Fall Semester 2014
(September 12: 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.
(September 19: Karen Detlefsen)
"Generation, Individuation, and Teleology: Malebranche’s and Leibniz’s Divergent Theories of Pre-formation"
ABSTRACT: When some early modern natural philosophers rejected Scholastic substantial forms in favor of a parsimonious, and often explanatorily powerful, mechanistic philosophy, one natural phenomenon they had particular difficulty accommodating was the generation of new living beings. In this talk, I look at how Malebranche and Leibniz deal with this difficulty, and the different ways they draw upon teleology to help them provide theories of generation that can preserve the new mechanism. In the process, I underscore the complexity of theories of teleology in the 17th century.
(September 26: Alistair Sponsel)
"Writing the Origin with Burned Fingers: Darwin's Penance for the 'Sin of Speculation'"
ABSTRACT: Charles Darwin was notoriously slow to publish his theory of evolution by natural selection. His reticent approach to publishing on species is generally attributed to his supposed fear of advocating the potentially controversial doctrine of transmutation. I argue, by contrast, that Darwin's caution was the result of a specific scientific embarrassment in his past. What concerned him most about the prospect of publishing a theory of evolution was not the topic, evolution, but the general act of publishing a theoretical book. The one other time he had tried to do so, as a young man using his theory of coral reef formation to offer an ambitious account of the history of the earth and its inhabitants, the public criticism of his "speculations" drove him nearly to despair and made him unable to deliver the book he had promised. It was this experience which shaped Darwin's authorial priorities for his next grand theory: evolution by natural selection. He stopped thinking of his private speculations on species as an exhilarating distraction from the challenge of writing a geological book and began to plot a conservative course designed to insulate him (and eventually his species theory itself) from charges of rash speculation. I thus show that Darwin's well-known authorial decisions on the way to publishing On the Origin of Species were made as attempts to avoid repeating, and ideally to compensate for, the missteps he believed he had made as a young author. In turn I argue that our understanding of scientific authorship has been distorted by the assumption that it must have been the topic, rather than the mode of presentation, that determined how risky it felt to be the prospective author of a theory.
(Octber 3: Author Roy Cook Meets Readers)
"The Yablo Paradox: An Essay on Circularity"
ABSTRACT: The Yablo paradox, which consists of an infinite sequence of sentences, each of which says that all sentences following it in the list are false, seems to provide us with an example of semantic paradox containing no circularity. In The Yablo Paradox Roy T Cook examines this puzzle in detail, paying particular attention to:
(1) The characterization problem: Determining which patterns of sentential reference—circular or not—generate paradoxes.
(2) The circularity question: Determining whether, and in what sense, the Yablo paradox is non-circular.
(3) The generalizability question: Determining whether the infinitely descending pattern found in the Yablo paradox can be used to construct non-circular variants of other familiar paradoxes.
(October 10: Karen Rader)
"Life on Display: The Exhibits Revolution in U.S. Science and Natural History Museums"
ABSTRACT: Once defined primarily by their collections, by the end of the twentieth century, American natural history and science museums had become institutions defined largely by their displays. This talk will use life science exhibits to illustrate how and why this transformation occurred. Efforts to modernize displays shaped and were themselves shaped by new institutional roles and identities for museums in twentieth-century science education and in American culture.
Drawing on the speaker's co-authored book of the same name, the talk will reflect on the controversies that accompanied exhibition building, chronicling how and why curators, designers, and educators worked with and against one another to build displays intended to communicate new ideas about topics like evolution, animal behavior, and radiation to various American publics. Scientists were extraordinarily invested in the success of museums' displays and saw display as an integral element of their own public outreach work and research agendas. In turn, rapidly professionalizing exhibit designers were periodic participants in the research process, supplementing and sometimes prompting research projects through the displays they built.
(October 17: Marcus Feldman)
"Next Generation Theory of Cultural Evolution"
ABSTRACT: The human cultural niche can influence both biological and cultural evolution. The effects of changes in some norms and values may have unexpected consequences for other norms and values. One example will be shown. The role of culturally determined marriage preferences on cultural niche construction also has entirely unexpected effects. Rarely modeled effects of learning styles on the stochastic dynamics of cultural traits in small populations will be explored using agent-based simulation techniques.
(October 24: Mini-symposium on Vesalius)
(October 31: Jereon van Dongen)
"A Virtuous Theorist's Theoretical Virtues: Einstein on Physics versus Mathematics and Experience versus Unification"
ABSTRACT: When Albert Einstein formulated the general theory of relativity, he combined a physical and mathematical approach, as Renn and others have shown. He retained and explicitly referred to these categories in his later work on unified field theory as well, but emphasized their usefulness differently, just as his later recollections of how he found general relativity gradually changed. These altered recollections were not only the consequence of his new, highly mathematical unification program, but also served as an advertisement for that program: Einstein enlisted idealizations of his self as justification for his highly controversial work.
(November 14: TBA)
(November 21: Tarja Knuuttila)
"Modeling, Representing and Experimenting in the Study of Genetic Circuits"
(December 5: Arthur Daemmrich)
"Vulnerable Subjects, Vulnerable Knowledge: Children’s Chemical Testing Programs in the United States and European Union"
ABSTRACT: Methods for identifying health risks in children – and the very characterization of children as a vulnerable population – have undergone significant transformations in recent decades. Attention to the risks posed by industrial chemicals has expanded from waste streams to commercial products, and from surveying the environment for known toxins to mapping the ‘body burdens’ of hundreds of synthetic substances – especially potentially endocrine disrupting chemicals – found in humans. This talk presents findings from a historical and sociological research project concerning long-term testing programs in the United States and Europe. In both settings, children came to be understood as vulnerable to synthetic compounds found in breast milk or absorbed through exposure to cleaning compounds and plastic toys. Test methods, especially plans to recruit minority participants through financial incentives, proved more controversial in the United States than in the European Union. At the same time, EU member states carried out competing studies and regulators found it impossible to integrate test results. Furthermore, issues of cooperation among otherwise competing firms and between the industry and government regulators plagued efforts in the United States, while the complexity of fitting children’s testing into a major new regulatory framework for chemicals slowed testing in Europe. The talk presents an analysis of testing programs and offers historical and comparative insight on initiatives intended to generate new regulatory knowledge that is disruptive to existing governance systems and the social roles occupied by physicians, industry, government regulators, and health-oriented NGOs.