New Year, New World

The Past: Fall Semester, 2016

Besides teaching again Scientific Thought, our department’s philosophy of science survey course, I taught as well for the first time a seminar on Space and Time. One notable aspect of the course was the final project format: working in pairs, students had to devise and present their own novel space-time model. Many of my colleagues expressed skepticism that this would be a feasible capstone project, but it was in fact a resounding success! Each of the groups, with my guidance, constructed something genuinely novel and presented on it well. I’ll certainly keep the project when I teach Space and Time again.

In my efforts to be more of a homebody, I only spoke at one conference this semester, the 32nd Boulder Conference on the History and Philosophy of Science, whose topic this year—Gravity: Its History and Philosophy—I couldn’t pass up. It was great to meet up with many friends and colleagues there.

In terms of research work, this semester was a bit more fecund that some past ones (in part for reasons I explore in the next section). I added one more editorial project, another special issue of Synthese on “Infinite Idealizations in Science,” which I am co-editing with Patricia PalaciosLaura Ruetsche, and Elay Shech, with likely publication in 2018. (It’s based in part on the very successful workshop that Patricia and I ran in Munich last summer.) The paper that Ben Feintzeig and I wrote on non-contextual hidden variable theories for quantum mechanics, building on some of Ben’s earlier work, was accepted at Foundations of Physics just before the spring semester started. Lastly, a substantial essay review of Tim Maudlin’s New Foundations for Physical Geometry (2014, OUP) on which I had long been working is now forthcoming at Philosophy of Science. It’s curated from a much longer essay that I will post as soon as its parts begin to find their official homes.

The Present: Spring Semester, 2017

Last semester, the University of Minnesota become an institutional member in the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, an independent professional development program focused on “supporting academics in making successful transitions throughout their careers.” Now, as a perpetually transitioning scholar striving to balance his professional and personal commitments, this support seemed like it could be useful, so in November, I participated in their two-week Writing Challenge. I got a lot done! So, this semester, I’ve signed up for their Faculty Success Program, which is like a faculty boot camp for “increasing your research productivity, getting control of your time, and living a full and healthy life beyond your campus.” I’m only two weeks in (out of twelve) at this point, but I’m already starting to see some changes in my work habits and feelings of balance.

The Future: Summer, 2017, and beyond

At the end of the semester, after the 21st Seven Pines Symposium on “Black Holes in the Spotlight,” I’ll be traveling to Geneva for a week, May 22–29, to visit the Space and Time after Quantum Gravity project run there by Chris Wüthrich. I’ll be giving a talk on a possible new approach to causal set theory’s Hauptvermutung through some theoretical work originally undertaken in the ’90s in computer science concerning digital images. Then I’ll be heading to Munich, where I’ll be based at the MCMP until December 15 thanks to the remainder of my Marie Curie Fellowship and the support of a College of Liberal Arts Faculty Development Leave from the University of Minnesota.

While in Munich, along with Lavinia Picollo, Marianna Antonutti Marfori, and Gil Sagi, I’ll be running the Fourth Summer School on Mathematical Philosophy for Female Students July 30–August 5, whose main lecture streams in philosophy of logic, mathematics, and language will be as follows:

  • Semantic Paradoxes and Self-Reference (Roy Cook, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities)
  • The Model Theory of Logical and Mathematical Concepts (Juliette Kennedy, University of Helsinki)
  • Conditional Sentences and Causal Reasoning (Katrin Schulz, University of Amsterdam)

If you know of any female students interested in these topics, please encourage them to apply! Based on our experiences with the past summer schools, we believe this can really be a formative event.

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