Spring Semester 2013
(January 25: Author Meets Readers)
"Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live"
ABSTRACT: We evolved to eat berries rather than bagels, to live in mud huts rather than condos, to run barefoot rather than play football—or did we? Are our bodies and brains truly at odds with modern life? And has evolution stopped for us? Although it may seem as though we have barely had time to shed our hunter-gatherer legacy, Marlene Zuk reveals that the story is not so simple. Popular theories about how our ancestors lived—and why we should emulate them—are often based on speculation, not scientific evidence. What really matters is the rate of evolution, which is sometimes fast and sometimes slow. Instead of trying to live like cavemen, we need to understand that process.
(February 1: William Storey)
"The Vision of Cecil Rhodes: Technology, Space, and Power in Africa"
ABSTRACT: Cecil Rhodes was the key figure in the development of modern South Africa. He arrived from England in 1870, at the age of seventeen, and within one year migrated to the diamond fields at Kimberley. During the 1870s and 1880s, he expanded and consolidated mines at Kimberley into South Africa’s most important company, DeBeers, which controlled ninety percent of the world’s production and sales. Meanwhile Rhodes served as a member of the Cape Colony’s parliament from 1880 to his death in 1902, including an important stint as the colonial prime minister from 1890 to 1895. During this time, he founded Rhodesia while helping to create a unified British Southern Africa, connected by railroad and telegraph lines, he played a key role in designing and implementing racially discriminatory policies.
The political, social, and economic vision of Cecil Rhodes combined various environmental and technological practices. He drew his financial clout from diamond-mining at Kimberley and, to a lesser extent, through his involvement in gold-mining in the Transvaal and agriculture in the Western Cape and Zimbabwe. He imagined a South Africa – indeed, a British Africa – that was held together by railroads and telegraphy. And yet while several academic biographies have addressed Rhodes' political involvement, none have examined the ways in which his vision was shaped by ideas about environment and technology. Scholars such as Benedict Anderson, Sheila Jasanoff, and James Scott have written about the ways in which environmental, technological, and political visions become articulated as "sociotechnical imaginaries" and influence designs, justify budgets, and define citizenship. Yet sociotechnical imaginaries are less well understood at the level of the individual: how do individual people see – and make legible – visions of society, politics, and environment and then translate them into national sociotechnical projects? Rhodes' environmental vision and his technical understanding simultaneously shaped the landscape and the politics of South Africa, aligning industrialization closely with exploitation. Approaching Rhodes from the standpoint of environment and technology casts a different light on the development of a racially exclusive state in South Africa, which is usually explained either in terms of European racial ideology or in the emergence of colonial labor relations.
(February 8: Catherine Jackson)
"How Did Practice Lead to Theory in Emil Fischer's Work?"
ABSTRACT: We think of structural theory, and particularly the theory of aromatic structure, as underpinning the achievements of late-nineteenth century organic chemistry. My study of the quintessential synthetic organic chemist Emil Fischer indicates we should reverse this relationship between theory and practice. For Fischer, organic synthesis was the method of choice in investigating the constitution of organic molecules, and the sure foundation of structural theory. But how did Fischer and his peers stabilise a new and productive molecular world in three dimensions?
(February 15: Anjan Chakravartty)
"Voluntarism and Scepticism Regarding Scientific Knowledge"
ABSTRACT: Epistemological disputes in the philosophy of science often focus on the question of how minimalist or expansive one should be in interpreting the claims of our best theories. Some empiricists, for example, only countenance belief in the observable content of these theories, while realists of different sorts extend belief, in incompatible ways, to strictly unobservable entities, events, and processes. I analyze these disputes in terms of differences regarding where to draw a line between domains in which one has warrant for belief and those in which one should suspend belief and thus remain skeptical, by considering and defending the idea that the precise location of this line is subject to a form of epistemic voluntarism.
(February 22: Alexei Kojevnikov)
"Space-Time, Death-Resurrection, and the Russian Revolution: Alexander Friedman and the Origins of Big Bang Cosmology"
ABSTRACT: The project investigates the cultural background that inspired the concept of non-stationary Universe (or Big Bang cosmology, in contemporary terminology), pioneered in 1922-1924 by the Petrograd mathematician Alexander A. Friedman (1888-1925). The enthusiastic reception of the Einstein-Minkowski ideas on relativity and the four-dimensional world created an intellectual turmoil in revolutionary Russia and affected various strata of the educated public, including avant-garde painters, futurist poets, religious historians, experimental physiologists, pure and applied mathematicians, and mystical philosophers. Together with other latest intellectual fashions inspired by Freud, Steinach, and Spengler and re-interpreted within the context of revolutionary culture, it produced an outburst of wildly unconventional theories and hypotheses that linked relativity to the concepts of rejuvenation, death and resurrection, astronomical and historical catastrophism, the eternal return, and the fundamental periodicity on different time scales (cosmic, historical, and personal). Reflecting the traumas and unique existential experiences of the generation that had lived through and survived the historical cataclysm of the World War, the Revolution, and the Civil War, these speculations created a climate in which the idea of the collapse and periodic rebirth of the Universe became conceivable.
(March 1: Christopher Pincock)
"Abstract Explanations in Science and Mathematics"
ABSTRACT: This paper develops a generalized notion of difference-making that allows for non-causal sorts of dependence. This leads to a class of explanations that I call abstract explanations. Abstract explanations involve an appeal to a more abstract entity than the state of affairs being explained. I argue that the abstract entity need not be causally relevant to the explanandum for its features to be explanatorily relevant. I illustrate this using two cases: the explanation of Plateau's laws for soap-films and the explanation for the unsolvability of fifth-degree polynomial equations. In both cases the appeal to a more abstract domain provides significant explanatory insight into a more concrete domain.
(March 8: Kristoffer Whitney)
"A Bird in Hand: Craft, Data, and Hope in Wildlife Biology"
ABSTRACT: Since the turn of the twentieth century, wildlife biologists in Britain and the U.S. have promoted "banding" amongst professional and amateur ornithologists as an important source of data on the populations and movements of migratory birds. The practice of capturing, marking, recording, and releasing these animals has indeed generated volumes of data, but these quintessentially bureaucratic wildlife management practices have also instantiated relationships with nonhuman nature that go beyond the numbers to include sensory experience, phenomenological attachments, and ethical imaginaries. These relationships, far from being peripheral to field biology, have altered both the practice and the politics of wildlife management over the course of the century.
(March 29: Atsushi Akera)
"Engineering 'Manpower' Crisis and the 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education"
ABSTRACT: This talk will be about the engineering "manpower" crisis of the 1950s, and how this contributed to the development of the 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education. Even prior to World War II, the State of California had already made substantial investments into its system of higher education, producing a tripartite system made up of its junior colleges, state colleges, and the University of California system. However, as documented by Cold War historians as well as historians of California, the massive expansion of Southern California’s defense sector, along with demographic shifts in the college-going population, made questions of technical workforce development a major issue in California's political scene. This regional development clearly intersected with an ongoing national dialogue about an engineering manpower crisis, which although exacerbated and politically amplified by Sputnik, pre-dated this crisis.
The California Master Plan is a document that many regard to have been the blueprint for one of the most envied systems of higher education in the world. In ways designed specifically to resonate with current conversations about the state of public higher education, this talk will examine the extent to which regional and national workforce issues, and the broader Cold War context, shaped the overall political discourse surrounding the Master Plan. Given the legislative, and indeed constitutional stature granted to the University of California, much of the debate over the Master Plan occurred within State political institutions, including the State Board of Education, which prior to the Master Plan had direct responsibility over the State College system. However, expanding enrollments in Southern California, along with new enrollments at San Jose State in Santa Clara County (home of the future Silicon Valley) upset the tri-partite balance by creating unique demands for technical training, especially at the master's level. Clearly, the overall shape of the California Master Plan was influenced by the baby boom, along with various calls for "democratizing" education. The resulting system, which vastly expanded California's system of junior colleges in order to contain the costs of higher education while providing students with a chance to seek a better vocation or a second chance to enter a baccalaureate program, were clearly the product of these broader pressures. And yet, it was no accident that two of the most vocal advocates for reform, Malcome Love from San Diego State and John Wahlquist from San Jose State, were from regions most affected by new technical workforce demands. Nor was it an accident that technical training through the Junior Colleges mapped onto a national dialogue, initiated by the American Society for Engineering Education, which called for a vast expansion in technical institute-type training.
The talk is based on one chapter of an upcoming book on the contemporary history of engineering education reform initiatives in the United States, one that takes the conversations up to the present. As such, the talk will conclude with a more interactive dialogue with the audience about more recent developments, and the policy implications of past attempts to transform our system of higher education. All those interested in the future of higher education and higher education policy are invited to attend. (return)
(April 5: Adrian Owen)
"When Thoughts Become Actions: Functional Neuroimaging in Disorders of Conciousness"
ABSTRACT: In recent years, rapid technological developments in the field of neuroimaging have provided new methods for revealing thoughts, actions and intentions based solely on the pattern of activity that is observed in the brain. In specialized centres, these methods are now being employed routinely to detect consciousness and even to communicate with some behaviourally non-responsive patients who clinically appear to be comatose or in a vegetative state. In this talk, I will compare those circumstances in which neuroimaging data can be used to infer consciousness in the absence of a behavioural response with those circumstances in which it cannot. This distinction is fundamental for understanding and interpreting patterns of brain activity in various states of consciousness (including anaesthesia), and has profound implications for clinical care, diagnosis, prognosis and medical-legal decision- making after severe brain injury. It also sheds light on more basic scientific questions about how consciousness is measured and the neural representation of our own thoughts and intentions.
(April 19: Amy Fairchild)
"Don't Panic! The 'Excited and Terrified Public Mind' from Yellow Fever to Bioterrorism"
ABSTRACT: Panic is a leitmotif that runs through much of the literature on the history of medicine and public health. The 19th century is full of descriptions of the "howling mob" either fleeing from epidemics or trying to fight back refugees from stricken communities. By the 20th century, controlling panic was a major concern of health professionals. Elected and appointed officials worried about causing panics by precipitous action, failing to stem panics by taking no action, or, perhaps worst of all, being accused of panicking themselves. Remarkably, this history remains unstudied. Panic, though, as a phenomenon or idea is slippery. A substantial literature argues that it is a myth—populations don't actually panic. But it remains politically and culturally salient: even if we don’t do it, we believe in it. Governments, health professionals, the media, and Hollywood have continued to be either gripped by or to exploit the potential for mass disease-related panics in response to threats that trigger a perceived need for immediate action to protect populations from mass casualties. And to the extent that panic is on our lips when making policy, it will remain a kind of attribution, a retrospective judgment about that policy. How, then, can we begin to think about the uses and abuses of panic?
(April 26: Sally Haslanger)
"Are We Breaking the Ivory Ceiling? Women and Minorities in Philosophy and STEM Disciplines"
ABSTRACT: There has been significant work on the underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM disciplines through the NSF ADVANCE program. Philosophy, however, has not drawn the same attention and continues to lag behind in the recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups, not only in comparison with other humanities and social sciences, but almost all the natural sciences (physics being the exception). What can we learn from recent research about the persistence of these disparities? What is being done now, and what should be done, to avoid the substantial loss of talent and to make the academy more just?
(May 3: James Colgrove)
"Chronicle of an Epidemic Foretold: The Fall and Rise of Tuberculosis in Post-War New York City"
ABSTRACT: New York City experienced a deadly resurgence of drug-resistant tuberculosis in the 1980s and 1990s. Why did TB, a disease that was treatable with antibiotics, resurge after decades of decline? Why did the problem fester for years, even as experts warned of looming disaster? This talk analyzes the social forces that gave rise to New York's TB epidemic, the controversial measures taken by city health officials to control the outbreak, and the implications of these events for current and future public health policy.
(May 10: Gianna Pomata)
"Epistemic Genres or Styles of Thinking? Tools for the Cultural Histories of Knowledge"
ABSTRACT: My paper will discuss the notions of "epistemic genre" and "style of thinking", and their use in the history of knowledge. While "styles of knowing" have been widely debated by historians and philosophers of science, less attention has been paid to the genres of scientific texts. I propose to call epistemic that class of genres which develop in tandem with scientific or cognitive practices -- just to give a few examples: the treatise, the lecture, the commentary, the encyclopedia, the textbook, the aphorism, the dialogue, the essay, the medical recipe, the case history, etc.
I will argue that the notion of genre has a cognitive, and not only literary, dimension. I will also argue that a focus on epistemic genres can be very useful for the cultural history of science, especially in a long-term and cross-cultural, comparative dimension. I will examine in particular three of the benefits that a focus on epistemic genres may bring to the cultural (and cross-cultural) history of knowledge:
a) A better awareness of the long duration in the history of cognitive practices.
b) A rapprochement of the social history of practices and the intellectual history of concepts, both indispensable to our historical understanding of knowledge and science, but all too often cultivated as separate enterprises.
c) A new perspective from which to examine the issue of inertia versus innovation -- a key issue in the history of scientific traditions.