Fall 2014

SEPTEMBER 16, 2014,


Dorothy Porter - "Creative Disability and the Shaking Palsy: Approaching a History of Parkinson’s Disease"
(Coogan Lecture for Excellence in the History of Medicine)
In a  book on Musicophilia in 2007, Oliver Sacks  proposed that musical rhythm may have a primal function in the brain which modern science is yet to fully explain. Sacks illustrates his arguments with accounts of patients with various types of frontal lobe lesions, such as Frontal Lobe Dementia, Alzheimers and some Parkinsons Disease who developed new aptitudes for musical creativity after the onset of their disease. This led Sacks and others to speculate that creative inhibition that was genetically coded into frontal lobe function was disengaged through some pathological lesions that let the music out!

In Sacks’s captivating narratives neurological changes and creativity are tales of transformation brought about by illness. This paper investigates how and why two cultural interpretations of the relationship between creativity and Parkinsons Disease have developed and changed over time. It interrogates the historical determinants of a neuro-psycho-biological discourse with the power to affect human consciousness and somatic experience through pharmacological manipulation according to its own edicts. The paper contrasts this discourse with Parkinsons Disease patients’ narratives of the transformative affect of creativity allowing them to experience different ways of becoming human.

OCTOBER 28, 2014

Tom McLeish - "FaIth and Wisdom in Science"
In search of a healthy public narrative for science, this lecture suggests that Old Testament Wisdom literature, taken alongside the human practice of science today, represents an untapped theological resource that the church needs to engage with science and technology based issues. Our principal text is the Book of Job. Motivating a move from 'Theology and Science' to 'Theology of Science', we draw out the consequences of a framework for science as participatory reconciliation between humans and the natural world.


Spring 2014

MARCH 20, 2014

Sandra Harding

HPS Colloquium - Sandra Harding. “After Mr. Nowhere: New Proper Scientific Selfs”
For close to five decades the anti-authoritarian social movements have criticized the idea that only value-free scientific research can count as objective.  What is the new "proper scientific self" that is supposed to replace this "Mr. Nowhere" who supposedly in principle can see everywhere in the world from no particular place in it? 


MARCH 27, 2014

Mary Jo Nye

Mary Jo Nye - “Mine, Thine, and Ours: Patterns of Collaboration and Co-Authorship in Science”
Patterns of collaboration and co-authorship in chemistry from the 1920s to the 1960s are examined with an eye to the allocation of credit during a period of expanding group authorship and team research in science. Three research leaders are the focus of this study within a framework of sociological literature on collaborative patterns among eminent scientists. It is argued that Michael Polanyi in Berlin, Linus Pauling in Pasadena, and Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin in Oxford—all of whom used techniques and instruments of X-ray diffraction—are cases that confirm the need to de-center historical narrative from “he” or “she” to the collaborative “they.” Yet crucially, too, these cases demonstrate the significance of the local and the personal for historical explanation that transcends generalizations about scientific practice, material culture, and sociological trends.

APRIL 3, 2014

Cyrus Mody

Cyrus Mody. “The Tangible and the Esoteric: US Physics in the 1970s”
(Cushing Prize Lecture)
Many historians and sociologists of science have noted turning points in the postwar American research enterprise in 1970 and 1980.  The former was a low point, a time of funding cutbacks, campus unrest, and poor employment prospects, especially in physics.  The latter saw the election of Ronald Reagan, the record-setting Genentech IPO, passage of the Bayh-Dole Act, and other ostensible stimulants to academic entrepreneurialism.  So what happened in between?  This talk examines episodes at Stanford, Cornell, and University of California Santa Barbara in which physicists dealt with the budgetary and cultural crises of the early 1970s by developing organizational, pedagogical, and lifestyle experiments that later aligned them with 1980s discourse encouraging academic entrepreneurship and university-industry partnership.

Fall 2013

OCTOBER 10, 2013

Cailin O'Connor

HPS Colloquium. Cailin O’Connor - “Evolving Perceptual Categories”
Do perceptual categories--green, cool, sweet--accurately track features of the real world? If not, are there systematic ways in which perceptual categories fail to latch onto real world structure? Attempts to answer these questions have persistently led to a further question, one with a long philosophical history. Given that human beings can only observe the world through the lens of our perceptual systems, how is it possible to know whether and in what ways perceptual categories are veridical? In this talk, I use tools from evolutionary game theory to attempt to gain traction on this problem. In particular, I employ signaling games to model perceptual signaling and elucidate how and why perceptual categories may or may not track real world structure.

OCTOBER 11, 2013

James Weatherall

James Weatherall - “Inertial Motion, Explanation, and the Foundations of Classical Space-time Theories”
There is an influential view in physics and philosophy of physics, originating with Einstein and Eddington, that holds that general relativity is distinctive in the history of physics  because it can be used to "explain" inertial, or unforced, motion.  In this talk, I will describe how a reformulation of Newtonian gravitation may be used to provide insight into claims concerning the (allegedly) distinctive explanatory resources of relativity theory.  I will then argue that Newtonian gravitation can be understood to explain inertial motion in much the same way as general relativity.  However, a careful comparative study of the status of inertial motion in the two theories reveals that neither explanation is as clean or straightforward as adherents to the view noted above believe.  I will conclude by presenting a view about the interdependencies of the central principle of physical theories that I will argue provides some insight into a sense in which inertial motion is explained in both of these theories.

OCTOBER 18, 2013


Carl Gillett - "The Parts of Science"
So-called ‘inter-level mechanistic explanations’ famously allowed us to pierce the Manifest Image of common sense by explaining things like diamonds, with properties such as hardness and processes like scratching, using individuals with very different properties and processes, such as carbon atoms with their covalent bonding and processes of holding each other in relation spatial positions even under high pressures. This is ‘piercing explanatory power’, or ‘PEP’, where qualitatively distinct entities are used to explain each other and is distinctive of inter-level mechanistic explanations that continue to drive much scientific insight. A consensus is now emerging that inter-level mechanistic explanation is compositional in nature, for it appears to work by identifying lower level entities that compose, rather than cause or produce, certain qualitatively distinct higher level entities and hence explain the existence of those entities. However, critics have recently pressed the point that the so-called ‘new mechanism’ focused on these explanations (Bechtel and Richardson (1994), Machamer, Darden and Craver (2000), and Craver (2007)) has yet to produce an account of their compositional notions. In this paper, I offer an account of the part-whole relations between individuals posited in such explanations that accommodates their PEP and other distinctive features. And I also detail why the two most popular compositional frameworks in philosophy, from analytic metaphysics and the philosophy of mind, each fail to fit such scientific notions.

OCTOBER  29, 2013

George Reisch

George Reisch - "Spies, Mobs, Conversions, and Paradigms: On the Origins and Receptions of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"
In 1962, the first sentence of Thomas Kuhn's enormously influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions announced that "History" had the power to revolutionize our understanding of science. I will argue quite differently: that examining the history of the cold war, and Kuhn's experience of it, has the power to deepen our understanding of this book and its first reception by prominent European philosophical critics. Kuhn's complex relationship to his mentor James Bryant Conant, the nation's concerns over Communist faculty and domestic spies, and its postwar relationships to its European allies together help explain why Imre Lakatos, Karl Popper, and others recoiled from Kuhn's new image of science as a kind of "mob rule" and took his "normal science" to be an image not of science but of American, postwar cultural hegemony.

NOVEMBER 7, 2013, 4:15PM - 5:30PM

Kathleen Okruhlik

Kathleen Okruhlik. "Values and Voluntarism"
If belief is (in some sense and to some degree) a matter of the will, what role do so-called non-epistemic values play in belief formation?  In examining this question, I shall focus on a handful of figures, including Otto Neurath, Bas van Fraassen, and Helen Longino.

Neurath has been described by Thomas Uebel as an epistemic voluntarist on account of the role he assigns to auxiliary motives as an external criterion of theory choice.  

Bas van Fraassen’s epistemic voluntarism is quite different from the version ascribed to Neurath and has assumed greater and greater importance in the development of his thought – from its introduction in the important paper 1984 JP article called “Belief and the Will” to its present explicitly Sartrean formulation.  

Finally, there is the question whether some feminist accounts of science should be described as “voluntarist” insofar as they explicitly endorse certain value commitments as determinants of model choice.  Helen Longino doesn’t self-identify as a voluntarist, but her contextual empiricism will be the central example here because of its sophistication and because it shares some of the classically empiricist commitments of Neurath and van Fraassen

NOVEMBER 14, 2013

Bill Harper

Bill Harper. "Isaac Newton’s Scientific Method"
Newton employs theory-mediated measurements to turn data into far more informative evidence than can be achieved by hypothetico-deductive confirmation alone. This is exemplified in the classic inferences from phenomena that open his argument for universal gravity in book 3 of his Principia. Newton’s Rule 4, for doing natural philosophy characterizes a concept of theory acceptance that illuminates scientific method in gravity research today.

Mercury’s perihelion problem affords a very informative example. First, we can see Newton’s method at work in the classical response to Mercury’s perihelion problem. Second, contrary to a famous skeptical quotation from Kuhn, Newton’s method endorses the radical transition from his theory to Einstein’s. Third, Newton’s method is strikingly realized in the response to a challenge to general relativity from a later problem posed by Mercury’s perihelion.
Newton’s Rule 3 is at work in his appeal to agreeing measurements supporting the equality of accelerations required by gravity interpreted as acceleration fields towards planets. These agreeing measurements, as extended by their far more powerful successors in later research, afford empirical successes that strongly underwrite the weak equivalence principle and the gravitational weak equivalence principle in gravitation theory today.

NOVEMBER 20, 2013


James Moore - "Darwin's Sacred Cause"
(Coogan Lecture for Excellent in the History of Medicine)
Why did Charles Darwin, a rich and impeccably upright gentleman, go out of his way to develop privately a subversive image of human evolution and then pursue the subject with tenacity for three decades? Underpinning his work on human origins was a belief in racial brotherhood rooted in the greatest moral movement of his age, for the abolition of slavery. Darwin extended the abolitionist belief in common ancestry to the rest of life, making not just the races, but all races kin.

NOVEMBER 25, 2013

Joseph Dumit

Joseph Dumit - "Embodying Improvisation: 3D Fieldwork with Scientists in the KeckCAVES"
(Coogan Lecture for Excellence in the History of Medicine)
In collaboration with the KeckCAVES and Humanities Innovation Lab at UC Davis and Natasha Myers (York U), this paper explores ethnographically the processes of engagement with a three-dimensional immersive holodeck-like CAVE that is the ongoing project of seven years of collaboration and encounter between geologists and computer scientists, and many others including artists and performers. The construction of a digital environment to facilitate scientific research on a daily basis makes explicit the need to formulate "research presence" as a related form of what in virtual reality research is called illusive "presence". In particular, the ability to responsively scale data enables a form of "haptic creativity," where researchers are moved by moving images to invent new metaphors. Through temporal and spatial scaling, experimentalists are caught up in prolonged encounters with their data, instruments and stories. As one scientist explained, "The give and take, back and forth between you and the data suggests what to do next in the experiment." A temporal slice into what Hans-Jorg Rheinberger calls experimental systems. In turn, I discuss the the improvisational lessons learned at scales from software design to presentational modes to funding restructuring.  

DECEMBER 5, 2013

Nahyan Fancy

Nahyan Fancy - "Challenging the Galenic Theory of Pulse: Ibn al-Nafis (d. 1288) and His Successors"
It is traditional to assume that medicine in the Islamicate world never moved beyond Galen in the pre-modern world. Scholars have even claimed that challenges to Galenic anatomy, such as Ibn al-Nafis's proposal of the pulmonary transit of blood, were undertaken by Islamicate physicians while adhering firmly to Galenic physiology. Building upon my earlier work, I shall show that key elements of Galenic physiology, such as his understanding of vital faculty and the pulse, were rejected by both Ibn al-Nafis and his successors--the latter were not only very interested in Ibn al-Nafis's anti-Galenic understanding of pulse, but also engaged with it critically.

Spring 2013

FEBRUARY 5, 2013

Eric Schliesser

Eric Schliesser - "Hume, Smith, and the Posidonian Argument"
Abstract: In this paper I explore the after-life of a once famous Design argument transmitted by Cicero in the work of Samuel Clarke, Hume, and Adam Smith. I offer two interpretations of this argument. I do so not to re-open any debates about the truth of intelligent design, nor about Hume’s arguments against design arguments, nor about the afterlife of this argument in discussions of Paley’s watch. Rather, I explain how at one point during the eighteenth century aftermath of Newton’s Principia, science itself was not perceived as a neutral means toward establishing or denying design in nature, but rather that science was thought to presuppose intelligent design.

Michael Gordin

MARCH 7th, 2013

Michael Gordin - "Looking Askance at the Lysenko Affair: Three Approaches"
The history of the control over Soviet genetics assumed by Trofim D. Lysenko — and hence dubbed “Lysenkoism” in the West but never in the Soviet Union, which it was always “Michurinism” — has been recounted so often that the historiography has acquired a rigid, stylized character. This narrative emphasizes political intervention in the sciences, perceived pathologies of the Soviet science system, and a hagiographic martyrology.

Ann Blair, HPS speakers, HPS colloquium

MARCH 21st, 2013

Ann Blair - "Natural Theology in early modern Catholicism--the case of the Jansenist Antoine Pluche"
Blair specializes in the cultural and intellectual history of early modern Europe (16th-17th centuries), with an emphasis on France. My interests include the history of the book and of education, the history of the disciplines and of scholarship, early modern natural philosophy and its interactions with religion.

APRIL 5, 2013

Brownbag seminar with Frederick Gregory
Frederick Gregory, author of Natural Science in Western History, history of science lecturer for the Great Courses, and a teacher for over 30 years, will lead a brown bag luncheon where he will discuss teaching strategies for an introductory course in the history of science. Please let me know your preferred date for breakfast and whether or not you can come to lunch on Friday. 

APRIL 11, 2013

2013 Cushing Prize Lecture. Charlotte Werndl - "What are New Implications of Chaos for Unpredictability?"

Charlotte Werndl

Charlotte Werndl will give the Cushing Prize Lecture 2013. Dr. Werndl is lecturer at the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method, at the London School of Economics. Previously she was a Junior Research Fellow in Philosophy, at Queen's College, University of Oxford.
Abstract: From the beginning of chaos research until today, the unpredictability of chaos has been a central theme. It is widely believed and claimed by philosophers, mathematicians and physicists alike that chaos has a new implication for unpredictability, meaning that chaotic systems are unpredictable in a way that other deterministic systems are not. Hence one might expect that the question "What are the new implications of chaos for unpredictability?" has already been answered in a satisfactory way. However, this is not the case. I will critically evaluate the existing answers and argue that they do not fit the bill. Then I will approach this question by showing that chaos can be defined via mixing, which has never before been explicitly argued for. Based on this insight, I will propose that the sought-after new implication of chaos for unpredictability is the following: for predicting any event all sufficiently past events are approximately probabilistically irrelevant.

APRIL 16, 2013


Tom Broman - "The Semblance of Transparency: Expertise as a Social Good and an Ideology in Enlightened Societies"

Tom Broman is a Professor in the History of Science Department at University of Wisconsin - Madison. His interests include science and medicine in the Enlightenment; the role of science in the public sphere; 18th-century German intellectual and cultural history.

Click here to learn more about Prof. Broman. 

Fall 2012

OCTOBER 1, 2012

Norman MacLeod

Michael J. Crowe and Christopher M. Graney - “Life as We Know It”
From the beginning the human race has scanned the heavens for the meaning of our existence and for signs of creatures living far, far away. The search itself says a lot about who we are.

OCTOBER 4, 2012

Norman MacLeod (Keeper of Palaeontology at The Natural History Museum, London) - “Mass Extinctions in the Geological Record: Causes and Consequences”
With its biblical overtones, the phenomenon of ‘mass extinction’ has intrigued and puzzled scientists in many different disciplines ever since the middle 1800s. Over the intervening 150 years an impressive number of hypotheses and mechanisms have been proposed to account for these global biotic turnover events (e.g., Benton 1990). Unfortunately, few of these hypotheses have been tested against empirical observations.

OCTOBER 12, 2012

Margaret Humphreys - “Of Wards and War: The Importance of Good (and Bad) Medical Care in the American Civil War”
During the crisis following the Haitian earthquake of 2010 one physician commented that "we're practicing Civil War medicine here," referring to the absence of supplies and primitive environment of care. Actually, the well-run Civil War hospital offered superior care to that possible in quake-ravaged Haiti.  This paper will outline the components of the best and worst of Civil War medicine, and argue that the conditions in southern hospitals were so far inferior to those of the north that it probably made a difference to the war effort.  In the northern hospitals men shot rats as a target practice game; in the south they roasted them for lunch.  Important aspects of the best care were nutritious food, medicines such as chloroform, quinine, and opium, and sufficient staff to ensure cleanliness and care of the weakened or wounded body.  It is difficult to assess hospital outcomes due the quality of the data, but what information is available indicates that the disparities between northern and southern hospitals were a factor in the manpower issues that dominated the war’s final years.

OCTOBER 30, 2012

John Burnham - “The Death of the Sick Role: A Problem in Healthcare, Sociology, History, Anthropology, Medicine,and Public Policy at the Turn of the 21st Century"
In the middle of the twentieth century, everybody knew what it was to be sick.  A person felt bad, stopped regular life routines, and went to the doctor.  Sociologists called this universal behavior “taking the sick role.”  Several decades later, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it was becoming more and more difficult to take a sick role.  Social norms had changed.  Medicine had changed.

In this paper I shall explain what happened during this transformation, particularly by considering what shifted in the doctor-patient encounter and by exploring why sociologists stopped using the idea of the sick role.  Historians and anthropologists may still find the sick role useful.  But the fact that the role does not fit current reality suggests that an epochal change is taking place in healthcare.

NOVEMBER 9, 2012

Andrew Janiak

Andrew Janiak
Aristotle's distinction between potential and actual infinity has an important afterlife in early modern discussions of space and geometry. Descartes seems to argue that space, which is identical with the material world, is merely potentially infinite, concluding that only God, who is distinct from the world, is actually infinite. In unpublished work, Newton rejects this Cartesian view, contending that God inhabits the world, which consequently should be characterized as actually infinite. Newton's view, held on robust metaphysical grounds, raises intriguing questions about how geometric methods can be employed to represent infinite objects and an infinite space.

NOVEMBER 29, 2012

Nicole Archambeau - "The Spectrum of Healers and Health Care in Late Medieval Provence: From Doctors to DIY Relics in the Care of Body and Soul"

Nicole Archambeau

This essay uses medieval canonization inquests to answer the seemingly simple question: What did people do when they were sick?" My talk shows that answer was often far more complex than traditional research in the history of medicine shows. By sifting through hundreds of narratives of people coping with their own and loved-ones' health care, we find that people used a plurality of available methods and even created new ones (like making their own relics) when needed. We also see that medieval persons’ concepts of health care extended beyond the boundaries of the physical body to include the passions or what contemporaries called “accidents of the soul.” Healers and sufferers saw that sadness, fear, and anxiety could damage physical health and were health problems in their own right.

Spring 2012

APRIL 19, 2012

Sarah Parker

Sarah Parker - "Beyond Bacon: From Scientific Theory to Practical Medicine in Thomas Browne's Pseudodoxia Epidemica
English physician and author Thomas Browne has often been heralded as one of the first medical authors to take up the philosophy of science Bacon proposed in his Advancement of Learning (1605) and Novum Organon (1620). In book two of Advancement, where Bacon outlines his theory of the idols, he calls for a “Kalender of popular Errors, […] chiefly, in natural Historie such as passe in speech & conceit, and are neverthelesse apparently detected and convicted of untruth” (AL, 2I2r 35-36). By the middle of the century, Thomas Browne was working on, publishing, and continually expanding his Pseudodoxia Epidemica: or, enquiries into very many received tenents and commonly presumed truths (1646-1672). The book uses authoritative sources and Baconian personal experiment to disprove a host of misguided beliefs in areas from natural philosophy and medicine to history and theology. The influence of Baconian methodology as well as the title’s seemingly pointed reference to Advancement have led to an understandable insistence on the influence that Bacon’s philosophy of science had on Browne’s encyclopedic work. Browne, however, in his copious references to approximately 1,200 authors, never once mentions Bacon’s name. The prefatory remarks outlining the inspirations for and goals of the Pseudodoxia Epidemica instead invoke the medical genre of “vulgar errors,” which had been popular on the continent since the early sixteenth century. In moving beyond a discussion of Bacon’s influence on Browne, I will consider the ways that Browne adapts a traditionally medical and pre-Baconian genre of “popular errors” to the demands of the newly developed scientific method. As a physician practicing in Norwich, Browne’s encounters with scientific theory took place outside of the controlled laboratory space of the Royal Society. Instead, his daily interactions with his patients and even his training in the theoretical medicine of the continent in Montpellier, Padua and Leiden, I argue, add a specifically medical dimension to the philosophical discussions of science in Pseudodoxia Epidemica.

APRIL 10, 2012

Mark Largent

Mark Largent -  "Vaccine Anxieties: The Modern American Vaccine Debate"
Nearly 40% of American parents have refused or delayed at least one routine vaccination for their children. Parents commonly cite concerns that vaccines might cause autism, but scientists and physicians have stridently rejected any connection. The vaccine-autism debate is a proxy debate, and behind it looms a number of serious and sometimes intractable problems with the modern vaccination schedule. This talk will describe the emergence of the modern American vaccine debate and uncover some of the concerns that animate parents' anxieties about vaccines.

MARCH 29, 2012

Thomas F. Mayer - "Trying Galileo"

FEBRUARY 23, 2012

Gerald Massey - "Quine and Duhem's holistic conceptions of hypothesis testing"

FEBRUARY 3-4, 2012

Laura Ruetsche - Seminar: Interpreting Quantum Theories

FEBRUARY 8-10, 2012

Trevor PInch

Trevor Pinch - “Giving Birth to New Users: How the Minimoog Was Sold to Rock and Roll” and "Science, Our Benevolent Monster"