21 January 2020: David Papineau, "The Seductions of Interventionism"

For our first meeting of 2020, FraMEPhys will be hosting a talk at the University of Birmingham by Professor David Papineau (King’s College London) on Tuesday 21 December, from 2-4PM in ERI G52.

The Seductions of Interventionism

The philosophy of causation is changing. The new ‘interventionism’ promises to dissolve many longstanding problems. Based on the work of Judea Pearl, and transmitted to philosophy by Jim Woodward, this approach builds a bridge between the philosophical analysis of causation and techniques used in statistical causal modelling. It is certainly welcome that philosophers of causation are finally trying to make sense of these statistical techniques. But in the process of transmission a number of ungrounded ideas have been installed as philosophical orthodoxy. In this talk I shall expose two: first, the idea that we need to appeal to ‘interventions’ or actions to understand causation; second, the idea that correlational facts alone are insufficient to determine causal structure.

Earlier on the same day, Professor Papineau will be present at a small reading group in ERI 159 from 1130-1230, which will look at his paper ‘Causation as a Guide to Life‘, which introduces some of the themes that he will be discussing in his later 2-4pm talk.

Jobs at Epistemology-of-LHC Project

The Research Unit “The Epistemology of the LHC”, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), invites applications for:

2 Postdoctoral and 5 Doctoral positions in the fields of philosophy of science, history of science, social studies of science, and physics.

Established in 2016, the Research Unit has forged a unique cooperation between physicists, philosophers, historians, and social scientists. Its aim is to collectively investigate the epistemology of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. With its six individual projects cooperating closely and its teams located at universities across Germany and Austria, the Research Unit covers a broad variety of issues concerning the forefront of research on experimental and theoretical physics at one of the largest scientific facilities worldwide. It addresses key questions in philosophy, history, and the social sciences from an interdisciplinary perspective.

After a successful first phase, the Research Unit has been extended for a second phase of 36 months. We would like to fill the following positions:

Project (A1) “The formation and development of the concept of virtual

  • 1 postdoctoral position at the RWTH Aachen University.

Project (A2) “The hierarchy, fine tuning, and naturalness problem from a
philosophical perspective”:

  • 1 position for a doctoral researcher at the University of Wuppertal.

Project (A3) “LHC and gravity”:

  • 1 position for a doctoral researcher at the University of Bonn and the
    RWTH Aachen University.

Project (B1) “The impact of computer simulations and machine learning on
the epistemic status of LHC data”:

  • 1 position for a doctoral researcher at the KIT (Karlsruhe).

Project (B2) “Model building and dynamics”:

  • 1 position for a doctoral researcher at the University of Bonn.

Project (B3) “Producing novelty and securing credibility in LHC experiments”:

  • 1 position for a doctoral researcher at the University of Klagenfurt
  • 1 postdoctoral position at the University of Klagenfurt (Austria).

Each project is directed jointly by a principal investigator from physics and investigators from the philosophy of science, history of science, or social studies of science (STS).

We are looking for candidates from the aforementioned fields who are interested in engaging in interdisciplinary work and who have experience in one or more of the relevant fields of expertise. We are committed to diversity and equal opportunity, and would like to encourage applications from scholars who would diversify the Research Unit, and the academic community more generally.

Positions are funded for three years and will typically start on May 1,
2020. Deadline for applications: January 31, 2020.

Descriptions of the individual projects can be found at: http://www.lhc-epistemologie.uni-wuppertal.de/.

Please send applications electronically to lhc.epistemology@uni-wuppertal.de. Applications should include a letter of motivation with a ranked list of the project(s) (A1-A3, B1-B3) applied for, a curriculum vitae, a list of publications and presentations, copies of your degree certificates, and the names and addresses of referees (two for the postdoctoral positions and one for the doctoral positions) who can be contacted directly.

13 December: Barry Loewer, "The Mentaculus Vision"

For our last meeting of 2019, FraMEPhys will be hosting a talk by Professor Barry Loewer (Rutgers University) on Friday 13 December, from 2-4PM in Arts Lecture Room 5 (room 219). 

The Mentaculus Vision

Building on Boltzmann’s approach to statistical mechanics David Albert proposed a framework for a complete physical theory that entails a probability distribution over all physical possible worlds. Albert and Loewer call this framework “the Mentaculus.” In this paper I provide reasons to think that the Mentaculus entails probabilistic versions of the laws of thermodynamics and other special science laws, In addition it is the basis for a scientific account of the arrows of time and an account of counterfactuals that express causal relations. I then argue that the best way to understand the laws and probabilities that occur in the Mentaculus are along the lines of David Lewis’ best system account.

Noelia Iranzo Ribera in Amsterdam: “Interventions in the Spotlight”

FraMEPhys PhD researcher Noelia Iranzo Ribera was in Amsterdam last week to present a paper arising from her PhD research on interventionist theories of causation, at the 7th annual OZSW conference. Noelia’s title was “Interventions in the Spotlight: Delimiting Possibility in Woodward’s Interventionist Theory of Causation”.

In the paper Noelia examined the various different notions of possibility that might be used to make sense of the key notion of a possible intervention in Woodward’s theory. She argued that familiar notions of nomic possibility are too strong, but conceptual possibility is too weak, and offered an extra-weak notion of nomic possibility that might take their place.

FraMEPhys Podcast: Matt Farr, “Do We Need to Explain Initial Conditions?”

The final podcast from our Spring 2019 FraMEPhys Seminar series is now online. In it, Matt Farr from the University of Cambridge outlines his ‘C Theory’ of time and explores what it might mean to explain the initial conditions of the universe. Untearing paper, unmelting ice, disembodied brains and the Big Crunch at the end of the universe all feature!

For more talks like this one, see our project podcast page.

Funded PhD Studentship with FraMEPhys – deadline 27/11/19

We’re very pleased to be able to offer a new fully-funded PhD studentship to work as part of the FraMEPhys team at the University of Birmingham for three years, starting January 2020 or as soon as possible thereafter. The proposed PhD project can be on any topic within the remit of FraMEPhys; candidates should have a good Master’s degree with a significant philosophy component; the deadline is 27/11/2019. Full details follow – please spread the word!

PhD Project Studentship
University of Birmingham – School of Philosophy Theology and Religion

The Project
FraMEPhys, a major 5-year project funded by the European Research Council, is investigating the nature of explanation in physics, with particular focus on metaphysical and non-causal explanations (including grounding explanations, geometrical explanations and unificatory explanations). The aim of FraMEPhys is to combine recent progress in metaphysics, philosophy of science and philosophy of physics to enhance our understanding of the nature of metaphysical explanation in physics. Case studies of special interest include curved spacetime, closed timelike curves and quantum entanglement. Further information: https://framephys.org/

The Post
This award includes funding for a full-time PhD project studentship to begin on 1st January 2020, or as soon as possible thereafter. The award carries a stipend of £20,500 per annum total, intended to cover both living costs and tuition fees (currently £4,327 for UK/EU students).
The student will contribute to the broader FraMEPhys project either by exploring the general concepts of causation, grounding and explanation as they pertain to physical theories, or by examining in detail a particular case study in philosophy of physics that involves distinctive patterns of metaphysical explanation.
The student should have an excellent first degree and a completed Master’s degree with a significant philosophy component. Candidates must be able to demonstrate competence in general philosophy of science and metaphysics. The PhD project will be supervised by Prof Alastair Wilson, and co-supervised by one of the project Research Fellows (Dr Katie Robertson and Dr Mike Hicks) with potential further co-supervision from members of Birmingham faculty as appropriate to the project.
The successful applicant will benefit from:

  • A fully-funded three-year PhD (stipend of £20,500 per annum) in a leading UK university.
  • Guidance from leading experts in the field and research training from the University of Birmingham Graduate School.
  • Work space at the University of Birmingham Edgbaston campus, and resources to attend and present at conferences and workshops.
  • A vibrant research environment in the Department of Philosophy, with regular research seminars, reading groups, workshops and conferences.

Informal enquiries may be addressed to Alastair Wilson: a.j.wilson@bham.ac.uk
To apply, please send a C.V., a separate anonymised writing sample of up to 5000 words, a covering letter outlining your suitability for the studentship and the names of two referees to calpg-research@contacts.bham.ac.uk . Please quote ref. FraMEPhys, and please note there may be a delay in acknowledging receipt.

Closing date: 27 November 2019.
Interviews will be conducted in early December 2019.

FraMEPhys Reading Groups: Autumn 2019

This term our main project reading group runs weekly, 9.30-11am on Wednesdays, in ERI 159 on the University of Birmingham’s Edgbaston campus (G3 on the campus map). We’re alternating readings between articles on causal modelling and on philosophy of probability, though there’s frequently overlap!

Wk 3 (16th Oct) – Brad Weslake, “Exclusion Excluded”

Wk 4 (23rd Oct) – Wood and Spekkens, ‘The lesson of causal discovery algorithms for quantum correlations: Causal explanations of Bell-inequality violations require fine-tuning’

Wk 5 (30th Oct) – Katie Elliot, ‘Explaining (One Aspect of ) the Principal Principle without (Much) Metaphysics’

Wk 6 (6th Nov) – Reading week – no meeting

Wk 7 (13th Nov) – Probability, TBC

Wk 8 (20th Nov) – Causal modelling, TBC

Wk 9 (27th Nov) – Probability, TBC

Wk 10 (4th Dec) – Causal modelling, TBC

Wk 11 (11th Dec) – Probability, TBC