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February and March, 2007

Newton George E. Smith
Tufts University

The Isaac Newton Lectures at the Suppes Center
Turning Data into Evidence: Three lectures on the role of Theory in Science

Lecture 1 February 22, 2007
CLOSING THE LOOP: Testing Newtonian Gravity, Then and Now

Building 200 Room 203
4:15-6pm

Download Smith Lecture I (Word doc)

Download Smith Powerpoint Presentation I (ppt document)

Lecture 2 March 1, 2007
GETTING STARTED: Building Theories from Working Hypotheses

Building 200 Room 203
4:15-6pm

Download Smith Lecture II (Word doc)

Download Smith Powerpoint Presentation II (ppt document)

Lecture 3 March 8, 2007
GAINING ACCESS: Using Seismology to Probe the Earth's Insides

Building 200 - Room 203
4:15-6pm

Download Smith Lecture III (Word doc)

Download Smith Powerpoint Presentation III (ppt document)

ABSTRACT: The view that all observation is theory-mediated and hence that scientific evidence invariably rests on theoretical presuppositions now seems beyond dispute. Many see the consequent apparent lack of uncontestable grounding as raising deep questions about the nature and limits of the knowledge achieved in the sciences, questions that are sometimes taken to challenge all claims of science to epistemic authority. The three lectures will concede from the outset that theory of some sort is always needed to turn data into evidence and hence that theory always enters constitutively into evidence. But they will then argue that close analysis of historical practice in certain representative areas of physics shows that the ways in which theory has in fact entered into the process of marshalling evidence has not undercut but actually strengthened their claim to epistemic authority.

George E. Smith is widely recognized as a leading authority on Isaac Newton, and, in particular, on Newton's contributions to scientific methodology. Together with I. B. Cohen, he edited The Cambridge Companion to Newton, where he has a central piece on Newton's methodology. Aside from being Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University, Smith has pursued a highly successful career as a practicing mechanical engineer, and he Directed the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology at MIT from 2001-2006. The three lectures will discuss a number of key developments in the physical sciences, including gravitational research from Newton to Einstein, J. J. Thomson's work on the electron at the end of the nineteenth century, and twentieth-century seismological research into the earth's interior, in order to depict the fine structure of evidential reasoning in these sciences and thereby illustrate and defend their epistemic authority. The lectures will be of wide interest to historians, philosophers, pure and applied physicists, engineers, and earth scientists, as well as to all those interested in the question of the distinctive place of the "hard" sciences in Western intellectual life.

October 2005

Viola Schiaffonati
Politecnico di Milano

Representing and Simulating: Toward an Epistemology of Computer Simulation

Tuesday, October 25th, 2005
1:30pm, Ventura Hall, room 17

Stanford University

In the very last years, biology and life sciences have been massively based on computer simulations in order to explain molecular and cellular behaviors. Accordingly, there has been a growing interest in the concept of simulation also from a philosophy of science perspective. In this talk I will aim to do the following things: 1) discuss some example of the use of multiagent systems for simulation of signal transduction pathways in cells, 2) give a definition of computer simulation in this area and compare it with other definitions, 3) offer an extension to the current epistemology of simulation, by relating it to important concepts, such as those of computational model and experiment.

January /February 2005

a three lecture series by

Itamar Pitowsky,
Eleanor Roosevelt Professor of the Philosophy of
Science in the Program for the History, Philosophy
and Sociology of Science,
the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

pic of quantum mechanics from www.lactamme.polytechnique.fr


Logic and Probability in Modern Physics
The case of quantum mechanics

What is the basic structure of the world responsible for quantum "weirdness"? We shall review the attempts, which began with the mathematicians Birkhoff and von Neumann, to derive the basic structure underlying quantum mechanics (the Hilbert space) from simple logical axioms; and the arguments in support of the view that this is the quantum analogue of the logical (Boolean) structure of classical physics. It is a remarkable feature of the quantum formalism that it can be obtained from "almost nothing". Another remarkable feature is that quantum logic dictates Born's rule, that is, the quantum algorithm for calculating probabilities (this is a theorem by Gleason). We shall see how this fact provides for a natural and quite minimal semantics for quantum logic, which is in an important sense complete. Finally we shall see how this semantics accounts for the usual features of quantum mechanics-and thus for quantum "weirdness"- in a straightforward way: for example, the uncertainty relations, the violation of Bell's inequalities, the Kochen and Specker theorem, and the apparently classical behavior of macroscopic objects.

The Pitowsky lectures took place Tuesday January 25th, February 1st, and February 8th at 4 pm in room 307 of building 200 (Lane History Building).