Recent talks and other public appearances.
- Reflections on Image-Based-Science (TAU-Sorbonne Workshop 2012 on Description) By looking at the history of the genome concept and of microscopic images of the genome I will assess whether visual evidence can stand on its own in scientific practice, instead of being conceptualized, and how this enables the theoretical flexibility and fruitfulness of scientific concepts. I will distinguish between images and socially traded “figures” that appear in scientific publications. I will concentrate on a specific type of scientific figures and argue for two main theses: 1. These figures are images-of-images-of-something 2. Figures can (thus) serve simultaneously as observations and as models. Finally, I will suggest that there are interesting things to say about the relationship between images and the concepts that are used to describe them. I will identify several types of representational vocabularies that are used and discuss the way concepts and images “co-evolve” as science progresses. [handout |slides ]
- Modeling gene action, Richard Goldschmidt, and a historical mystery (History of Science Society, November 2012) Richard Goldschmidt is often portrayed in the history of genetics and evolutionary theory as an early representative of an evo-devo tradition. In this paper I unravel an elusive remark Goldschmidt made about selection in one of his metaphorical models of gene action in his controversial book The Material Basis of Evolution (1940). The appeal to selection by Goldschmidt in a book that attempts to diminish the importance of selection in evoltionary thought makes the hard to penetrate remark even odder. Unraveling Goldschmidt’s intentions requires situating his remark in the context of contemporary empirical knowledge and theoretical modeling, as well as of Goldschmidt’s fundamental commitments about evolutionary innovation. By doing so I am able to expose the nuances in Goldschmidt’s view about selection, nuances that are often overlooked. Goldschmidt’s views about the spread of mutations involved developmental considerations similar to Conrad Waddington’s, and in addition stressed the role of low penetrance mutations that spread neutrally. In addition to his well known rejection of the notion of atomic genes, Goldschmidt attempted to articulate a developmental account of the process by which chromosomal segments come to have genic affect. The answer to the historical riddle presented will demonstrate how the causal entanglement of selection and development, which cannot be viewed as two temporally distinct processes, manifested itself in the thoughts of Goldschmidt, a central figure in mid 20th century debates about both the theory of the gene and the role of development in evolution, and in the reception of his book.
- Social Norms and the Evolution of Phenomenological Normativity (Fairness & Norms, Tilburg University, November 2012) According to Bicchieri (e.g., 1993, p. 232) a norm is a social equilibrium supported by self-fulfilling expectations of conformity. This approach is related to that of Lewis (1969). Similarly, influential accounts of the cultural evolution of norms stress the benefits of conformist learning. In addition, however, human commitment to norms has a unique phenomenological signature that involves inter alia motivations (e.g., to comply to a norm as well as toward imposing costly sanctions on others) and emotions such as shame and guilt. It is far from clear why and how this phenomenology evolved. What is the relationship between social norms and the evolution of the specific capacity of humans to institute and subject themselves to norms (referred to as normativity henceforth)? Here I try to elaborate on accounts given by Biccheiri and others of the origin of norms in an attempt to explain the evolution of these unique aspects of human normativity. At the heart of my account are the evolutionary and developmental interactions between language and normativity. According to this description, public normative deliberation, mediated by learning dynamics, affects the evolution of individual cognitive biases, and these then affect subsequent public normative deliberation. This interplay between public and private is essential for understanding the pervasive role of normativity outside social cognition and the remarkable strength of its phenomenological hold on us. [slides ]
- Genomes all the Way Down (Between Biology & Physics, Van Leer Institute Jerusalem, December 2012) I discuss the implications of privileging the genome, understood as a physical goal-directed system controlled by epigenetic mechanisms, over genes, as a fundamental biological category. I argue that genes supervene on genomes and that epigenetic and genetic inheritance should be understood and comprising a single inheritance system: the genomic one. In particular, neither a theory of genetic inheritance nor a theory of epigenetic processes can be adequately reduced to a molecular theory independently of the other. [handout ]
- Identifying Co-Evolution (The emergence of design in nature, Ben Guriun University, March 2013) Evolutionary history can be inferred either from historical evidence such as fossils and artifacts or from properties of extant organisms such as anatomical similarities between species, developmental similarities, or by genomic comparisons. The distinction is not always clear-cut; however, generally speaking it is clear that relying on non-historical data that is more complete and amenable to experimental manipulation has epistemic and practical advantages. Hence an inferential challenge facing evolutionary biology is to identify and assess patterns of inductive inference that go from non-historical evidence to evolutionary conclusions. Here we discuss two patterns of inference that lead to the conclusion that two characters of an organism have coevolved. We assess their validity, the degree of support they give to the evolutionary conclusion, how they can be corroborated with empirical evidence, and to what extent they suggest new questions that can be addressed empirically. (Joint work with Ohad Kammar)
- Evolutionary Narratives (Campus5 Tel Aviv University [general public], May 2013) A frolic through classic and obscure evolutoinary stories.
- Why is Metaphor like a Model? Epistemic and Cognitive Uses of Scientific Metaphors (ISHPSSB 2013, Montpellier, July 2013) Simply put, modeling involves studying one system - primarily via the ability to manipulate it - as a means for studying another. I argue that manipulability is the hallmark of models, which are meant to provide a way for studying modeled systems via the manipulations of their models rather than by manipulating the original system. Manipulability requires that the model have an organized, ideally well-specified, articulated fine structure. Literary metaphors, as well as scientific metaphors invoked merely to rhetorical effect, need not exhibit the structure required in order to support internal manipulability. But sometimes they do. I will explore several rich metaphors, in science and literature, particularly those used by Richard Goldschmidt to articulate his theory of the gene, and argue that they are best understood as models. Viewing them as models provides the best way to understand the function of the metaphors. Seeing what viewing them as models entails helps adjudicate differing accounts of what models are. In particular, similarity between a model and the modeled system is required by some accounts of scientific models, but the notion is fraught with difficulties (Goodman; Suarez). Metaphors are typically too ambiguous and open-ended to establish a robust similarity relation. On the alternative account I endorse the relationship between model and system is reflected, or even constituted, by the manipulations the model permits. This relationship is one of exemplification (cf. Elgin). My account explains why metaphors, even those appropriately understood as models, are typically only weak models. [handout |slides ]
- Why is a Model like a Metpahor? ‘Pretetnding True’ and ‘Seeing As’ in Scientific Modeling (Modeling and Scientific Explanation, Van Leer, June 2014) Modeling involves both pretending-true and seeing-as. We can gain insight on seeing-as by studying philosophical accounts of metaphor and by studying the use of metaphors as models by scientists. The relationship between model and target is constituted by the manipulations the model permits. This relationship is one of exemplification of structural (relational) properties (cf. Catherine Elgin) and models themselves are understood to be fictions (cf. Roman Frigg etc.)
- Models and their Concrete Nature (Israeli Philosophical Association, February 2015) The critical feature of concrete models is that they allow the researcher to simultaneously think about several parts of the target system and their interrelations A concrete structure, we argue, generates a system of simultaneous denotations. Each part of such a concrete model points our attention to or denotes a part of the target system. Furthermore, the parts of the model are put together within the model to allow an integrative view of the various parts of the target system. This account of models explains their utility in scientific investigations. When the model produces simultaneous denotations to salient parts of the target system, the model brings forward or determines some other properties that are ascribed to the target system. Thus, the main challenge in describing the practice of creating models is providing an account of how their inner structure, made possible through their concrete nature generates references to parts of the target system and thus guides the evaluation of the model vis a vis the world. Our analysis shows why the imagination is central for modeling in some circumstances where physical concrete systems are not available but why ultimately models need not be imagined concrete systems; they however must be concrete. Joint work with Ori Belkind.
- Why Biologists Don’t Like Mathematics and What To Do About It (OH Man! OH Machine! 2016) VIDEO Relatiponship status: It’s complicated.