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Past seminars 2018

Wednesday 28 November

Social engagement in contemporary history and philosophy of science

Professor Rob Wilson (Philosophy, La Trobe University)

In this talk, Rob Wilson will discuss some examples from his own engagement work, such as the The Eugenic Mind Project (MIT Press, 2018). And the new Philosophical Engagement in Public Life (PEiPL) network he has started this year. This network has a philosophy of science working group, which I encourage you to consider joining.


Rob Wilson is a professor of philosophy at La Trobe University. His recent work includes “well-being, disability, and choosing children” which recently appeared in Mind.

Friday 23 November

Stereotype threat effects in mathematics: A failure to replicate

Professor Franca Agnoli (Psychology, University of Padova, Italy)

Many studies conducted over decades have found that males, on average, perform better than females in mathematics, although the size of this gender gap is small and has been decreasing. Some authors have argued that stereotype threat is a principal cause of the gender gap in mathematics. They claim that gender differences arise because the performance of females is affected by their fear of confirming a negative stereotype about their mathematical ability. Recent research has, however, challenged this explanation for the gender gap. Striking inconsistencies in reported stereotype threat effects may be due to flawed experimental designs and inappropriate statistical analyses.


We studied stereotype threat effects in mathematics among Italian high school students. Using Logistic Mixed-Effects Models treating both subjects and mathematics problems as random effects, we found that males performed better than females, but we found no evidence of a stereotype threat effect. We conclude that stereotype threat effects as an explanation for gender differences in mathematics are not robust.

Wednesday 21 November

“Impromptu Journal of My Heart”: Carson McCullers’s Therapeutic Recordings, April – May 1958

Professor Carlos Dews (Dept of English Language and Literature, John Cabot University, Italy)

In this paper I explore the therapeutic encounter between the writer Carson McCullers (author of noted works like The Heart is a Lonely Hunter) and her therapist, the psychiatrist Mary Mercer. McCullers sought help from Mercer not only for relief from physical and emotional suffering but also a block in her creative life. In the course of her therapy, tapes were made recording some of the sessions. This paper not only explores the complex relationship between artistic production and therapeutic intervention, it also examines some of the ethical issues emerging from the use of the transcripts based upon these recordings.

Professor Carlos Dews is Professor of English at John Cabot University, Rome. Carlos Dews received his B.A. in Humanities from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.A. and Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Minnesota. He taught American literature and creative writing at the University of West Florida from 1994-2003 and served as the Chair of the Department of English and Foreign Languages there from 2000-2002. Tenured and promoted to Associate Professor in 1999, Dews served as the Founding Director of the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians at Columbus State University in McCullers’s hometown of Columbus, Georgia, from 2001-2003. Dews returned to graduate school in 2006, completing an MFA in Fiction Writing at the New School University in New York in 2008. He joined the faculty of John Cabot University in 2008 and was promoted to Full Professor in 2014. He is Director of the JCU Institute for Creative Writing and Literary Translation.

Dews’s books include Blood of the Lamb (Penguin / Blue Rider Books 2013) and Skin of the Wolf, thrillers co-authored with S. J. Rozan. He has also edited The Complete Novels of Carson McCullers (Library of America 2001), and Illumination and Night Glare: The Unfinished Autobiography of Carson McCullers(University of Wisconsin 1999) and Carson McCullers: Stories, Plays & Other Writings (Library of America 2017). With Carolyn Leste Law, Dews edited Out in the South (Temple) and This Fine Place So Far From Home: Voices of Academics from the Working Class (Temple).

Wednesday 15 November

The Credibility Revolution in Psychology

Professor Simine Vazire (University of California, Davis)

A fundamental part of the scientific enterprise is for each field to engage in critical self-examination to detect errors in our theories and methods, and improve them. In this talk, I discuss how well psychology, as a science, has been living up to this ideal, and what principles should guide our efforts to improve our science.

Simine Vazire is a professor in the department of psychology at the University of California, Davis in the USA.  She conducts research on self-knowledge, personality, and meta-science. Her meta-science work includes studying the publication and peer review process and tracking trends in published research in psychology over time.  She is the editor in chief of Social Psychological and Personality Science, a senior editor at Collabra: Psychology, and an associate editor of Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science. She co-founded the Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science and serves on the board of that society, as well as the board of the Association for Psychological Science.

Wednesday 24 October 

The value and power of person-centred care for people with dementia. A philosophical discussion

Rev Dr Stephen Ames (HPS, University of Melbourne)

This paper briefly reviews the introduction of person-centred care (p-cc) for example by Tom Kitwood in UK in the late 1980s, (Dementia Reconsidered, The Person Comes First, Open University Press, Buckingham, 1997), which in some places has replaced a widely used bio-medical model of dementia and the care of people with dementia.  While p-cc had diversified in many ways since then the change may be represented as follows : from the person with DEMENTIA     →  the PERSON with dementia.  Whereas the bio-medical  approach was described as ‘warehousing’, the change to p-cc led to many benefits for people with dementia, albeit within a continuing trajectory of overall decline.  The paper affirms the practice of p-cc but questions Kitwood’s understanding of personhood as an attributed status, with the consequence of relativising the assumed absolute value of persons, which he argued did not need any theological justification as it was the only assumption on which our life as social beings makes sense.  The assumption does not hold, for example, when the social life of a person with dementia often unravels as the dementia develops or when euthanasia is offered as a treatment option for someone whose life is judged to be over. (Examples from other contexts are easily identified.) An alternative is discussed which takes the practice of p-cc as embodying the recognition of the unconditional worth of persons as a fact about the person. The paper argues that this alternative is intelligible, John Mackie’s critique of ‘queer facts’, not withstanding, (Ethics, Inventing Right and Wrong, London, Penguin 1990), and that there is some evidence in support of the alternative arising from Stephen Darwall’s, The Second Person Standpoint, Morality, Respect and Accountability, (Cambridge Mass., Harvard University Press, 2006).

Wednesday 17 October 

The Mobile Museum: Kew, Melbourne, and the circulation of biocultural collections in the late 19th century

Dr Caroline Cornish (University of London) and Dr Mark Nesbitt (University of London)

The Museum of Economic Botany opened at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 1847. Throughout its existence as a public space for the display of useful plants and their products (1847-1987), the collections grew such that eventually four separate buildings were required to house them. However, during that period the Museum not only collected, but also redistributed thousands of objects to other institutions on a global scale. The Mobile Museum: Economic Botany in Circulation is a 3-year collaborative research project between Kew Gardens and Royal Holloway, University of London, which is mapping the circulation of these objects across international networks of exchange in the 19th and 20th centuries, in an attempt to better understand the motivations and outcomes of this activity, and specifically to define what is gained and what is lost when museum objects move.

In this talk, we present some of their key findings to date and focus in on Kew’s relations with Melbourne institutions in the late 19th century, pinpointing the key actors involved and the objects exchanged. What is revealed is a rich history of colonial, scientific and personal endeavour over a formative period in the development of the State of Victoria.

Dr Caroline Cornish is a research fellow in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London and an honorary research associate at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  Her research interests lie at the intersection of the histories of museum, science and empire in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Dr Mark Nesbitt is research leader for economic botany and curator of the Economic Botany Collection (EBC) at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a visiting professor in the Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London.

Wednesday 10 October

Botanical Explorations: Women, Knowledge, and Plants in 19th-Century Canada

Professor Ann Shteir (York University)

My title, “Botanical Explorations,” refers to a project about women who cultivated knowledge of plants in 19th-century Canada and also to methodological and historiographical questions that arise from this research.


Histories of botanical work in that colonial place and time are patchy, shaped largely by the disciplinary formation of botanical science and institutional accounts of universities and professional societies. To widen the story, a workshop funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada brought academics from history, art history, landscape studies, literary studies, biology, and the history of Canadian science, together with archivists and botanists working in government and botanical gardens.  What, we asked, are new resources for finding and studying women of that time who collected plants, contributed to floristic projects, wrote about plants, and included botany in school curricula?  What new perspectives can feminist studies, colonial studies, archival concerns, and interests in networks, practices, and topics in the cultural history of science yield in situating individual stories within broader frameworks?

In addition to providing a brief overview of the project, this seminar will sketch findings about gender, class, access to knowledge, and identity that emerge from research into Mary Brenton who collected plants in 1830s Newfoundland for William Jackson Hooker’s imperial Flora Boreali-Americana (1829-40).

Wednesday 19 September

From ‘Replication Crisis’ to ‘Credibility Revolution’

The Interdisciplinary Meta-Research Group (IMeRG)

This week’s seminar is a series of short, inter-related ‘work-in-progress’ talks about reproducibility and replicability, questionable research practices and meta-research, presented by members of the Interdisciplinary Meta-Research Group (IMeRG), at the University of Melbourne.

Our group does meta-research, sometimes called meta-science. What is that?

“the scientific study of science itself” (Munafo et al, 2017)

“an evolving scientific discipline that aims to evaluate and improve research practices. It includes thematic areas of methods, reporting, reproducibility, evaluation, and incentives (how to do, report, verify, correct, and reward science).” (Ioannidis et al, 2015)

Reproducibility and Replicability are really important… for other sciences Associate Professor Fiona Fidler

Are Reproducibility and Replicability just a matter of making tacit knowledge explicit? Steve Kambouris (PhD candidate)

Questionable Research Practices in Hypothesis Testing Research Dr Hannah Fraser

Questionable Research Practices in Non-Hypothesis Testing Research Elise Gould (PhD candidate)

Research Planning Practices Felix Singleton Thorn (PhD candidate)

Wednesday 12 September

‘Avoiding real mischief’: Towards a phenomenology of self-patterns in diagnosis and therapy

Dr Anya Daly (HPS, University of Melbourne)

The application of the theory and standards of the natural sciences to the domain of the human sciences is a particularly fraught enterprise when it comes to psychology and psychiatry. Categorization-based diagnosis, which endeavours to be consistent with the third-person, objective measures of science, is not always adequate with respect to problems concerning diagnostic accuracy, demarcation problems when there are comorbidities, well-documented problems of symptom amplification, and complications of stigmatization andlooping effects. We argue that an alternative, integrated framework that focuses on descriptive symptom-based classifications (drawing on phenomenological interview methods and narrative) combined with a more comprehensive conception of the human subject (found in the pattern theory of self), can not only offer a solution to these vexed issues of psychiatric diagnosis but also support more efficacious therapeutic interventions.

Wednesday 5 September

Alien or British, they are of ‘special value’: European medical migrants in Victoria, 1930-60

Fallon Mody (HPS, University of Melbourne)

Tuesday 28 August

Valuation and evaluation practices in the social sciences and humanities

Prof Sarah de Rijcke (Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, Leiden University, The Netherlands)

New forms of evaluation are reconfiguring science and social life in ways we are only beginning to understand. The growing use of evaluations and their ‘constitutive effects’ (Dahler-Larsen, 2014) are subject of considerable debate. While some analysts welcome the possibility of increasing transparency through performance data, recent years have also seen high-profile initiatives drawing attention to perceived damaging effects of an increasing metric-orientation in research assessment (e.g. the Leiden Manifesto, DORA). In this talk I will share results from recent projects in the social sciences and humanities in which we analyzed interactions between evaluation and knowledge production on the ‘shop-floor’ of academic research. Does what is evaluated also coincide with what is valued highly? The work contributes to a better understanding and conceptualization of the intricate ways in which evaluation, valuation and knowledge production interact.

Wednesday 15 August

A biography of the positron and its antimatter siblings

Kevin Orrman-Rossiter (HPS, University of Melbourne)

My PhD will be a biography of the positron from its first conception in the 1920s to roughly the present day. It looks also at the positrons close antimatter family – anti-protons, anti-neutrons, ant-neutrinos and antimatter atoms. This is a work in historical epistemology – an historical, philosophical and sociological narrative. My research is based on three closely related questions: How does the discovery of the positron, and antimatter as a concept, fit with current models of discovery? What does the positron narrative illuminate about transitions between science and technology regimes, or scenes of inquiry? And How does a modern physics concept, antimatter, change over a period? In this seminar I will look at the discovery of the positron in the 1930s and expand on the historical, philosophical and sociological narratives of my proposed project.

Wednesday 8 August

Can science and religion be reconcilled?

Dr John Wilkins (HPS, University of Melbourne)

The Conflict Thesis between science and religion is justly regarded as a gross, if not entirely false, oversimplification, but there does seem to be tension between religious and scientific claims in practice, particularly in the ontological and epistemic claims made by those on both sides. In this talk I shall consider whether there actually are ontologies and epistemes unique to either class, firmly concluding that there may not be.

Wednesday 1 August

Endangered Maize: Indigenous Corn, Industrial Agriculture, and the Specter of Extinction

Dr Helen Curry (Dept of History & Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University)

Many people in different contexts, from plant geneticists to indigenous farmers to industrial agriculturists, agree today that the corn they tend is endangered. In this talk, I explore how a crop as dominant in global production as corn (Zea mays, also known as maize) has come to be the object of diverse conservation activities. I chart the early emergence of concerns about corn’s vulnerability and responses to these concerns through two examples: the collection and sale of “Indian corn” in the US northwest by the Oscar H. Will seed company in the early 1900s and the ambitious pan-American seed banking initiative of the Committee on Preservation of Indigenous Strains of Maize in the 1950s. In both cases, the growth of industrial agriculture fostered new appreciation of the diversity of earlier corn varieties as resources for expanding production. Yet those earlier corn varieties were by and large in the possession of indigenous farmers whose communities and ways of life were thought to be fast disappearing. As I show, those who sought to conserve potentially valuable corn varieties were aware of and reliant on the knowledge of indigenous peoples and also attempted to render this knowledge inessential to their work.

Wednesday 6 June

Jack the Ripper: The Divided Self and the Alien Other in Late-Victorian Culture and Society

Michael Plater (HPS University of Melbourne)

PhD completion seminar

This thesis examines late-Victorian representations of the “Jack the Ripper” murders of 1888. Focusing on the two most prevalent theories – Jack as “alien” foreigner, Jack as divided British “gentleman” – it contends that these representations were indicative of emergent cultural anxieties relating to the “self” and “other.” Evaluating the wider psychological and sociological impact of the case, it argues that the crimes exposed the deep sense of fracture and duality that underpinned late-Victorian life, challenging dominant notions of identity and selfhood.

Wednesday 30 May

Media portrayals of ‘baby brain’

Natasha Abrahams (Monash University)

‘Baby brain’, as it is popularly known, is the condition of chronic forgetfulness which befalls pregnant women and mothers of infants. The existence of ‘baby brain’ is contested, as are the mechanisms behind the phenomenon. The concept of ‘baby brain’ explicitly connects women’s reproductive function with their cognitive capacity.


This research explores how ‘baby brain’ is reported upon in Australian mainstream news reporting. Drawing on a sample of 103 articles spanning almost two decades, each reporting on research pertaining to the effects of motherhood on the brain, I contend that hormonal mechanisms are privileged in conceptualising ‘baby brain’, at the expense of considering other explanations such as sleep deprivation. The emphasis on hormonal action reinforces that ‘baby brain’ is inevitable for new mothers, and therefore obscures the impact of social factors in producing the condition. I also examine articles reporting on scientific studies which claim to disprove the existence of ‘baby brain’ and argue that journalists systematically challenge study findings by inserting anecdotes about new mothers’ experiences of absent-mindedness. Overall, the effect is a media bias towards promoting the existence and stability of ‘baby brain’.

Wednesday 23 May

The sorrows of Robert Lee: Self, identity and science in early Victorian medicine

Dr James Bradley (HPS, University of Melbourne)

Robert Lee, obstetrician and gynaecologist, is not a highly regarded figure in the history of medicine – usually confined to short discussions about mid-nineteenth century pain management in labour and his antipathy to the speculum. This seminar will do nothing to persuade you that his reputation should be recovered. Rather, I will explore the intersection of biography, reading and scientific medicine through an analysis of Lee’s journal, a common-place book he kept from the mid-1830s through to his death in the 1877. The journal reveals that Lee was an avid reader of biography and other forms of life writing (obituaries &c.), and his reading of these tended to elide with his own life situation, revealing considerable fractures in the emergent ideal of the Good Doctor.

Wednesday 16 May

Historical Contingency and the Copenhagen Hegemony: Revisiting the Cushing Thesis

Dr Kristian Camilleri (HPS, University of Melbourne)

The last few decades has witnessed something of a shift in attitudes towards the interpretation of quantum mechanics. Since the 1990s, there has been a resurgence of interest in new approaches, which have challenged the orthodox view. This has prompted a number of physicists and philosophers, particularly those sympathetic to alternatives such as Bohm’s hidden variables theory, to suggest that if only “historical circumstances had been only slightly different then it would have been very likely that Bohm’s deterministic interpretation would have been proposed and accepted first, and would be dominating today.” James Cushing first articulated this thesis in his Quantum Mechanics: Historical Contingency and Copenhagen Hegemony in 1994. But to my knowledge such claims have never been subjected to careful historical scrutiny. Historians tend to be naturally suspicious of counterfactual historical claims. Nevertheless, Cushing’s thesis does raise an interesting question about why the orthodoxy went virtually unchallenged for so long, in spite of persistent and nagging criticisms from such eminent physicists as Einstein and Schrödinger. This paper forms part of a larger project, which attempts to answer this question. Here I attempt to throw new light on this “culture of orthodoxy”, which first emerged in the late 1920s, by bringing together different perspectives from the philosophy and sociology of science and the cultural history of physics.

Wednesday 9 May

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Scientific Method

Dr John Wright (Philosophy, University of Newcastle)

In 1960 Eugene Wigner published his paper “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences”. In his paper, Wigner defended two theses. The first was science was successful in ways which, in his words “we neither understand nor deserve”. The second was that there was something about the language of mathematics that was responsible for this success.


In this talk is suggested that Wigner might have been wrong in seeing the “mathematicalness” of the language of science as being what is crucial in producing its unreasonable success. It is suggested that the success may be due to the preference scientists have for theories that exhibit certain symmetries or invariances.


It is further argued that this preference for symmetries or invariances is not exclusive to mathematical sciences such as physics. A similar preference can be found in, for example, the theory of evolution, in uniformitarian geology and in archaeology. This preference for “invariances” has also led to surprising successes in these sciences.


In the final part of the paper the idea is explored that a preference for certain “invariances” also seems to be what differentiates normal or healthy thought from thinking we are inclined to regard as delusional or psychotic.

Wednesday 2 May

Temporal naturalism: reconciling the ‘4Ms’ and points of view within naturalism

Prof Jack Reynolds (SHAPS, University of Melbourne)

The 4Ms, are: mind, meaning, morality and modality. The 4Es are embodied, embedded, extended and enactive cognition.

Wednesday 18 April

Measuring the passage of time, the heights of trees, and the rate of forgetting

Prof Geoffrey Loftus (Psychology, University of Washington)

Central to science is figuring out how to measure things — e.g., for Physicists, energy; for Astronomers, planetary density; for Chemists, Avogadro’s constant, and so on. Whereas Psychologists have been remarkably successful in measuring some things, we have been less successful in measuring other things. In particular, in many fields of Psychology, one’s goal is to measure some internal entity (e.g., “memory strength”) which, while presumed to exist, and while central in psychological theories, is not directly observable. One must therefore carry out such measurements using a dependent variable (e.g., “probability correct”) that is related to the internal entity only in an ill-specified manner. This in turn renders tests of theoretical hypotheses untrustworthy and unstable. I illustrate this problem using fictional measurements of time and height practiced by a fictional group of ancient people, and then demonstrate one solution to it within Psychology, using as an example, how to measure the rate at which people forget.

Wednesday 11 April

Newton’s Epistemic Triad

Dr Kirsten Walsh (Philosophy, University of Nottingham)

Isaac Newton condemned the use of hypotheses with his (in)famous methodological statement, Hypotheses non fingo, and yet employed hypotheses explicitly in every edition of the Principia.  Some commentators have argued that Newton was working with several inconsistent notions of ‘hypothesis’: specifically, the hypotheses he used in the Principia are not the sort that he railed against in the General Scholium at the end of that book.  Other commentators argue that Newton’s methodological statements are simply inconsistent with how he actually proceeded: for example, they argue that the queries introduced by Newton at the end of his Opticks are hypotheses-in-disguise.


I argue that Newton’s methodological pronouncements and his use of hypotheses are far more consistent than previously thought.  I consider Newton’s methodology within the framework of his three-way epistemic distinction between theories, which are certain and experimentally confirmed, hypotheses, which are uncertain and speculative, and queries, which are not certain, but provide the proper means to establish the certainty of theories.  I call this division Newton’s ‘epistemic triad’.  I argue that Newton’s hypotheses and queries have distinctive and vital supporting roles within this epistemic triad.  This provides us with a much more consistent picture of Newton’s methodology.

Wednesday 4 April

Discovery and classification of  the marsupial lion in the 1850s and its implication’s for networked understandings of colonial science

Dr Peter Minard

This article explores the processes leading to the description of Thylacoleo carnifex by Richard Owen in 1859. It argues that it resulted from thirty years of searching for extinct marsupial predators in Australian fossil sites, starting with the discovery of the first Australian marsupial megafauna fossils in 1830. The search was conducted by Australian farmers, colonial and metropolitan scientists and anonymous indigenous informants. Together these individuals formed a scientific network that found, shipped and inscribed fossils as marsupial carnivores. This network involved the constant movement of ideas, people and fossils to and from the Australian colonies as colonial investigators sought patronage, personal status and to incorporate Australian deep time within European theoretical models. This networked model demonstrates the agency of colonial investigators without flattening the very real power differentials they had to negotiate when metropolitan experts sought out specimens, correspondents and supporters.  

Wednesday 28 March

50 words for snow: the construction of natural phenomena in science

Dr John Wilkins (HPS, University of Melbourne)

John’s slides from this talk are available here

 Wednesday 21 March

Muzafer Sherif’s Robbers Cave study: a case study in the rhetoric of experimentation


Dr Gina Perry  (HPS, University of Melbourne)

Watson’s studies of human conditioning, Milgram’s experiments in obedience to authority, the case of Kitty Genovese and the bystander effect, are all ‘classic’ studies in psychology. Recently a number of psychologists have re-examined ‘classic’ experiments in social psychology and in the process challenged if not invalidated long held interpretations (e.g., Harris, 1979; Cherry, 1995; Gibson, 2013; Manning, Levine and Collins, 2007; Perry, 2013).


Some have overturned the psychological scientist’s original interpretation by applying current theories of social behaviour (Haslam and Reicher, 2012) while others have turned a historical focus on psychology to identify the extra-scientific factors that shape such research (Harris, 1979).


Historian of psychology Benjamin Harris’ paper marked a more critical approach to studying social psychology’s construction of its past. Harris analysed the history of accounts of Watson’s famous research concluding that the distortions he uncovered represented a case of myth-making. He recommended that accounts of psychological research need to be read against the political and social context in which they are being written.

In a similar vein Cherry (1995) in her examination of another classic, Muzafer Sherif’s Robbers Cave experiment, traced how Sherif’s published research reports transformed over time and identified autobiographical themes that explained these changes. She concluded that a ‘romanticized’ version of the Robbers Cave study had emerged that excluded the historical and political implications of his work.


This paper presents research that builds on Cherry’s by comparing published accounts of the Robbers Cave experiments with original archival material including records of the experiment as well as Sherif’s correspondence, to tease out some of the biographical, political and social factors that shaped his presentation of his results. In the process I have attempted to deepen understanding of Sherif’s findings and make explicit some of the historical, political and moral factors that shape psychological research and the contradictions and conflicts of interest in social psychological work.


Gina Perry obtained her Ph.D. in Creative Writing and History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Melbourne.  She is author of Behind the Shock Machine: the untold story of the notorious Milgram obedience experiments (Scribe, 2013) and The Lost Boys: inside Muzafer Sherif’s Robbers Cave experiment which will be published in April 2018. She has been a freelance journalist and broadcaster whose work has been anthologised in Best Australian Science Writingand she currently writes for New Scientist. Her research interests are in the parallels and intersections between social psychology and journalism, rhetorical aspects of science writing, and the psychology of social psychological research.

Wednesday 7 March

Reconfiguring relations between philosophy and science: the biosemiotic connection

Dr Maurita Harney (SHAPS, University of Melbourne)

Biosemiotics has been defined as an interdisciplinary research agenda investigating the myriad forms of communication and signification found in and between living systems. In this paper, I explore how biosemiotics provides a point of intersection between philosophy and non-reductionist approaches in the biological sciences.

Maurita Harney is an honorary Senior Fellow in Philosophy, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, the University of Melbourne.

Wednesday 28 February

Re-sizing psychology in public policy and the private imagination

Dr Mark Furlong (Thinker-in-Residence at La Trobe’s Bouverie Family Centre)

The seminar will focus on material from Re-sizing Psychology in Public Policy and the Private Imagination (Palgrave, UK. 2016). Initially, a critique of psychology’s prestige is developed. This critique centres on psychology’s essential instability where:


– in the first instance, the discipline presents itself as an objective science which possesses both precision and utility, &


– in the second instance, the discipline is identified with the antithesis of the instrumental – that which is profound  and mysterious.


The seminar will contest Psychology’s claim to being a science, its claims to effectiveness in, and beyond, the consulting room, and its relationship with psychotherapy. More broadly, Psychology’s role in dubious sub-fields, such as the design of addictive gaming machines, will also be reviewed. Beyond specific criticisms, a single theme is argued: mainstream Psychology performs a conservative, albeit disavowed, role in decisions about normality and pathology. This regulative function, it will be argued, acts to discipline identity and subjectivity and to construct the self as amoral and disconnected


Presented by an informed outsider, the session will be provocative to those who have a stake in the role of, and the claims made by, the psychology industry.


Mark Furlong PhD. is an independent scholar and Thinker-in-Residence at La Trobe’s Bouverie Family Centre. Mark practiced for 20 years in therapeutic and mental health roles before taking up academic appointments. Mark writes a regular column for Arena magazine and has published around 60 refereed papers and book chapters. His book Building the client’s relational base; A multidisciplinary Handbook was published by Policy Press, UK, in 2014.

 Wednesday 21 February

Machine Learning as a Symbiosis of Statistics and Artificial Intelligence

Dr Rudolf Seising (Research Institute for the History of Science and Technology, Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany)

In the last centuries, the development of probability theory prepared a mathematical foundation for statistics which became the scientific tool of choice to handle data. However about one decade ago, Ethem Alpaydin, one of the pioneers in machine learning wrote  “We are now at a point where this type of data analysis can no longer be done manually, because people who can do such analysis are rare; furthermore, the amount of data is huge and manual analysis is not possible. There is thus a growing interest in computer programs that can analyze data and extract information automatically from them¾in other word, learn.”


Already in the 1960s, the statistician John W. Tukey introduced the new field of „Data Analysis” into the “statistical community” and in the early 1980s, the methods of statistics and computer science converged.


Already in 1956, the research area of Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) was launched and some years later one of its sensational results was Frank Rosenblatt’s Perceptron, an early “artificial neural network” that the inventor heralded to be a universal machine that was capable of learning. The euphoria stopped abruptly in 1969 when Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert published their mathematical analysis of perceptrons. The two demonstrated that such simple artificial neuronal networks could not overcome important mathematical problems.


The “AI winter” took a decade of years but then “new AI” boomed with new learning algorithms. In 2001 the statistician Leo Breiman determined that there are now two different „cultures of modeling“ in this scientific field, „data modeling“ and „algorithmic modeling“. Members of the first culture act on the assumption that a stochastic process generates all data and the statistician will estimate the appropriate probability distribution. The other culture comes from the creation of data by a complex but unknown “mechanism” and the task here is to simulate this mechanism by an algorithm.

Rudolf Seising obtained his Ph.D. in Philosophy of Science and the German Habilitation in History of science from the Ludwig–Maximilians–University in Munich after studies of Mathematics, Physics and Philosophy at the Ruhr-University of Bochum (Germany).His main areas of research comprise historical and philosophical foundations of science and technology. Among other books he edited Views on Fuzzy Sets and Systems from Different Perspectives. Philosophy and Logic, Criticisims and Applications. (Springer 2009), with V. Sanz Soft Computing in Humanities and Social Sciences (Springer 2012), with E. Trillas, S. Termini, and C. Moraga On Fuzziness. A Homage to Lotfi A. Zadeh – vols. I and II, (Springer 2013), with M. E. Tabacchi Fuzziness and Medicine: Philosophical Reflections and Application Systems in Health Care. A Companion Volume to Sadegh-Zadeh’s “Handbook on Analytical Philosophy of Medicine”, (Springer 2013), and with Enric Trillas and Janusz Kacprzyk Towards the Future of Fuzzy Logic, (Springer 2015).

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