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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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Jubilant Return

After a 14-month hiatus in which I moved from Munich to Minneapolis (via a road trip from Southern California), started and completed my first academic year as an Assistant Professor, and returned to Europe for the summer, I’m ready to update again! There’s much to be said, of course, but I’ll try to keep it brief, focusing on travel, teaching, and event organization. For those more interested in the future than the past, scroll down to the “Future” section for upcoming events I’ll be organizing, volumes I’ll be editing, and classes I’ll be teaching.

Fall Semester 2015

In early October I saw many friends and colleagues in Pittsburgh, where I was giving a presentation at the conference on Effective Theories, Scale Modeling, and Emergence at the Pitt Center for Philosophy of Science.  A month later, I drove down to Iowa State University on a beautiful November Saturday morning to talk at the 2015 meeting of the Iowa Philosophical Society. I was really impressed with the quality of talks and organization—done by a colleague and friend. Late that month I took advantage of some family travel to visit another colleague and friend and deliver a talk at the George Washington University.

All this was happening, of course, while I taught my weekly graduate seminar on Philosophy of Statistics. I was flattered and honored to have participants—most of them faculty—from philosophy, physics, statistics, psychology, economics, public health, neuroscience, and occasionally more! It was truly a vanguard research seminar, spawned some new research ideas and even some invitations to visit other departments at the U. Where am I going to find the time to explore all those great ideas?

Winter Break 2015/6

Certainly not during winter break! In early January I traveled to Santiago de Chile for the first time to deliver a talk at the workshop on Reduction in Physics and Biology at the Institute of Philosophy and Complexity Sciences. Afterwards I took the most amazing vacation with a group of colleagues and friends from the workshop to the Atacama Desert, where we saw geysersvicuñas, flamingos, and the ALMA observatory at 5,000 meters! I was giddy (and not just from the altitude). If you spend some time on my website, you’ll see many banner photos from this trip.

Spring Semester 2016

February saw me take two international trips, the first on an invitation to a conference in Warsaw on Topological Philosophy—really the application of topological ideas and methods in philosophy—before which I took a quick stop in Krakow to give a talk for friends and colleagues at the Epistemology Department of the Jagiellonian University. Just a week or so later I was heading southward instead of eastward, to Bogotá for Philogica IV. I can recommend the bandeja paisa and chocolate completo. Finally in March I gave three colloquium talks, but all close to home: a joint physics/philosophy one at Macalaster College in St. Paul, and two on philosophy of statistics at the School of Statistics and the Division of Health Policy and Management at the School of Public Health at the U—the latter two thanks to my seminar from the previous semester.

No seminar to teach this semester! Instead, two lecture courses for undergraduates: a big one, Introduction to Logic, and a moderately large one, Scientific Thought, a philosophy of science survey (predictably). I had good experiences using Bergmann, Moor, and Nelson’s The Logic Book and Godfrey-Smith’s Theory and Reality, respectively.

Summer 2016

The beginning of the summer is a treat, in part because of the Seven Pines Symposium. This years the topic was the “big questions” in physics. One theme that consistently emerged was what we demand be represented in our physical theories.  Is consciousness or a flow of time superfluous? Is a direction of time or definite outcomes of experiments necessary? I continue to think about these issues even now.

Immediately afterward I flew to Europe and went to a string of conferences: Doorn, the Netherlands, then Budapest, then Istanbul, then Varna, Bulgaria, before returning to Munich, my summer home. There, the MCMP had a  5 Years celebratory conference, focusing not on the past but on the future of mathematical philosophy by inviting current or recently graduated PhD students to give short talks on their work. After that at the MCMP, and between the Semantics of Theories conference in June and the econophysics and complexity theory workshop in July, I found myself in the Basque Country, Lausanne, Cardiff, and London (x2) for talks, in addition to a pair of back-to-back conferences on Infinite Idealizations and First Principles in Science, the former actually organized by myself and Patrica Palacios.

The biggest event of the summer, though, was the Third Summer School on Mathematical Philosophy for Female Students at the MCMP, which I co-organized along with Milena Ivanova and Karolina Krzyżanowska. 47 students studying in 17 countries and originating from 23 across 6 continents converged for an intense week of three courses of lectures:

It was a resounding success!

The Future

As the Summer School in Mathematical Philosophy for Female Students continues to be a success, another is being planned for 2017—the topics being philosophy of logic, language, and mathematics—by myself, Gil Sagi, Lavinia Picollo, and Marianna Antonutti Marfori. I’ll post more information about the summer school later this year.

Also coming next year are two editing projects. The first is a book contract with Cambridge University Press entitled Physical Perspectives on Computation, Computational Perspectives on Physics, which I am editing along with Mike Cuffaro. We expect to have 13 chapters by philosophers, physicists, and computer scientists investigating perspectives on each other’s discipline and exploring their foundational implications in print by the end of 2017. The second is a special issue of Synthese on “Amalgamating Evidence in the Sciences,” which I am editing with Jürgen Landes and Roland Poellinger, with likely publication in 2018. (Click the title link for more information!)

Lastly, I have a full year of teaching ahead: Scientific Thought and Introduction to Logic in the fall and spring, respectively, but two new courses as well, a cross-listed undergraduate/graduate seminar on Space and Time in the fall and graduate-level Computability in the spring.  I’ll post more information about these in the teaching section in due time.

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Blaue Donau Revisitied & Two Upcoming MCMP Events

Blaue Donau Revisitied

On a shorter-term notice, in order to coincide with a visit by Harvey Brown, I’ll be giving a talk on some recent work (in collaboration with Jim Weatherall) in Vienna: just a 4-hour railjet away! It’s been almost exactly a year since I last visited, at the end of my European tour.

Two Upcoming MCMP Events

In other news, I’m involved in organizing two upcoming events here at the MCMP.  On December 14th, there will be the Irvine-Munich Workshop on the Foundations of Classical and Quantum Field Theories, co-organized by Karim Thébault.  I’ll be giving a talk on extending a general program for intertheoretic reduction from the case of spacetime to the context of general classical field theories.

Then, on January 30th–31st will be a conference on Quantum Computation, Quantum Information, and the Exact Sciences, co-organized by Michael Cuffaro and Johannes Kofler.  Submissions consisting of a short (~100 word) and an extended (750–1,000 word) abstract aren’t due until November 14th, so if you want to contribute to this multidisciplinary conference you still have time!

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Long Time No See

Travel, Travel, Travel / Danube Blues

How intense the past half year has been!  I visited the Philosophy and HPS departments at the University of Pittsburgh in March and April, defended my dissertation (successfully!) in June right before presenting some of the work therein  (“Global Spacetime Similarity”) at the poster session of the annual meeting of the Society for Exact Philosophy, and moving to Munich!  The next few months were filled with conferences and summer schools both local and a bit further abroad, and giving me the experiences of seeing just a bit more of Germany.

Just this past week I was in Budapest (for the first time!) to give talks at the Institute of Philosophy of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Theoretical Philosophy Forum, Eötvös University.  I hope to go back again to visit more of that vast and beautiful city.

Coming Attractions / London Calling

On October 2-3 I’ll be in Oxford for the Metaphysics of Quantum Mechanics conference.  I’ll have a poster presenting some new work attempting to complicate the consensus on holism in quantum theory, in particular that entanglement presents a novel mechanism by which holism is manifest.  In a word, it seems that much is already present in the classical theory of stochastic systems!

Afterwards I’ll be loitering around in London on October 5-7 for an encore of Angelo’s Cei‘s talk (“‘Reflections on Atomism, Quantum Mechanics and Mereology”) at LSE’s Sigma Club.  Angelo has unfortunately had to cancel, so yours truly will be filling in on a pinch!


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Paper, Talk, Chair

No, it’s not a novel variation on roshambo — it’s three updates of note:

  1. My manuscript, “Light Clocks and the Clock Hypothesis,” has just been published in Foundations of Physics.
  2. On 12/5, I’ll be presenting “Reduction and Causal Set Theory’s Hauptvermutung” at UCSD’s Fundamental Nature of Time and Change Research Group at the Center for the Humanities there.
  3. I’ll be chairing the session on “Models and Hypotheses” at the Pacific APA on 4/17, including Greg Gandenberger’s talk, “Why the Law of Likelihood Applies Only to Mutually Exclusive Hypotheses.”

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