International Postdoc Forum

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) is introducing the International Postdoc Forum for the Philosophy of Science as of Fall 2020. This program will showcase 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 and start at 3:35pm, Please join our mailing list or email mcps@umn.edu for a link. Please direct any questions about the program to Alan Love.

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