History of Science and Technology/Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science Colloquium

All future


Friday, October 27th 2017
Speaker: C. Kenneth Waters, Department of Philosophy - University of Calgary
Subject: An Epistemology of Scientific Investigation
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Basic accounts of scientific knowledge typically present it as a system for representing the world, often as a system that represents the fundamental structure of the world. This talk presents science as a system centered on investigating the world. It begins by posing the metaphysical possibility that the world has no fundamental structure. The world seems to have lots of structures, but perhaps it has no overall, general structure that spans scales. The talk continues by examining how geneticists and allied biologists systematically investigate, manipulate, and explain aspects of such a world. It shows that the systematicity of these investigations depends on strategies for manipulating and learning about aspects of parts of the world; it does not depend on scientists having a representation of the overall structure of these parts. The talk concludes that we can dispense with the assumption that the parts of the world investigated by these scientists have a general overall structure to be represented. These parts of the world have lots of structure, and investigation depends on them having lots of structure, but it does not depend on them having a general, overall structure.


Friday, November 3rd 2017
Speaker: Darin Hayton, Department of History - Haverford College
Subject: Astrology from University Lecture to Print Culture
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

n 1502 Conrad Tockler became a professor of astrology at the University of Leipzig. Manuscript copies of his lectures on a range of astrological topics and techniques survive as do a number of printed works, ranging from technical treatises on instruments to popular wall calendars and annual prognostications. Tockler’s lecture notes give us a fascinating glimpse into the concrete practices of teaching astrology at the early modern university, while his printed works help us recover the broader uses for astrological literature. Taken together, these materials reveal how Tockler extended a coherent astrological program from the exclusive university lecture hall to wider audiences for printed astrological pamphlets.

Co-sponsored with the Center for Early Modern History and the Center for Austrian Studies


Friday, November 10th 2017
Speaker: Rob DiSalle, Department of Philosophy - Western University
Subject: Absolute Space, Relative Motion, and the Method of Newtonian Physics
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Philosophical discussions of Newton’s theory of absolute space and motion generally focus on metaphysical questions that were raised by philosophical critics, such as Leibniz, who emphasized the relativity of motion. Such discussions generally overlook the fact that, in the course of developing his dynamics, Newton himself pursued the problem of the relativity of motion further than his opponents realized. While they defended the relativity of motion as a general principle, only Newton developed what ought to be called a theory of relativity: a systematic theoretical account of what is objective in the description of physical interactions, and a principled distinction between the objective properties and those that depend on the choice of a frame of reference. On this basis Newton articulated, more clearly than his contemporaries, the conceptual revisions imposed by the relativity of motion on prevailing notions of force, inertia, and causality. Indeed, the history of his thinking shows that Newton introduced the theory of absolute space precisely in order to articulate his theory of relativity, and to apply it to the outstanding problem of “the frame of system of the world.


Friday, November 17th 2017
Speaker: Molly Kao, Department of Philosophy - University of Montreal
Subject: Unification and Heuristic Strategies in the Development of Quantum Theory
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In this talk, Dr. Kao provides a heuristic conception of the feature of unification in the context of developing scientific theories. She argues that the value of a unifying hypothesis is not necessarily that of its ability to explain phenomena, nor must it be that it is more likely to be true. Instead, unifying hypotheses can be valuable because they guide experimental research in different domains in such a way that the results from those experiments contribute to our understanding of a theory under pursuit. Dr. Kao supports this characterization by appealing to the early development of quantum theory.


Friday, December 1st 2017
Speaker: Nora Berenstain, Department of Philosophy - University of Tennessee-Knoxville
Subject: Active Ignorance and the Rhetoric of Biological Race Realism
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Biological race realism is frequently assumed in scientific investigations into presumed connections between race and physical and psychological features such as intelligence, temperament, criminality, and athleticism. I analyze ways scientists and philosophers actively cultivate ignorance surrounding biological race science by using rhetorical tools to portray critiques of biological race realism as in opposition to science itself. These rhetorical strategies involve painting substantive scientific criticisms—such as questions about empirical and methodological issues with data interpretation, unjustified background assumptions, and failure to rule out alternative explanations of data—as motivated purely by ideological concerns. These rhetorical strategies invoke an assumed distinction between epistemic and non-epistemic values in science and misrepresent criticisms of biological race realism as existing wholly outside the realm of epistemic values.


Friday, December 8th 2017
Speaker: Andy Bruno
Subject: Eurasianism in Soviet Science: The Environmental Views of Aleksandr Fersman
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

Thoroughly a product of imperial Russia’s aristocratic culture, the mineralogist and geochemist Aleksandr Fersman rose to the top of the country’s scientific establishment after the Bolsheviks took control. He then remained a staunch supporter of various industrial projects through much of the Stalinist period. This talk puts Fersman’s thinking about the natural world in conversation with a quite distinctive mode of intellectual inquiry that developed contemporaneously. Eurasianism was a philosophical doctrine of a group of Russian émigrés who emphasized Russia’s unique status straddling Europe and Asia. While Fersman did not belong to this group of thinkers, a number of his ideas drew on specific experiences in the environments of the Eurasian landmass. Indeed, I argue that Fersman’s dualistic understanding of nature, his advocacy for the field of geochemistry, his definition of deserts, and a scheme he proposed for industrial operations owed much to the Eurasian settings of the science he practiced. Furthermore, this case of a Eurasian mineralogist illuminates novel aspects of the interplay between national and global sciences.

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