International Postdoc Forum

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The effects of COVID-19 and associated economic downturn have had a disproportionate effect on recent PhDs and emerging scholars without tenured positions across the globe. For example, many have lost conference and workshop opportunities to present their research due to cancellations and restrictions on travel. In response to this situation, the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science (MCPS) introduced the International Postdoc Forum for the Philosophy of Science (IPDF) as of Fall 2020. This program showcases virtual research presentations from international scholars with commentaries from local MCPS community members. These opportunities are a complement to our existing colloquium series and will facilitate interactions with scholars who would not otherwise be able to visit Minnesota due to prohibitive costs. The presentations will by Zoom. Please join our mailing list or email for a link. Please direct any questions about the program to Alan Love (

Spring 2022

February 9, 2022, 12:15pm CST (UTC +6)

Ecosystem Health: an Organizational Perspective
Emiliano Sfara (Philosophy, University of Sao Paulo)

Abstract: Since the end of the last century, the idea of ecosystem health in ecology was deeply criticized by those who argued that, since ecosystems are not organisms, they cannot share the typical properties of organisms such as health. However, in recent years an organizational approach to philosophy of biology and ecology argued that organisms and ecosystems may share a fundamental characteristic: the organizational closure. Proceeding from this analogy, I will elaborate on the idea of ecosystem conceived as a vital environment organizationally grounded on its intrinsic capacity to ensure, under favorable conditions, adequate levels of normativity, and therefore of health, to the organisms that inhabit it.

Commentator: Max Dresow, Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Minnesota

April 13, 2022, 12:15pm CDT  (UTC +5)

Making Peace in the Statistics Wars: Simulation Studies in the Philosophy of Statistics
WJ Peden (Philosophy, Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Abstract: What constitutes a good statistical test? According to frequentists, the test should follow a procedure that would minimise inferential in the long-run. According to Bayesians, the test should discriminate among models according to a coherent structure of beliefs. Deborah Mayo has called these debates the “Statistics Wars.” These debates generally involve a mixture of intuition arguments, existence proofs, and proofs about the methodologies’ long-run consequences. Unfortunately, both frequentism and Bayesianism do well on these grounds.
A different approach is to simulate assess the short-run performance of “players” based on these methodologies and their hybridisations. I discuss the results of two collaborative research projects using this approach. We simulate a statistical problem and examine compare the short-run performances of various player settings. We obtain some surprising results, suggesting the possibility of some peace among the “warring” factions. I consider the philosophical implications and also propose some directions for future research.

Commentator: Samuel Fletcher, Philosophy, University of Minnesota

Visit our Youtube channel to see recorded presentations.

Previous IPDF events

November 3, 2021, 12:15pm CDT 
Unpacking Politics & Values in Cultural Evolution
Azita Chellappoo (Philosophy, Open University)

Abstract: There is a long, and often dark, history of the application of evolutionary theory to human societies. In recent decades, sociobiology and evolutionary psychology have faced sustained criticism, often on the basis that they naturalise stereotypes or unequal social arrangements. Cultural evolution shares the broad aim of using the tools of evolutionary theory to explain cultural phenomena, although it emphasises cultural, rather than genetic, transmission and inheritance. Unlike other evolutionary approaches, thorough analyses of sociopolitical considerations in evaluating cultural evolution have been sparse thus far.
In this talk, I identify ways in which particular social or political values operate within cultural evolution research, shaping the inferences that are made and the potential impact on marginalised groups. I focus on one strand of cultural evolution research, cultural selection, although similar critiques apply to varying extents to other strands. I highlight two features of cultural selection work of particular relevance: the tendency to construct ‘thin’ descriptions of cultural phenomena, and the de-emphasising of human agency.

Commentator: William Wimsatt, Department of Philosophy, University of Chicago (emeritus)

September 29, 2021, 12:15pm CDT
Feyerabend on the quantum theory of measurement: A reassessment
Daniel Kuby (Philosophy, University of Konstanz) and Patrick Fraser (University of Toronto)

Abstract: In 1957 Feyerabend delivered a paper on the quantum theory of measurement at the Colston Research Symposium in Bristol to sketch an alternative to a "positivist" treatment of quantum measurement. In particular, Feyerabend proposes a way to dispense of von Neumann’s projection postulate by using only unitary quantum dynamics and well-motivated statistical assumptions about macroscopic quantum systems. Feyerabend’s paper has been recognized as an early contribution to the nascent quantum measurement problem, but has not received much attention in Feyerabend scholarship as of yet. Our talk reassesses the physical and philosophical content of Feyerabend’s contribution in light of his later views and with respect to more recent discussions in the philosophy of physics. 

Commentator: Jos Uffink, Department of Philosophy, University of Minnesota

April 23, 2021, 3:35 pm CDT (UTC-5)
Pursuitworthiness, Inductive Risk and Female Viking Warriors
Rune Nyrup (University of Cambridge)

Abstract: Debates overvalues in science usually focus on acceptance. The use of nonepistemic values to guide decisions about pursuit is often seen as unproblematic but uninteresting. Elliott and McKaughan (2009, Phil. Sci. 76:598-611) have questioned this division, pointing out that decisions about pursuit can indirectly influence acceptance, by shaping what types of evidence and well-developed hypotheses become available. This paper further complicates these pictures, by highlighting influences running in the opposite direction, from acceptance to pursuit. I focus on an argument by feminist archaeologist Joan Gero (2007,  J. Archaeological Method and Theory, 14:311-327), which criticizes the tendency to overvalue certainty and avoid ambiguity in archaeological interpretation. I argue that this can be interpreted in terms of inductive risk considerations: traditional archaeology overvalues the avoidance of false or poorly supported interpretations and undervalues new interpretative hypotheses, especially ones that are more tentative or speculative. As this tends to disincentivize archaeologists from pursuing certain kinds of questions—ones concerning marginal groups that were less likely to leave behind unambiguous material evidence—this methodological norm is not value neutral. In this paper, I propose an account of the complex interplay between pursuit and acceptance which underpins Gero's argument, and use it to analyze a recent debate in archaeology over whether there is evidence for the existence of female Viking warriors.

Commentator: Alan Love, Department of Philosophy, University of Minnesota

Youtube recording for Pursuitworthiness, Inductive Risk and Female Viking Warriors

March 26, 2021, 3:35 pm CDT (UTC-5)
A Category Theoretic Framework for Physical Representation
Sarita Rosenstock (Philosophy, Australian National University)

Abstract: It is increasingly popular for philosophers of physics to use category theory, the mathematical theory of structure, to adjudicate debates about the (in)equivalence of formal physical theories. In this talk, I discuss the theoretical foundations of this strategy. I introduce the concept of a “representation diagram" as a way to scaffold narrative accounts of how mathematical gadgets represent target systems and demonstrate how their content can be effectively summarized by what I call a “structure category". I argue that the narrative accounts contain the real content of an act of physical representation, and the category-theoretic methodology serves only to make that content precise and conducive to further analysis. In particular, one can use tools from category theory to assess whether one physical formalism thus presented has more "properties", "structure", or "stuff" than another according to a given narrative about how they both purport to represent the same physical systems.

Commentator: Samuel Fletcher, Department of Philosophy, University of Minnesota

Youtube Recording for A Category Theoretic Framework for Physical Representation


November 20, 2020, 3:35pm Central Standard Time: 
How Anthropocentric is Thermodynamics?
Carina Prunkl (Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford)

Abstract: Thermodynamics “smells more of its human origin than other branches of physics”, Bridgman famously wrote in 1941. Taking a closer look at the history of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, we find that this ‘human smell’ enters the subject as early as the writings of Maxwell, who makes use of concepts such as ‘knowledge’, ‘observation’ and ‘the mind’ in order to explain thermodynamic phenomena. E.T. Jaynes some decades later goes even further and distinguishes between the ‘physical’ nature of energy and the ‘anthropomorphic’ nature of entropy. Both authors seem to suggest that thermodynamic concepts are in some sense mind-dependent, that they in some sense rely on the presence of an external observer. In this talk, I will revisit the question of how and when the ‘human smell’ enters thermodynamics by taking a closer look at Maxwell’s means-relative approach to thermodynamics. I will show that, in fact, Maxwell’s approach does not commit us to an anthropocentric reading of thermodynamics, but that it instead provides us with a powerful conceptual framework that carries over into classical and quantum statistical mechanics.

Commentator: Jos Uffink, Department of Philosophy, University of Minnesota


December 11, 2020, 3:35pm Central Standard Time: 
Evidence-based paradigm and the challenge of assessing effectiveness of preventive surgery
Saana Jukola (Institute for Medical Humanities, University of Bonn)

Abstract: Criticism of the principles of evidence-based medicine (EBM), especially the so-called hierarchy of evidence, has become common in philosophy of medicine. Often the discussion has focused on the challenges of using randomized controlled trials (RCTs) for assessing the effectiveness of pharmaceutical interventions. However, some medical specialties have distinct features raising epistemological and ethical questions that are not answered by analyses of drug trials. In this talk I will focus on evidence producing practices in one such field, namely surgery. I will first discuss how the tenets of EBM have been debated in the context of preventive surgery in carriers of carcinogenic BRCA1/2 genetic mutations. Second, I explicate the ways in which the case of preventive surgery challenges the existing philosophy of medicine accounts of EBM.

Commentator: Alan C. Love, Department of Philosophy, University of Minnesota

Youtube recording for Evidence-based paradigm and the challenge of assessing effectiveness of preventative surgery