HPS Reading Group


Location: 131 Decio

The last HPS Reading Group meeting for the Fall semester. We'll decide the topic for Spring 2013. If you would like to join our reading group, please send an email to Katherine Brading (kbrading1@nd.edu), the director of the HPS program. Please see more information about our sessions by visiting the HPS Reading Group webpage

Here are the options to be discussed on Thursday:

1.      Samuel Arbesman, 2012. The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date,

Dan Hicks

As a reading group, we often dip into social studies of science, as with the French philosophy of science readings last spring, Ludwik Fleck's book a couple years ago, and Mark Brown's book before that. However, it's been quite some time since we looked at any mathematical or quantitative approaches to SSS. So, for next semester, I'd like to suggest that we read Samuel Arbesman's, The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date. Arbesman is an applied mathematician in the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard; he works primarily in the burgeoning field of network science, and is especially interested in using network science to analyze structures in scientific research.

     2. Science and Pseudoscience

           HPS Reading Group – Proposal submitted by Charles Pence and Melinda Gormley

 Differentiating between science and pseudoscience can be difficult. Michael Gordin states in “Separating the Pseudo from Science” that Karl Popper’s solution to the “demarcation problem” is not adequate and his recent book, The Pseudoscience Wars, aims to use historical cases to explore this issue.

By tracking under which conditions scientists denigrate others as “pseudoscientists,” we can actually learn how scientists define healthy science at a particular moment. Instead of attempting to find a one-size-fits-all demarcation criterion, we should think about pseudoscience historically. This helps us to understand how science functioned in the past as well as present.

Gordin appears to draw on both the history and philosophy of science which should appeal to members of our reading group. Hasok Chang’s article on pluralism generated confusion and questions that we hope Gordin will help us to tease apart. 


3. Thomas Nagel, 2012. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist NeoDarwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False

Kevin McDonnell

I suggest reading Thomas Nagel’s new book: Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist NeoDarwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. My interest in the book was stimulated by memory of a remark by Fr. Ernan McMullin who suggested that taking account of consciousness would require as great a revolution in the concept of matter as the one that occurred in the XVI century. Nagel's book is much more a challenge to the current theory than a proposal for a new one. In ourreading group I would hope it would stimulate a discussion of the adequacy of present theories of the origin of life, of consciousness, and cognition, especially in the light of current work in neurobiology and cognitive science.


4. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought. (New York: Basic Books, 1999)

Nick Bonneau

 I was drawn to this book after reading Dr. Hamlin’s description in last spring’s suggestions. Particular the problem of whether there remains any utility in considering the “more than two millennia of a priori philosophical speculation” when cognitive science can make the following claims:

  • "The mind is inherently embodied.
  • Thought is mostly unconscious.
  • Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical” (3)

I think this cuts into a lot of the general epistemic questions we’ve brought up in the colloquium in each of the last two semesters and wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Hamlin’s assessment of its potential utility.


5. Scientific Pluralism

Monica Solomon 

I would like to re-propose the topic of scientific pluralism, previously suggested by professor Brading. We approached this topic during one of our meetings this Fall semester already, but it seems that discussions are far from being settled on the matter. This exploratory topic would cover more than the relevance to the philosophy of physics, and also more than ontology. As professor Brading already noted, “The issues are more general than any specific science, and they bear on methodology (is it helpful to think we are aiming for one true theory of everything?), ontology (is there a 'fundamental ontology' and if so / if not what are the relations between the entities of e.g. physics and biology?), and epistemology (e.g. what reason do we have for thinking there is a 'fundamental ontology'?). If we give up on this 'fundamentalism', what would 'pluralist' alternatives look like? What is at stake, and what should we think?”

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