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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

Lent Term 2020

Show overview

29 January Marta Halina (HPS, Cambridge)
Creativity and AI
In March 2016, DeepMind's computer program AlphaGo surprised the world by defeating the world-champion Go player, Lee Sedol. AlphaGo has a novel, surprising and valuable style of play, and has been recognized as 'creative' by the AI and Go communities. This paper examines whether AlphaGo engages in creative problem solving according to the standards of comparative psychology. I conclude that although AlphaGo lacks one important aspect of creative problem solving found in animals (domain generality) it exhibits a different capacity for creativity: namely, the ability to transform a conceptual space through something akin to instrumental conditioning. This analysis has consequences for how we think about creativity in humans and AI.
5 February Jonathan Birch (LSE)
The search for invertebrate consciousness
There is no agreement on whether any invertebrates (e.g. insects, spiders, worms, octopuses, crabs) are conscious and no agreement on a methodology that could settle the issue. How can the debate move forward? I distinguish three broad types of approach: theory-heavy, theory-neutral and theory-light. I argue that the theory-heavy and theory-neutral approaches face serious problems, motivating a middle path: the theory-light approach. At the core of the theory-light approach is a minimal theoretical commitment about the relation between consciousness and cognition that is compatible with many specific theories of consciousness: the hypothesis that conscious perception of a stimulus facilitates, relative to unconscious perception, a cluster of cognitive abilities in relation to that stimulus. This 'facilitation hypothesis' can productively guide inquiry into invertebrate consciousness. What's needed? At this stage, not more theory, and not more undirected data gathering. What's needed is a systematic search for consciousness-linked cognitive abilities, their relationships to each other, and their sensitivity to masking. I illustrate the 'theory-light' approach using the example of bees.
12 February Bryan W. Roberts (LSE)
The good news about killing people
Modern economics has designed a body of theory for how to make decisions involving irreversible outcomes. Motivated by this theory, we propose a 'Good News Principle' for the decision to kill one's self or others, which states that such a decision depends on the quantity and probability of future good news (supporting not killing), but not of future bad news (supporting killing). We then derive this principle as a theorem of a simple consequentialist model for irreversible acts.

The following seminars are postponed until further notice:

26 February Adrian Currie (University of Exeter)
Epistemic engagement, aesthetic value and scientific practice
I provide an account of the relationship between aesthetic sensibility and knowledge, with a focus on scientific practice. Cognitivist accounts, such as that recently defended by Derek Turner, problematically conflate 'partial sensitivity' – the idea that aesthetic appreciation partly depends on doxastic states – and factivity, the idea that those beliefs need to be true. Rejecting factivity, I develop a notion of 'epistemic engagement': partaking genuinely in a knowledge-directed process of coming to epistemic judgements, and suggest that this better accommodates the relationship between the aesthetic and the epistemic. Scientific training (and other epistemic-directed activities), I argue, involve 'attunement': the co-option of aesthetic judgements towards epistemic ends. This view has consequences for the justification of aesthetic judgment in science, namely, the locus of justification are those processes of attunement, not the aesthetic judgements themselves.
4 March Petri Ylikoski (University of Helsinki)
Learning from sociological case studies
11 March Carina Prunkl (University of Oxford)
Title TBA