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Abstracts for CamPoS

CamPoS (Cambridge Philosophy of Science) is a network of academics and students working in the philosophy of science in various parts of the University of Cambridge, including the Department of History and Philosophy of Science and the Faculty of Philosophy. The Wednesday afternoon seminar series features current research by CamPoS members as well as visitors to Cambridge and scholars based in nearby institutions. If you are interested in presenting in the series, please contact Matt Farr (mwef2). If you have any queries or suggestions for other activities that CamPoS could undertake, please contact Huw Price, Jeremy Butterfield or Anna Alexandrova.

Seminars are held on Wednesdays, 1.00–2.30pm in Seminar Room 2.

Further details of the composition and activities of CamPoS

Michaelmas Term 2018

Show overview

10 October Jonathan Cohen (University of California, San Diego)
Many Molyneux Questions
(Joint work with Mohan Matthen)
Molyneux's Question (MQ) concerns whether a newly sighted man would recognize/distinguish a sphere and a cube by vision, assuming he could previously do this by touch.

We argue that (MQ) splits into questions about (a) shared representations of space in different perceptual systems, and about (b) shared ways of constructing higher dimensional spatiotemporal features from information about lower dimensional ones, most of the technical difficulty centring on (b). So understood, MQ resists any monolithic answer: everything depends on the constraints faced by particular perceptual systems in extracting features of higher dimensionality from those of lower. Each individual question of this type is empirical and must be investigated separately.

We present several variations on MQ based on different levels of dimensional integration — some of these are familiar, some novel adaptations of problems known elsewhere, and some completely novel. Organizing these cases in this way is useful because it unifies a set of disparate questions about intermodal transfer that have held philosophical and psychological interest, suggests a new range of questions of the same type, sheds light on similarities and differences between members of the family, and allows us to formulate a much-augmented set of principles and questions concerning the intermodal transfer of spatiotemporal organization.
17 October Rune Nyrup (Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, Cambridge)
Explanations for medical artificial intelligence
(Joint work with Diana Robinson)
AI systems are currently being developed and deployed for a variety medical purposes. A common objection to this trend is that medical AI systems risk being 'black-boxes', unable to explain their decisions. How serious this objection is remains unclear. As some commentators point out, human doctors too are often unable to properly explain their decisions. In this paper, we seek to clarify this debate. We (i) analyse the reasons why explainability is important for medical AI, (ii) outline some of the features that make for good explanations in this context, and (iii) compare how well humans and AI systems are able to satisfy these. We conclude that while humans currently have the edge, recent developments in technical AI research may allow us to construct medical AI systems which are better explainers than humans.
24 October Karim Thébault (University of Bristol)
Leibniz, Mach and the C-Series
According to Carlo Rovelli the (undirected) time orderings of physical states should be given relationally via reference to internal clocks [1]. Internal clocks do not generically provide an always increasing (or decreasing) parameterization of physical states. This means that Rovelli's internal time proposal allows for violations of 'temporal monotonicity'. Alternative proposals that retain temporal monotonicity have recently been shown to lead to physically distinct models for quantum cosmology [2]. The status of temporal monotonicity is thus of potential empirical significance.

In this talk we will consider the status temporal monotonicity in a philosophical perspective with reference to three particular historical figures. First, we will examine the extent to which this aspect of time features in Leibniz's positive account of time, as reconstructed by Arthur [3]. Next, we will considering the relevance of some suggestive remarks from Mach's Science of Mechanics [4]. Finally, we will consider the extent to which temporal monotonicity is equivalent to McTaggart's C-series, as reconstructed by Farr [5].

We conclude by briefly considering the challenge to various forms of realism about temporal monotonicity posed by general relativity.

[1] Rovelli, C. (2002) Phys. Rev. D 65 124013.
[2] Gryb, S., & Thébault, K. P. (2018). Physics Letters B 784 324-329.
[3] Arthur, R. T. (1985). Leibniz's theory of time. In The natural philosophy of Leibniz, pp. 263–313. Springer.
[4] Mach, E. (2013). The Science of Mechanics. Cambridge University Press.
[5] Farr, M. The C Theory of Time. Unpublished draft.
31 October Karina Vold (Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, Cambridge)
Reconciling the opposing effects of neurobiological evidence on criminal sentencing judgments
(Co-authored with Eyal Aharoni, Corey Allen, Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby and Gidon Felson)
Legal theorists have characterized physical evidence of brain dysfunction as a double-edged sword, wherein the very quality that reduces the defendant's responsibility for his transgression could simultaneously increase motivations to punish him by virtue of his apparently increased dangerousness. However, empirical evidence of this pattern has been elusive, perhaps owing to a heavy reliance on singular measures that fail to distinguish between plural, often competing internal motivations for punishment. In this talk I will present a new study that employed a test of the theorized double-edge pattern using a novel approach designed to separate such motivations. This is the first study of its kind to quantitatively demonstrate the paradoxical effect of neuroscientific trial evidence and raises implications for how such evidence is presented and evaluated.
7 November Christoph Hoerl (University of Warwick)
Temporal binding and the idea of a 'sense of agency': a critical examination
Voluntary action gives rise to a temporal binding effect, in which the interval between intentional movements and their causal consequences is subjectively compressed. In the current psychological literature, temporal binding is widely conceived of as a measure of a 'sense of agency' involved in voluntary action. I provide an analysis of the explanatory framework that I take to be in play in existing accounts based on this idea. I raise two key problems for such accounts – an empirical and a conceptual one – and argue that the very idea of a dedicated 'sense of agency' rests on a confusion between two different issues. I then outline an alternative explanatory framework, which instead construes temporal binding as a measure of a belief in causality. I show how such an alternative framework, too, can explain the results of studies in which temporal binding has been shown to be affected by factors that specifically impinge on participants' judgements about the extent to which they are themselves actively involved in bringing about the timed events.
14 November Ali Boyle (Trinity Hall, Cambridge)
Memory: what is it good for?
Increasingly, memory researchers are of the view that memory is not for remembering. That is, we do not have episodic memories (memories of personally experienced events) because being able to remember is itself beneficial, but because it confers some other advantage – most often, the ability to 'project' oneself into the future. This claim has been used to lend support to novel accounts of episodic memory's nature, and to motivate new evidential standards for its detection in animals. In this talk, I aim to show that the arguments for this claim are unsound, and offer a (qualified) defence of the view that remembering is the function of episodic memory.
21 November Katie Robertson (Philosophy, Cambridge/University of Birmingham)
Time-asymmetry in thermal physics
The second law of thermodynamics has a lot to answer for. Reichenbach claims it was responsible for the direction of time. Atkins claims that 'the second law is one of the all-time great laws of science, for it illuminates why anything – anything from the cooling of hot matter to the formulation of a thought – happens at all'. And Hawking claims it is a tautology.

In this talk, I discuss the different concepts of time-asymmetry in thermal physics and claim that the second law has less bite than the authors above suggest. Instead of an arrow of time, it is more appropriate to say, as Uffink suggests, that the second law describes the ravages of time. Instead of considering thermodynamics to be the source of the arrow of time, I claim that statistical mechanics is the theory we should focus on. By looking at a particular framework advocated by Zwanzig, Zeh and Wallace, I discuss how the time-asymmetry in statistical mechanics arises out of the underlying time-symmetric dynamics.
28 November Matt Farr (HPS, Cambridge)
The C theory of time
Does time have a direction? Intuitively, it does. After all, our experiences, our thoughts, even our scientific explanations of phenomena are time-directed; things evolve from earlier to later, and it would seem unnecessary and indeed odd to try to expunge such talk from our philosophical lexicon. Nevertheless, in this talk I will make the case for what I call the C theory of time: in short, the thesis that time does not have a direction. I will do so by making the theory as palatable as possible, and this will involve giving an account of why it is permissible and indeed useful to talk in time-directed terms, what role time-directed explanations play in science, and why neither of these should commit us to the claim that reality is fundamentally directed in time. On the positive side, I will make the case that the C theory’s deflationism about the direction of time offers a superior account of time asymmetries in physics than rival time-direction-realist accounts.