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History and philosophy of science.

Chair: Michael Dodge,

McGill Law School

Vice-chair: Paula Smithka, University of Southern Mississippi


Room 228



Dr. Kant Vajpayee, University of Southern Mississippi, MS 39406

Our material world is explainable by Newtonian physics. The spiritual world remains beyond the reach of science. Newton's laws, however, fail to explain the material world at the micro/nano and the giga/tera levels. For these levels quantum physics is the tool. Could physics at these levels hold some clue for the God question of the philosophers! The science at the atomic level is stuck with an observation that has been called the uncertainty principle. Is there any connection with the rationality underlying the uncertainty principle and the philosophers' question on whether there is a God? Is the scientist's uncertainty at the quantum level hinting towards the uncertainty of God?



Dr. Ken Curry, University of Southern Mississippi, MS 39406

Aristotle (384-322 BC) is not only one of the most famous Greek philosophers, but also the first "theoretical biologist" whose extensive writings in biology have survived. His understanding of the world included four causes of which the final cause provided the reason why something exists, its teleology. This was an internal principle in organisms; something for the sake of which an organism existed. Changes in Aristotle's views can be historically traced to the seventeenth century when Rene Descartes (1596-1650) presented a major challenge to Aristotelean teleology. Descartes described a mechanical universe and the heart as a mechnical pump, whereas William Harvey (1578-1657) was trained in the Aristotelean tradition and described the circulation of blood in terms of Aristotelean teleology. Acceptance of Harvey's work came in part from its re-interpretation by Descartes in mechanical terms, despite Harvey's descriptions being more accurate than Descartes'. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) introduced the concept of force to replace Cartesian movement. The concept of force was formalized by Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727), and permeated biological explanations. The Romantic Era (ca. 1790-1830) was characterized by an awe of the complexity of life forms in contrast to the elegance of Newtonian physics. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) advocated an internal force, in an era of newly discovered forces, to explain change in life forms (Critique of Teleology 1790/ 2nd ed. 1793). Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840) ascribed to organismal development a "formative" force he dubbed Bildungstrieb which roughly paralleled Kant's teleology.



Michael Dodge, McGill University, QC H2W 2A2

The fundamental locomotive force behind the generalized field of science is unquestionably the discovery and utilization of knowledge about our universe. Though the specific fields may vary from analyses of the interstices of atomic movement to the nature of black holes, the ostensible goal of such human endeavor is to increase and refine what we know. While traditional epistemology is commonly employed in knowledge analysis, at times it may lack a direct connection to the natural world. It is toward this end that the related but differentiable fields of evolutionary and naturalized epistemology lend their aid. While favored logical principles may enable epistemologists to begin their task, there always remains the possibility that one's belief is in fact false, despite one's principled assertions to the contrary, or that the way in which one comes to believe what one does is flawed. Putting questions to an empirical test may assuage some of these fears, and may even confirm, or at the very least fail to refute, what was a priori utilized in any given epistemological quandary. This presentation is therefore intended to evoke reminiscence, cogitation, and discussion on the place of the natural world as not only the object of our knowledge, but also as its progenitor or, at the very least, its place as a tool in the portmanteau of modern epistemologists, and it will hold that while arguably flawed in certain respects, evolutionary and naturalized epistemology are nevertheless useful tools in the ever present march towards greater scientific understanding.

10:30 BREAK



Dr. Paula Smithka, University of Southern Mississippi, MS 39406

Teleology, the concept of goal-directedness, has historically played a role in biological explanations, sometimes positively, but more often, at least since the 17th century, taken negatively as endorsing an external force imposing a telos on organisms. This interpretation led to criticisms and ultimately rejection of teleological explanations in biology. Aristotle (384-322 BC) is perhaps the first and best known philosopher to consider goal-directedness in his accounts of organisms. His theory of the four causes (aitiai), better considered as the four "explanations," includes a "final cause" or "what-it-is-for" as an internal principle that coincides with the "formal cause" for organisms. The physician Galen (129-199/217) is apparently responsible for corrupting Aristotle's notion of final cause to be an externally imposed telos. The idea is further promulgated by medieval philosophers like Avicenna (980-1037), Averroes (1126-1198), and St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1224-1274). By the modern period, Rene Descartes' (1596-1650) bete-machines and mechanistic view of the universe was the accepted scientific paradigm. Mechanism banished teleology from biological explanations as "unscientific," or "theology." Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), however, claimed that organisms must be reflected on as "natural purposes." Like Aristotle, the telos was considered to be internal to the organism; for Kant, it seemed to be a force, unknown to us, but "linked in one principle" to "the physical-mechanical connection." Hence, proper understanding of teleology along the lines of Aristotle's or even Kant's views provides a useful and scientifically respectable basis for some biological explanations



Samuel Huey, University of Southern Mississippi, MS 39401

This presentation reports on the archaeological excavation and interpretation of a prehistoric burial recovered in Grand Bay, Mississippi during Summer 2010. Analysis of the mortuary practices seen and the skeletal material presented helps us better understand lifeways on the Gulf Coast. Ceramics found at the Ford site (22JA564) indicate that it was occupied between 500 and 2000 years ago. Analysis of this burial provides insight to the time of most intense occupation, which occurred between AD 800 and 1200. The human remains are representative of one individual; the preservation is good, but the bones are fragmentary. They consist of several teeth, portions of mandible and maxillae; fragments of hand, rib, and vertebra, and pieces of femur. Despite their condition, the fragments that are available for interpretation reveal information as to the age and sex as well as the diet and activities of the individual. Femur measurements indicate that the bones likely belong to a woman. One of the molars show evidence of hypercementosis and the teeth were badly worn. The specific attrition pattern suggests a varied diet that included both agriculturalist and marine resources. Evidence of a muscle tear is seen on the proximal femur. The burial and associated cultural material produce critical evidence as to the identity of the people who created the shell middens and indicate the nature of activities conducted at the site. Results of analysis of burial are compared to skeletal remains recovered from Cedarland(22HA5xx), Greenwood Island(22JA516), and Richard (22HR635).




J. Sylvia IV, Itawamba Community College, MS 39401

Stephen Hawking's recently released "The Grand Design" claims on the first page that philosophy is dead because it hasn't kept up with the sciences. Several strategies for responding to this claim have been taken, ranging from ceding that the branch of philosophy known as metaphysics may be dead to claiming that doing any science at all requires a philosophic framework. After briefly discussing the historical relationship between philosophy and science, I will argue that the current relationship is somewhat more complex and subtle. First, in many fields scientists and philosophers are working together closely on contemporary issues such as understanding the concepts of 'species' in biology or 'consciousness' in neuroscience. I will argue that this sci-phi collaboration is beneficial for both science and philosophy, and has application to several branches of philosophy including ethics. Second, I argue that science can, in a meaningful way, be equated to philosophy. Many scientists claim that they have no need for philosophy in their day-to-day work. This is likely true for the many scientists who are doing the work that Thomas Kuhn would call "puzzle solving." However, scientific work that is pushing boundaries or asking questions that might lead to a shift in paradigm resembles the traditional work of metaphysics, in that what changes is not the evidence of experimental results, but rather the interpretation of the very same results. If Hawking concludes that philosophy is dead, it is only because he is firmly entrenched within a particular paradigm.

2:00 Divisional Business Meeting


William Suttle, University of Southern Mississippi, MS 39402

W.V.O. Quine argues that quantified modal logic (QML) has the consequence of commitment to Aristotelian essentialism--the position that objects have some of their characteristics essentially and others accidentally. For Quine, the statement: (Ex) nec (x > 7) means that there exists something and this something has one of its characteristics essentially--the characteristic of being greater than 7. For this reason (and because Quine views Aristotelian essentialism as inherently problematic), he claims that QML should be avoided. Quine's position is only sound given his interpretation of the 'E' quantifier as implying existence. But there are logics that provide alternative interpretations of E. For example, free logic employs both an E (called a particular quantifier) that carries no existential import and an E! (the existential quantifier) which explicitly carries existential import. Thus, free logic allows one to quantify into modal contexts without commitment to essentialism (or any ontological position). I suggest that free logic is the best logic for quantifying into modal contexts. One may use free logic to formally capture modal discourse and valid inferences, but without ontological commitment. If a philosopher holds an ontological position, such as Aristotelian essentialism, then free logic provides the formal tools to make existential commitments explicit. Ultimately, what exists is not determined by formal language. A formal language is a tool--it should be strong enough to capture valid inferences (including modal inferences) without the interpretation of the formal language itself implying existence.



Thomas Walden

Millsaps College

Using Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong as a primary source, this paper seeks to establish superstring theory as one that is fundamentally unscientific. Woit's extensive historical analysis of the development of particle physics, as well his discussion of the problems inherent in superstring theory's development/application shall be used to create an argument regarding the scientific status of the theory itself. This argument shall focus primarily on superstring theory's inability to be tested and, likewise, its inability to make predictions. Superstring theory is, this paper concludes, at best an exceedingly complex, esoteric system of concepts with no readily available method of verification, and at worst a misguided attempt to re-create the period of rapid progress that characterized particle physics during the mid-to-late 20th century.
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Publication:Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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