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Spring Semester 2014

(January 24: Jan Estep)
"Art, Emotion, Mind: What Can Brain Scans Tell Us about Being Human?"
ABSTRACT: This talk will describe my participation in a collaborative interdisciplinary art and cognitive neuroscience project titled Thinking Portraits: Mind, Body, Language. The group used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore the relationship between abstract and concrete language as processed by the brain during semantic decision tasks. As a test subject in the study, I collected hundreds of anatomical MRI images of my brain. Viewing these remarkable images got me wondering about the way brain scans convey empirical data, given the often hidden decisions and processing procedures that contribute to their production. They appear photographic and indexical, yet their actual relationship to their referent is far more complicated. They appear so informative, yet brain science is still very young. As an artist these philosophical issues naturally paralleled a set of more personal, emotional concerns about the connections between brain, body, mind, and world. Hoping to understand these connections on a more visceral, intuitive level, I began a series of drawings using the MRI images as a substrate. Working back into the brain with my hands has become a means to investigate my embodied experience and a way to question and qualify what a brain image does and does not show. (return)

(January 31: Hannah Landecker)
"The Metabolism of History: Combustion, Homeostasis, Epigenesis"
ABSTRACT: Since its induction into scientific terminology in the nineteenth century, metabolism has been a site of dietetic, medical, chemical and biological investigation, and a conceptual resource for political theory, philosophy, and social science. This talk mirrors ethnographic work in the contemporary life sciences and historical research to reverse the usual formulation of a history of metabolism and pursue instead the question of the metabolism of history: how the concepts of materialist animal chemistry and physiology were built into food animals, crop plants, and microbes as part of the scaling up and industrialization of biology, in the process changing the objects and problems at the heart of biochemical and biomedical research. While offering a very practical history of certain objects and narratives of metabolic science, this talk also asks: How is knowledge shaped by confronting the products – the biological manifestations - of its previous applications? And might we seek rapprochement between intellectual history and material culture in a rigorous excavation of their intercalation in the process of historical change? (return)

(February 7: Robert Spekkens)
"On Causal Explanations of Quantum Correlations"
ABSTRACT: An active area of research in the fields of machine learning and statistics is the development of causal discovery algorithms, the purpose of which is to infer thecausal relations that hold among a set of variables from the correlations that these exhibit.We show that any causal explanation of certain quantum correlations—those that violate a Bell inequality—must contradict a core principle of these algorithms, namely, that an observed statistical independence between variables shouldnot be explained by fine-tuning of the causal parameters.The fine-tuning criticism applies to all of the standard attempts at causal explanations of Bell correlations,such as superluminal causal influences, superdeterminism, and retrocausation. Nonetheless, we argue that by casting quantum theory as a theory of Bayesianinference, we can generalize the notion of a causal model and salvage a causal explanation of Bell correlations without fine-tuning.
(based on http://arxiv.org/abs/1208.4119
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(February 14: Martin Summers)
"'A Maze of Unintelligibility': Psychotherapy and African American Patients at Saint Elizabeths Hospital, 1900-1940"
ABSTRACT: With its emphasis on the individualization of mental disease, dynamic psychiatry held out the promise of more efficacious treatment modalities. If psychiatrists could get beneath the surface of patients' symptoms and understand their "meanings and values," then they had a better chance of facilitating mentally ill individuals' readjustment to their social environments. This talk is an examination of the use of psychotherapy on African American patients at Saint Elizabeths Hospital, a federal mental institution in Washington, D.C., in the early twentieth century. The psychiatrists and nurses engaged with these patients in ways that both revealed a concern for their mental well-being and a deep sense of racial antipathy. African American patients were not merely objects of medical scrutiny and targets of institutional management however. They interacted with the staff in ways that challenged the medical authority to not only determine the clinical encounter, but to establish particular truth claims about black insanity as well.
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(February 21: Eric Otremba)
"Experimental Empire: Science, Sugar, and Plantation Slavery in the English Atlantic, 1626-1688"
ABSTRACT: My talk covers the spread of the English sugar industry in the seventeenth century, and how this expansion was interpreted by the self-proclaimed "experimental philosophers" of England's natural science community during this time. Following Francis Bacon's program of empiric improvement, experimental philosophers were a novel group insofar as they found ways to link the distinct concepts of scientific experiment, useful inventions, and commercial trade into a single program of progressive national development. This program included the forced-labor work camps that were Caribbean sugar plantations. While today we rarely associate Barbadian sugar estates with paradigms of technological or economic progress, these thinkers understood sugar plantations in a radically different context, allowing them to compare plantations and sugar works to other recent wonders like gunpowder and the loadstone. (return)

(February 28: Susan Craddock)
"Science, Patents, and Global Health: Contradictions of Tuberculosis Vaccine and Drug Development."
ABSTRACT: For the first time in over four decades, tuberculosis drugs are being developed again. A more effective vaccine for TB is being developed for the first time in almost a century. Why this is occurring now, both therapeutically and politically, is the main subject of this talk. Product Development Partnerships, or PDPs, constituting nonprofit organizations, academic researchers, philanthropic representatives, and pharmaceutical companies are collaborating on new treatments for several infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, considered to be "neglected" because they primarily affect low-income populations and are therefore not lucrative enough prospects for pharmaceutical industry attention. Besides the why now question, this talk will ask what happens scientifically and ethically to the research and development process when you largely untether the profit incentive from pharmaceutical production. (return)

(March 7: E. Haven Hawley)
"Mimeography: Constructing Culture through Reproduction"
ABSTRACT: The analysis of print artifacts provides a way to consider the role of print and technological access in the construction of Ukrainian national identity. Thousands of soldiers from the First Division of the Ukrainian National Army surrendered to British forces as the Soviet military swept westward in the closing weeks of World War II. Ukrainian prisoners produced an array of cultural print to accompany the courses, choirs and sporting clubs that they devised to uplift and unite internees. Publications wove the vision of Ukrainian independence deeply into camp culture, cementing relations between elite and illiterate soldiers. Through an archaeological method, these rare publications can be examined as evidence of the role of second-hand technologies in the construction of culture. (return)

(March 28: Gregg Mitman)
"A Film Never Made: History, Science, and Memory in Liberia"
ABSTRACT: In 1926, Richard Pearson Strong, head of Harvard’s Department of Tropical Medicine, led an eight-member scientific team to conduct a four-month long biological and medical survey of the interior region of Liberia. The expedition relied heavily on the economic, personnel, and physical infrastructures being erected by the Firestone Plantations Company to secure a viable rubber supply for the United States in Liberia. While Firestone’s continued presence in Liberia is one lasting legacy of the expedition, so too is the motion picture record the expedition left behind. This talk embarks on a cinematic journey that follows the extracts of an expedition and the lives of a film never made, as the expedition footage takes on a new life in post-civil war Liberia. (return)

(April 4: Carla Fehr)
"Ignorance, Excellence, and Diversity: Improving the Representation of Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics"
ABSTRACT: Women and members of some minority groups are underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). I argue that in addition to this being an ethical problem, it hurts the creativity and rigour of scientific and technological research. This talk draws on philosophical accounts of the social nature of scientific work, and on qualitative and quantitative research regarding women and minorities in the academy. I explore issues of diversity in STEM in ways that are both policy-relevant and that advance our understanding of the structures of scientific research communities.
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(April 11: Elaine Leong)
"'Tried and Tested': Creating a Treasury for Health in Early Modern England"
ABSTRACT: Recipes, whether medicinal, alchemical, culinary or technical, occupied a central place within the transmission and circulation of practical household knowledge. The large number of manuscript recipe collections still extant in the archives is suggestive of their ubiquity within the early modern domestic sphere. Modern readers often marvel at the thousands of similar yet slightly different remedies contained in these notebooks. A glance at any pre-modern recipe collection frequently yields a handful of recipes for the same ailment or several versions of well-known recipes such as 'lucatella's balsam' or 'Dr Steven’s water'. Comparison of individual recipes reveals that the variants differ slightly with minute changes in methods, ingredients and use. A second puzzling feature of early modern recipes lies in the fact that many of these similar recipes are attributed to different authors creating what to modern eyes is a complex web of information.

This paper intends to address these two distinctive features of manuscript recipe collections through an investigation of the compilation process. Analysis of individual notebooks and of the marks left by readers and users demonstrate that pre-modern recipe collections were created through a simple three-step process. The process began with the gathering of recipes from practitioners, family, friends and printed books. The collected information was then tested for efficacy and suitability to the compiler's household. If deemed a success, the recipe was assimilated into the household's trusted trove of practical knowledge. During this process, compilers often customized the recipes to suit the requirements and needs of their families. This personalization may take the form of ingredient substitution, the use of a preferred production method or even an outright rejection of the suggested procedure. After these modifications, the recipe, now bearing the name of a different author, re-enters the recipe exchange circuit as a new recipe and as 'new' knowledge. I argue that this three-step process of recipe compilation is in itself a process of knowledge production. After all, these tidbits of practical hands-on knowledge were tried, tested by personal experience and altered (or rejected) accordingly. Tweaking, I suggest, is creating. The recovering of these processes allows us to further understand informal knowledge production within early modern households. Early modern homes, it turns out, were vibrant sites for knowledge codification. (return)

(April 18: Suzanne Moon)
"Thinking through Technology and Religion: Industrialization and Islam in New Order Indonesia"
ABSTRACT: In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a group of Indonesian Muslim intellectuals, including engineers, doctors, and physicists, advocated that Muslims consider the significance of Indonesian technological development for Islam, and of Islam for both Indonesian and global trajectories of scientific and technological change. Arguing that the spiritual devotion of Islamic engineers and scientists, and their involvement in complex modern technologies, held the key to producing a more harmonious and socially just technoscientific order, they aimed to influence state policies, cultural assumptions, and individual technical and religious practices. By articulating moral critiques of contemporary industrial societies, they asserted a meaningful relationship between technological practices and spiritual devotion, challenged the presumptive trajectories of industrialization in Indonesia, and posited scientists and engineers as a kind of technocracy for the global community of believers.
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(April 25: Richard Zach)
"Carnap and Logic in the 1920s and 1930s"
ABSTRACT: During the hey-day of the Vienna Circle, Rudolf Carnap pursued two technical projects in logic: the first was the general axiomatics program, in which he attempted to develop a general theory of axiomatized systems within the framework of the type theory of Principia mathematica. The second was the program of Logical Syntax. A proper understanding of the relationship of these projects, their relevance to the development of Carnap's though and the development of metamathematics, is best obtained by viewing it in the context of the broader history of logic at the time, e.g., the work of Tarski and Gödel.
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(May 2: Catherine Jackson)
"Chemists' Labour's Lost: A History of Organic Chemistry in Four Acts"
ABSTRACT: Existing histories of nineteenth century chemistry speak of atoms and the theories of valence, structure and stereochemistry. These are histories of theory and application, told through great men and great moments. And they have left us without a history of one of the nineteenth century’s most powerful and productive sciences: synthetic organic chemistry. This talk presents a disciplinary history of organic synthesis built on chemical practice. By studying what chemists did in long days at the laboratory bench, we see how they came to know substance and reaction in ways that ultimately enabled them to produce specified target substances by synthesis. Chemists summarized this knowledge as theory. But if we take chemical theories to be synonymous with chemical knowledge, we too are summarizing what nineteenth century chemists knew rather than explaining how they knew it.(return)

 

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