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Abstracts for Departmental Seminars

Seminars are held on Thursdays from 3.30 to 5pm in Seminar Room 2. There is tea and coffee before the seminar at 3pm in Seminar Room 1, and there are refreshments afterwards at 5pm in Seminar Room 1.

Organised by Agnes Bolinska.

Lent Term 2019

Show overview

17 January Fourteenth Cambridge Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine
Marta Hanson (Johns Hopkins University)
Heaven and Earth are within one's grasp: the healer's body-as-technology in classical Chinese medicine
Tea at 3.30pm; lecture at 4pm
Some 16th to 17th-century Chinese medical scholars used the phrase 'Understanding is within one's grasp' (liaoran zaiwo 燎然在握) to emphasize how their readers could use 'hand mnemonics' (zhangjue 掌訣) to master the cosmic patterns relevant for medical care. These authors included instructions for potential healers to use their hands to think with, for example, by prognosticating based on seasonal cycles, predicting epidemic periods, and differentiating aberrant from normal pulses. To have something 'within one's grasp' (zaiwo 在握), in Chinese as well as in English, metaphorically meant to understand (liaoran 暸然). Early modern Chinese healers instrumentalized their bodies in complex ways as diagnostic instruments and measuring units as well as time-keeping, mnemonic, and calculating devices. Understanding how classical Chinese medical texts recorded the healers' body-as-technology illuminates the range of knowledge about Heaven and Earth early modern healers were expected to use their hands as well as their minds to master. This lecture will use select examples of the healer's body-as-technology in classical Chinese medicine and suggest that the field of extended cognition within cognitive science offers some productive insights into this historical phenomenon.
24 January Lina Jansson (University of Nottingham)
Newton's methodology meets Humean supervenience about laws of nature
Earman and Roberts [2005a,b] have argued for Humean supervenience about laws of nature based on an argument from epistemic access. In rough outline, their argument relies on the claim that if Humean supervenience is false, then we cannot have any empirical evidence in favour of taking a proposition to be a law of nature as opposed to merely accidentally true. I argue that Newton's methodology in the Principia provides a counterexample to their claim. In particular, I argue that the success or failure of chains of subjunctive reasoning is empirically accessible, and that this provides a way of gaining empirical evidence for or against a proposition being a law of nature (even under the assumption that Humean supervenience fails).
31 January Ruth J. Salter (University of Reading)
Bathing, bloodletting and bed-rest in the high medieval monastery
Focusing on 12th-century English monastic communities, this paper considers three practical applications of healthcare undertaken within medieval monasteries. While the great monastic libraries would have contained medical manuscripts, the collection of such items varied from house to house and, more importantly, such materials would not have been accessible to the majority of the cloistered community. The practices of bathing and bloodletting, and the allowance for bed-rest, however, would have been experienced and witnessed first-hand by many of the community. As such, these practical applications have the potential to offer us insight into the healthcare within the monastery, and into monastic understandings of health and the body.

Within this paper, the three practices will be taken in turn to consider their uses, and concerns about their abuses, in order to draw attention to the practicalities of claustral healthcare, and to pose questions regarding medical practices within the monastery. The questions raised by this paper are also key to my next proposed research project; a project that intends to consider the experiences, understandings and practicalities of monastic healthcare within the Anglo-Norman world.
7 February Leah McClimans (University of South Carolina)
Patient reported outcome measures are different
Since the 1970s epidemiological measures focusing on 'health-related quality of life' or simply 'quality of life' have figured increasingly as endpoints in clinical trials. Before the 1970s these measures were known, generically, as performance measures or health status measures. Relabelled as 'quality of life measures' they were first used in cancer trials. They were relabelled again in the early 2000s as 'patient-reported outcome measures' or PROMs, in their service to the FDA to support drug labelling claims. To the limited degree that the philosophical literature addresses these measures, it tends to associate them with two of the major theories of well-being: subjective well-being and capability approach to quality of life. My general argument in this paper is that philosophers ought to treat quality of life measures/PROMs as distinct from these theories of well-being with their own theoretical commitments, values and epistemic concerns.

The primary reason I will give for this argument is that we cannot separate the rise in popularity of quality of life/PROMs from their role in representing and amplifying patients' perspectives. The nature of this representation is due to a historical context in medicine that emphasizes patient autonomy and patient expertise. I will argue further that these measures are 'patient-centred' to the degree they are patient directed and inclusive. Finally, I will end by suggesting that the theory quality of life/PROMs needs is not an attribute theory or a theory of prudential value, but an epistemic theory that governs patient and others contributions to the construct.
14 February Pratik Chakrabarti (University of Manchester)
Past unlimited: the canal of Zabita Khan
This paper shows how deep time superseded various other forms of historical imaginations in India. In doing so, it critiques the conceptions of deep history, of the ways it overwrites other histories. It traces this process through the history of the canal of Zabita Khan. In the early 19th century, the British began one of their most ambitious irrigation projects in India. As British engineers started to dig the Doab canal, they realised that there existed an medieval system of canal networks. In the course of the excavations, ancient canals appeared indistinguishable from old riverbeds and geomythical rivers and the lines between the monument and the terrain or the 'natural' and the 'historical' become imperceptible. Rivers moved, legends moved with them; dead riverbeds became canals, canals became natural channels of water and mythical rivers were traced in the landscape. In the process, the landscape, the legends, and the monuments became part of this colonial antiquarianism in which the history of a medieval canal was recounted as one of deep history.
21 February Hasok Chang (HPS, Cambridge)
Beyond correspondence: realism for realistic people
In this paper I lay down some groundwork for a pragmatist scientific realism, which will be fully consonant with actual scientific practices. Scientific realism demands that our best scientific theories should give really true descriptions of the world. Truth here is usually conceived in terms of a 'correspondence' between theory and reality – ultimate, metaphysical, and mind-independent reality. However, this idea is useless in practice because such reality is inaccessible to us, and the alleged correspondence only makes sense as a metaphor based on actual representational activities, in which both the 'model' and the 'target' are accessible. This metaphor appears to make literal sense only because we take part in the illusion of the 'ready-made world', according to which reality, independently of any conceptions we impose on it, already has well-defined parts and relations between the parts. Abandoning the illusory metaphor, I propose that realists should accept pragmatism in relation to 'primary truth', which does not consist in agreement with other things that we already know to be true. Primary truth is based on the 'operational coherence' of activities that we engage in; if some coherent activities rely on a certain proposition, then that proposition is true within the domain of those activities. Once we have some primarily true propositions, then correspondence to them defines the secondary truth of other propositions. However, the picture I propose is not a foundationalist one in the traditional sense: a given proposition may be true in a primary or a secondary way, or even both. 'Truth happens to an idea' (William James), and the manner of that happening depends on the contingent contexts of truth-making and truth-finding activities.
28 February Cyrus Mody (Maastricht University)
History of S&T need an oil bath: oil, scarcity and technoscience in the 1970s
Oil is everywhere in the history of science and technology, yet nowhere. In almost all of our disciplines' subfields one can find stray and often puzzling references to oil firms' contributions, yet few of these have been examined carefully, much less connected together. There is a long history of such 'oil spillovers', but they become more pronounced as one approaches the 1970s and the emerging technologies about which governments and investors were most optimistic in that era: nuclear (fission and fusion) and solar power, biotechnology, microelectronics, and scenario planning/resource forecasting. I argue that oil firms' investments in all of these technologies were a response to the resource scarcity debates of the early 1970s. That's perhaps unsurprising, but the involvement of 'oilmen' in the environmentalist organizations propelling that debate is not well known. Oil firms' motivations for intervening in environmental debates are generally assumed to be cynical, but I offer evidence that their calculations were more complex, at least before the collapse in the price of oil in the early 1980s.
7 March Sharon Crasnow (Norco College/Durham University)
V-Dem: measuring democracy
Indices of democracy (measurement of democracy) raise a variety of concerns. First, the latent concept of democracy needs to be clarified in order for coding to proceed and measures to be determined. Second, the multiple purposes for which we might seek measures of democracy suggest that multiple measures are needed, each differently suitable and dependent on the purposes for which they are needed. Questions of aggregation and disaggregation of the components of democracy – many of which differ among the different indices – depend on decisions about indicators of the concept 'democracy' and vary among indices. Third, the belief that measurement serves only as an intermediate step in the process of testing hypotheses limits discussion of the role of measurement in other aspects of knowledge production.

V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy), a project that began roughly 10 years ago, explicitly addresses many of these concerns through greater transparency about methodology and a fine-grained disaggregation of indicators of democracy. 'We provide a multidimensional and disaggregated dataset that reflects the complexity of the concept of democracy as a system of rule that goes beyond the simple presence of elections. The V-Dem project distinguishes between five high-level principles of democracy: electoral, liberal, participatory, deliberative, and egalitarian, and collects data to measure these principles' (V-Dem project website). In this talk, I explore the claims made for V-Dem, the question of what it means to measure an abstract concept like democracy, and whether this project can tell us about the measurement of such concepts in the social sciences more generally.
14 March Charlotte Bigg (CNRS Paris)
The view from here, there and nowhere? Situating the observer in the planetarium and in the solar system
The projection planetarium has probably been the most important single device for communicating astronomy since the early 20th century. I look at the ways in which early planetariums encouraged the rehearsal by spectators of different spatial positions and bodily relationships with regards to (models of) the solar system. Acquiring a proper understanding of the solar system did not simply require participants to adopt 'the view from nowhere' but involved a spatial, physical and sensory journey through multiple viewpoints that often also rehearsed an idealised history of astronomy. Widely praised for its illusionistic rendering of the night skies, the modern planetarium was also a showcase for the precision technology of its maker Carl Zeiss, offering an experience simultaneously of simulated Nature, of astronomy and of technological mastery. Astronomy, the quintessential science of space and time, afforded in the planetarium an occasion for reflecting in broader ways on individuals' and humans' place in the modern world. Planetariums may be understood as materializing and promoting particular epistemological and pedagogical conceptions of the knowing subject; while they partook in the collective reflection on Nature, science and technology in modernity.