Program in History and Philosophy of Science and Technology
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History of Science Colloquia

Colloquia 2011-12

The colloquium meets generally three times per quarter on Thursdays at 4:15 in the Lane History Building, Room 307, unless noted below.

  • Structuralism in Philosophy of Physics: Alternatives to Realism

    October 6 - 8th, 2011

    Stanford Humanities Center, 424 Santa Teresa St., Stanford CA

  • Ian Burney, University of Manchester, UK

    "Spaces and Traces: The Making of the Modern Crime Scene"

    noon, October 10, 2011
    location: History 307

    Please RSVP for lunch to


  • Richard Healey, Department of Philosophy, University of Arizona

    November 10, 2011

    4:15pm, Room 217 of History Building 200

    "Quantum Theory without Beables: a Desert Pragmatist View"

    Abstract: J.S. Bell introduced the term 'beable' to apply to things "which can be described in 'classical terms', because they are there." By 'classical terms', he "refers simply to the familiar language of everyday affairs, including laboratory procedures, in which objective properties—beables—are assigned to objects." Finding contemporary formulations of quantum theory frustratingly vague because these mention local observables but no local beables, Bell proved that predictions of a "serious" theory of local beables meeting a condition of local causality conflict with experimentally confirmed predictions of quantum theory. Some take this to mean that any acceptable account of these experimental results must involve non-local causation that is in serious tension with relativity. I maintain, on the contrary, that quantum theory's lack of beables helps explain these results locally and in harmony with relativity. Neither quantum states nor Born probabilities describe "what is there", while acceptance of quantum theory even undermines Bell's claim that "The beables must include the settings of switches and knobs on experimental equipment, the currents in coils, and the readings of instruments".

  • Robert Batterman, Department of Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh

    November 17, 2011

    4:15pm, Room 217 of History Building 200

    "The Tyranny of Scales"

    Abstract: This paper examines a fundamental problem in applied mathematics. How can one model the behavior of materials that display radically different, dominant behaviors at different length scales. Although we have good models for material behaviors at small and large scales, it is often hard to relate these scale-based models to one another. Macroscale models represent the integrated effects of very subtle factors that are practically invisible at the smallest, atomic, scales. For this reason it has been notoriously difficult to model realistic materials with a simple bottom-up-from-the-atoms strategy. The widespread failure of that strategy forced physicists interested in overall macro-behavior of materials toward completely top-down modeling strategies familiar from traditional continuum mechanics. The problem of the "tyranny of scales" asks whether we can exploit our rather rich knowledge of intermediate micro- (or meso-) scale behaviors in a manner that would allow us to bridge between these two dominant methodologies. Macroscopic scale behaviors often fall into large common classes of behaviors such as the class of isotropic elastic solids, characterized by two phenomenological parameters—so-called elastic coefficients. Can we employ knowledge of lower scale behaviors to understand this universality—to determine the coefficients and to group the systems into classes exhibiting similar behavior?

  • Otávio Bueno, Department of Philosophy, University of Miami

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    4:15pm, Room 217 of History Building 200

    "Visual Evidence in Scientific Practice"

    Abstract: An account of visual evidence is provided and its changing roles in different domains of science are examined. The various roles are discussed in the context of molecular biology, biochemistry, and particle physics.

  • Neil Safier, University of British Columbia

    as part of "Cultural Synchronization and Disjuncture" series on cultural theory and Latin Americanism of the Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages at Stanford

    Piggot Hall room 216

    February 3, 2012, 2pm

    Co-sponsored with the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages

  • Andrew Janiak, Duke University Department of Philosophy

    February 23rd, 2012


    "Isaac Newton at the boundary between theology and natural philosophy."

    History Building 200 Room 205

    Abstract: It is well known that Newton regarded Descartes as his principal philosophical interlocutor when composing the first edition of the Principia. The arguments in the Scholium on space and time, for instance, can be interpreted as focusing specifically on the relativist conception of space and motion in Descartes's Principles. What is less well known, however, is that this Cartesian conception, along with Descartes's attempt to avoid Galileo's fate in 1633, serves as an essential background to understanding Newton's own (poorly understood) view of the theological implications of his theory of space, time and motion. In particular, after withdrawing Le Monde from publication in 1633 because of its Copernican leanings, Descartes later introduced a "fudge factor" into the theory of motion in the Principles, concluding that in one sense the earth does move, but properly speaking, it does not. This background highlights the novelty and originality of Newton's own attempt to indicate how Scriptural passages concerning the motion of the Earth could be reconciled with the philosophical views he developed during the period from 1680-1687. New evidence from archival sources and correspondence supports this argument, shedding new light on the Scholium itself.

  • Susan Reverby, Wellesley College

    "Escaping Melodrama: Reflections of an Historian on the U.S. Public Health Service Infamous Studies in Tuskegee and Guatemala"

    Co-sponsored with the Global Health Program of the Medical School

    March 14th, 2012


    History Building 200 Room 307

  • Mathematics as Literature Workshop

    Organized by Reviel Netz

    Tuesday, April 13th, 2012, 9am-6pm
    location: Classics Building 110, Room 112


    Session 1

    9:00am Roi Wagner, Hebrew University of Jerusalem - "Productive Repetitions and double entendres in Mathematical Texts"

    10:15am Alain Herreman, University of Rennes, France - "Introducing Inaugural Texts: Three Examples"

    Lunch Break

    Session 2

    12:45pm Reviel Netz, Stanford University - "Spirals, Spliced and Bundled"

    2:00pm Amir Alexander, UC, Los Angeles - "The Builder and the Explorer: Narratives of Mathematical Proof"


    Session 3

    3:30pm Jacqueline Feke, Stanford University - "Ptolemy's Polemical Prolegomena"

    4:45pm Courtney Roby, Cornell University - "Where the Action is: Narrative Ekphrasis in Greek and Roman Mechanical Texts"

    Download the program as PDF

    Co-sponsored with the Departments of Classics

  • Emma Spary, University of Cambridge

    "On her new book, Eating the Enlightenment: French Food and the Sciences, 1670-1760"

    Monday, April 16th, 2012, 4:15pm

    Building 380 Room 380Y

  • Alexei Grinbaum, Philosophy of Science Lab (LARSIM), French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), Saclay

    "Prometheus, Pandora and the Golem in a science lab"

    Abstract: Novel nanomaterials require new toxicological studies, but do we need a new ethics for nanotechnology? I'll argue that the change in the human condition induced by emerging technologies (ICT, synthetic biology, etc.) calls for an approach based on comparing our new situation with the ethical questions asked in old narratives, from Antiquity to 21st century. These narratives help to reflect on the human condition by establishing a chain of meaning that informs our own evolution from revolutionary scientific discoveries to their societal integration.

    May 3rd, 2012, 4:15pm

    Building 240 Room 101

  • Martin Lin, Rutgers University

    "The Modal Status of Absolute Space and Time in Leibniz."

    May 8th, 2012, 4:15pm

    Building 90-92Q

  • Wendy Parker, Department of Philosophy, Ohio University

    "The Target of Testing: Models, Adequacy and the Aims of Science"

    May 10th, 2012, 4:15pm

    Building 260-011

    Abstract: Models of real-world systems are widely used in science. It is often suggested that these models are tested or confirmed when their results are compared with observational data. I contend that this way of thinking is misguided; what we can sensibly aim to test or confirm via such comparisons are not scientific models themselves, but rather their adequacy for particular purposes. I then argue that testing a model's adequacy-for-purpose involves challenges beyond those faced when testing whether a model embodies a true hypothesis about the workings of a target system, and I illustrate with some examples, including the case of climate modeling. Finally, I offer some exploratory remarks on how the notion of adequacy-for-purpose could figure in our understanding of the aims of science more generally.

  • Erik Curiel, Rotman Institute of Philosophy, The University of Western Ontario, Canada

    "On the Meaning and Role of the Principle of Equivalence in General Relativity"

    Abstract: The principle of equivalence played a crucial role in Einstein's original arguments for and formulation of the theory of general relativity. It is therefore somewhat surprising to learn that there is still, to this day, no general agreement on exactly what the principle says, or ought to say, and even no general agreement on whether any known formulation of it plays an important role in the theory, or even holds true in the theory. I shall canvass several of the leading proposals for ways to try to capture the spirit of the principle, and argue that none of them actually are even formulable in a rigorous, precise sense in the theory; it trivially follows that there can be no question of their truth. The proposal made in recent years by Harvey Brown and Eleanor Knox is of particular interest, as it does in fact seem to be more or less rigorously formulable in the terms of the theory. I argue, however, that it still fails, and the way it does so is not only subtle but, of even greater interest, illuminates the way that the peculiar features of general relativity as a theory militate against the possibility of such a formulation's holding true. I propose a novel explication of the principle which does, in some sense, seem to hold true in the theory, and does seem to capture much of what the principle is supposed to, but does not seem to admit of rigorous formulation in the theory. In the end, it seems that there is no rigorous, true statement of the principle. I conclude with a few remarks on what status, if any, we ought to accord the principle, such as it is.

    May 15th, 2012, 4:15pm

    Building 90-92Q

  • Joyce Chaplin, Department of History, Harvard University

    "Earthsickness: Circumnavigation and the Terrestrial Human Body, 1520-1800."

    May 21st, 2012, 4:15pm

    Lane History Building 200, room 305

    From the 1500s into the early 1800s, most of the mariners who tried to go around the world died, mostly of scurvy. Commentary on their suffering represented a meaningful event in the conceptualization of the human body as a planetary entity: circumnavigation offered their scorbutic bodies as evidence that humans were terrestrial creatures, physically suited to the earthly parts of a terraqueous globe.

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