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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Summer Travels

In Munich, the advent of summer brings tentative warmth, sometimes bashful azure skies, and potentially over 16 hours of daylight to spend bathing under the green canopies of biergartens.  It also signals the perennial renewal of conference season, the allures of which I am far from immune!

May

Already in May, I had the pleasure to be an invited discussant at the Seven Pines Symposium (May 13-17) in Stillwater, Minnesota, whose apt topic this year was “General Relativity; a hundred years after its birth”.  Indeed, this November will mark the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s publication of the Einstein field equations of general relativity, in essentially the form they remain today.  The symposium was aimed not just at lauding this singular intellectual triumph of Einstein’s, but also at discussing the past, present and future of gravitational theory.  It was wonderful to renew contacts with old friends and make new ones at this intimate meeting.

Just a few days after returning from Minnesota, I visiting Budapest again on May 21-22, this time for the third meeting (and my second) of the Budapest-Krakow Research Group on Probability, Causality and Determinism.  I was pleased to see that a good portion of the talks were devoted to a recent paper (“Hidden Variables and Incompatible Observables in Quantum Mechanics“) of my Irvine colleague Ben Feintzeig, joint work with whom I presented during the Group’s second meeting.  After getting to know my Budapest and Krakow colleagues so well, I’ll be sorry to miss the fourth meeting (as I’ll be teaching at the University of Minnesota), but am hopeful for making the fifth.

June

After a 4-week break from traveling for professional reasons, I’m anticipating the official summer, which holds much more!  Already, on the first day of the season, I’m writing from the Sultanahmet neighborhood of Istanbul, where I’m attending and presenting at my first (purely) logic conference, the 5th World School and Congress on Universal Logic, which runs from June 20-30.  I’m taking advantage of the extensive program to learn more about thinking like a logician in general, and logical perspectives on the sciences, in particular.  My own presentation (on June 26th) will be on counterfactuals within scientific theories, in which I’ll try to offer a new perspective on the Lewis-Stalnaker approach confined entirely to the domain of a particular, sufficiently mathematized scientific theory.

July

There will be no respite from travel after Istanbul, as I will travel directly to Manchester, England, on July 1st to speak at the annual meeting of the British Society for the Philosophy of Science on “Limits of Nagelian Reduction”.  (Yes, it’s a pun.)  I was extremely impressed with the high quality and variety of talks at last year’s event in Cambridge, and this year’s (tentative-so-far) program looks to be its equal!

I may have to miss the last session of the meeting on July 3rd, unfortunately, to fly back to Munich in time to participate in the second day of a workshop on the Problem of Time, one of the chief obstacles to a theory of canonical quantum gravity.  At this workshop, organized in part by my colleague Karim Thébault, I’ll be offering a commentary on the talk by Brian Pitts about observables in Lagrangian and Hamiltonian gravity.  Karim and I have been developing our own ideas about how to resolve (or rather, dissolve) the Problem, so it will be a welcome opportunity to dialogue with many of the experts on the Problem who will be in attendance.

A couple days later (July 7-10) will find me in Barcelona for the 8th Conference of the Spanish Society for Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science. In addition to meeting colleagues from across Europe and the Americas there, I’ll also be speaking on a more metaphysics-flavored topic than usual, “Classical and Quantum Holism.”  This continues my previous ideas on challenging some of the conventional wisdom about quantum holism.

Finally, at the end of the month (July 27-31) I’ll return to Tübingen for the 4th Forum Scientiarum Summer School in the History and Philosophy of Science, with John D. Norton lecturing on “Idealizations in Physics”, accompanied by my excellent colleagues Radin Dardashti and Patricia Palacios.  It looks to be as much of an engaging yet relaxed event as last year’s with Michel Janssen, from which I have many memories conversing along the banks of the Neckar.

August

In what seems like the norm for the season, I’ll have a fraction of a weekend at home in Munich before flying to speak at the colossal  quadrennial 15th Congress of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science, this year in Helsinki from August 3-8.  Probably the largest conference of its kind, one can easily spend the full six days just listening to talks in philosophy of physics, or in philosophy of biology, etc.

From Helsinki I travel directly to Budapest for the conference on Logic, Relativity and Beyond (August 9-13), where I will discuss some mathematical details of one of my current projects to describe and justify topologies on the class of spacetimes as structures encoding relevant notions of similarity.  I’m getting to know Budapest with some intimacy now, and I’m looking forward to more fruitful discussions with Gergely Székely (whose presence I have the pleasure of having now in Istanbul) and others of the Budapest logic group interested in foundations of physics.

My last conference trip for the summer will be a big one, to the 9th Principia International Symposium in Florianópolis, Brazil (August 17-20), whose topic this year is “Possible worlds and their applications in philosophy and the sciences”.  This will be not only my first talk in but also my first trip to Brazil, in particular, and South America, in general.  I’m looking forward to meeting my Brazilian and Latin American colleagues, as well as a few old friends from Irvine.

Returning from Brazil will leave me with only about a week to say goodbye to all my dear friends and colleagues in Munich, as I close this European chapter and fly high towards the next on the edge of the prairie in September.  But as next summer will reveal, this will not be the last one with a European setting!

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Interterm Break (?)

January saw me visit Cologne to give a seminar talk at the Gravitation and Relativity group of the University’s Institute for Theoretical Physics and at the conference on Quantum Information, Quantum Computation, and the Exact Sciences that I helped organize.  (Don’t fret: my submission was double-blind reviewed, too!)  Also, an article of mine, “Similarity, Topology, and Physical Significance in Relativity Theory,” has finally appeared online at the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. In that article, I show that the notion of the “physical significance” of a property of a relativistic spacetime depends on whether sufficiently similar spacetimes also have that property, hence on articulating how different spacetimes can be similar.  This can be done by choosing a topology on all the different spacetimes, but I argue that there cannot be one true topology: different choices are required for different contexts of investigation. Check out an abstract or the full text (in HTML or PDF).

Now that the 10-week break between the German winter and summer terms has commenced, you might think that it would be time for some quiet days at the office.  But nothing could be further from the truth!  It’s a convenient—perhaps too convenient!—time to give talks and visit colleagues outside of Germany without worrying about scheduling conflicts at home (in Munich).  First up on February 11 is a visit to the Department of Philosophy, Communication and Media Studies at the University of Rome 3, where I’ll be speaking in their Current Research in Philosophy of Science Seminar Series.

Next, starting at the end of February, is a series of visits, including my first trip to the Netherlands!  This series starts in Paris on February 27, where I’ll be giving a talk at the Institute for History and Philosophy of Sciences and Technology (IHPST), a joint research institute of the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, ENS, and CNRS.  A short ride on Thalys will bring me to Amsterdam University College on March 2, where I’ll be leading an introductory (and interactive!) discussion on some aspects of mathematical philosophy in the Who’s in Town lecture series.  The next two days, March 3–4, will be a research visit to Radboud University Nijmegen, where I’ll have a lunch seminar on some of my work in mathematical physics and also talk with Sean Gryb about the boundaries and relationships between shape dynamics and general relativity.  March 5 I’ll find myself in Utrecht to give a lecture for the HPS Master’s program, then the next day in Rotterdam for a workshop on Space-Time Structuralism (both graciously organized by Fred Muller).  Finally, before returning to Munich, I’ll jaunt up to Groningen to speak at a March 9 double colloquium in the Faculty of Philosophy on the Likelihood Principle!

After a very brief respite, I’ll fly to Belgrade to give talks at the Astronomical Observatory on March 12 and the Department of Philosophy on March 13 before flying to Berlin for the enormous 79th annual meeting of the German Physical Society, which runs from March 15–20.  My own talk at the meeting is at 9:30 on Thursday, March 19.  I’m looking forward not only to meeting many colleagues, but also to catching up on the latest developments in other areas of physics.

After traveling for over three weeks, I’ll then be glad to be back home in Munich, if only for about five days!  Indeed, I’ll be giving a talk at the March 26–28 conference on “Formal Methods and Science in Philosophy” at the Inter-University Centre Dubrovnik, then traveling to Dorfgastein, Austria for an Alpine retreat on “Rethinking Foundations of Physics” from March 28–April 4 with other twenty other young philosophers, mathematicians, and physicists.  It should be an intense experience!

Returning from the fresh mountain air (and having avoided the radon baths!), I’ll have about five days to complete the last preparations for the first Munich Graduate Workshop in Mathematical Philosophy, which runs from April 9–11.  The topic this year, yes, is philosophy of physics!  As one of the co-organizers (along with Brian PaddenPatricia Palacios, and Karim Thébault), I’m particularly excited about the somewhat innovative format: in addition to the usual keynote and student talks, there will be three working groups that will meet daily for focused discussion on some open questions at the forefront of contemporary research.  Soon after the workshop is completed I’ll head back to Dubrovnik from April 13–17 for the annual Philosophy of Science conference, whose three topics this year are: philosophy of physics; science, technology, and values; and the philosophy of the history of science.

The summer term will already be in swing by the time I return—again (!), for about five days—before I make my first trip to Scandinavia on April 23–24 for the third annual meeting of the Nordic Network for Philosophy of Science in Helsinki.  At this point—unsurprisingly—about another five days will transpire before my next talk on April 30, but—surprisingly—it will be right at home in Munich (as a part of the Work in Progress Colloquium)!

Who needs to schedule lectures with vacations like these?

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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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Autumnal Talks and Travels

October is yielding just as much excitement as this past summer of wanderlust, but here at home in Munich!  The term has now commenced, bringing new faces to the MCMP. Having already met some of them, maybe I’ll see more at my talk at the Center’s philosophy of science colloquium series on October 15th, or even on October 14th at the biweekly philosophy of physics reading group on classical mechanics that I’m convening this term.  (The first reading is Mark Wilson‘s entry on “Classical Mechanics” in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)

The travel starts again in early November, first to the big tent event—not the Oktoberfest, of course, but the Philosophy of Science Association’s Biennial Meeting! There I’ll be chairing the symposium on the foundations of gravity and thermodynamics, which features many friends and colleagues, including Erik Curiel, Craig Callender, Karim Thébault, Eric Winsburg, Radin Dardashti, Bob Wald, and David Wallace.  It will be my first (albeit brief) return to the US since moving to Munich in late June.

Then, from 17–18 November I’ll be in Bucharest to give a talk at the Philosophy Faculty and participate in a half-day philosophy of physics workshop with Slobodan Perovic, all organized by Iulian Toader.  This (American) Thanksgiving will see me on a flight to Paris to attend a workshop on quantum mechanical entanglement.  I hope to catch up on what’s hot in the subject apropos of a little, germinal project I have on re-evaluating quantum holism.

December will see more travels to interesting new places, first to give a colloquium talk at the University of Salzburg on December 2nd, and then on 8–9 December to Krakow as an honorary participant of the Budapest-Krakow Research Group on Probability, Causality and Determinism.  Finally, I’m organizing an Irvine-Munich workshop (with Karim Thébault) on foundations of field theories that will take place on December 14th.  More on that to come as the details are finalized!

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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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