry Bragg and the Nature of X-Rays” Haixin Dang


The Problem of Space

May 28, 2014

Joshua Eisenthal

Abstract: I define the Problem of Space as the problem of delimiting the range of candidate geometrical descriptions of physical space. I argue that, ever since the development of non-Euclidean geometries, tackling the Problem of Space has become necessary in order to understand thespatial significance of geometrical structures.

I briefly review the nineteenth century approach to this problem, arriving at the so-called “classical solution”. This solution centered around the claim, advanced by Helmholtz and Poincaré, that candidate physical geometries were just those structures which could represent the free mobility of rigid bodies. As noted originally by Riemann, then argued for by Helmholtz and proved rigorously by Lie, congruence relations which could represent such free mobility existed only in geometries of constant curvature. Helmholtz and Poincaré regarded this fact as providing the means of delimiting the range of spatially significant geometrical structures.

However, I then review how this view was fatally undermined by the development of general relativity. I thus turn to explore the twentieth century solution to the Problem of Space advanced by Hermann Weyl. I conclude by reflecting on the significance of this discussion for a relatively recent dispute regarding the status of the metric field in general relativity. I suggest that this dispute has arisen partially due to a failure to properly appreciate the insights made available by the kind of sophisticated analysis of geometrical concepts exemplified by Weyl’s work. More generally, I argue that the nuances of Weyl’s view demonstrate the importance of engaging with the Problem of Space in interpreting general relativity today.


Four Issues in the History of the Quinarian System

January 24, 2014

Aaron Novick

Abstract: The secondary literature on the Quinarian system in biology, developed in the early 1800s by William Sharp MacLeay, is sparse. As a result, it is beset by insufficiencies. In part, it is simply missing information. All descriptions of the system (that I have read, which is most of them) have left out important aspects that are clear even on a first reading of MacLeay’s main work. In other parts, it is flatly contradictory: no one can agree on MacLeay’s philosophical influences, and the two sentences that exist discussing how the system developed over time are polar opposites. In one part, at least, the story of the Quinarian system’s death, there is a received view. But we cannot breathe easily, because I suspect it is wrong or least only partial. My presentation is aimed at helping me move from this mess to a clear history comp topic. As such, I will isolate four promising issues—what was the Quinarian system?; how was it born?; how did it live?; how did it die?—and then solicit advice on how to proceed.


Realism, Instrumentalism, and Uses of Models in Science

January 13, 2014

Yoichi Ishida

Abstract: This paper argues in support of Howard Stein’s idea that in successful scientific research, a scientist uses a model according to the methodological principles of realism and instrumentalism despite the tension that they create among the scientist’s uses of the model over time. After giving precise formulations of the realist and instrumentalist methodological principles, I argue for my thesis through a detailed analysis of successful scientific research done by Seymour Benzer in the 1950s and 60s. I then argue that epistemic realism or epistemic instrumentalism—forms of realism and instrumentalism familiar in the philosophical literature—by itself prohibits a scientist from adopting both the realist and instrumentalist methodological principles. Stein’s conjecture thus poses new challenges to realists and instrumentalists, and I briefly suggest possible avenues of response that realists and instrumentalists may take.

Reason and Passion in the State of Nature

January 10, 2014
Marcus Adams
Abstract: The relationship of the passions to reason has been a focal point of debate for philosophers generally and for scholars of Thomas Hobbes’s politics in particular. According to one recent view about this relationship, called the “definitional” view, the Laws of Nature in the Leviathan arise independently of the passions as edicts that follow from the command of reason alone, and it is reason that enables humans to escape from the state of nature. Such a view relies upon two widely-held assumptions about Hobbes’s project: first, that it was “scientific” because it was modeled upon a type of geometrical demonstration that began with axioms, such as the definition of a law of nature in Leviathan XIV, and proceeded by deduction to demonstrate the remaining Laws of Nature; and second, that it was grounded in a conception of reason as being in conflict with the passions, a conflict which ought to be resolved by reason’s intervention.
My goal in this paper is to reorient scholarship on Hobbes’s politics by providing a new way of understanding the politics as a science. I argue that Hobbes’s physics sheds light on this issue and clarifies the place of reason and the passions. Specifically, instead of deduction in an axiomatic system, I show that “geometrical” in this context means that one learns causal principles by engaging in a construction beginning with simple bodies and motions. This form of geometrical construction grounds geometry in a thought experiment in De corpore (“On Body”) and provides scientific knowledge of the motions of natural bodies; in the state of nature thought experiment this form of geometrical construction provides scientific knowledge of the passions as the only motions responsible for human action. Understanding the nature of Hobbes’s argumentative structure in Leviathan and De corpore is the key to understanding the relation between reason and the passions. Once this structure is understood, it becomes clear that passions are the only motives for human action.

Day-O-WIPs 1.0

June 11, 2013

An unprecedented workshop-style afternoon packed with  five different WIPs:

“It is a good thing for every man to know a little about astronomy; it will make him a better man” Nora Boyd

“Boundary Conditions, Laws, and Nomological Content in Quantum Scattering Theory” Bihui Li

“From Waveguides to Field Theory” Michael Miller

“Psychiatric Objects in Research and Practice: Introducing the RDoC”  Kathryn Tabb

“Range Content, Attention, and the Precision of Representation” Trey Boone


Realism, Instrumentalism, and Best Scientific Practice

April 12, 2013

Yoichi Ishida

I want to flesh out and explore Howard Stein’s ideas that there are methodological forms of realism and instrumentalism, which are distinct from standard forms of these positions, and that in the practice of science suitably sophisticated realism and instrumentalism should coexist or stand in “a dialectical tension,” as Stein says.