Watch & Listen

Recordings of BSPS-organized and sponsored events

Syntactic and Semantic Inferences in the Representational Theory of Mind

Nicholas Shea

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A long-standing datum in cognitive science is that people make semantic inferences, which draw on the meaning of concepts, as well as purely syntactic inferences, which don’t. That contrast is puzzling since the representational theory of mind (RTM) assumes that all inferences are a matter of causal transitions between representational vehicles in virtue of non-semantic properties. Semantic inferences used to be picked out as those that draw on the internal structure of a concept. However, experimental work on concepts has produced a near-consensus that, for a typical lexical concept, there is no single representational structure which is always involved in thinking with that concept. At the same time, the recent conspicuous success of deep convolutional neural networks in modelling various categorisation tasks suggests that much of the information we draw on when using a concept is not conceptually or explicitly represented at all, but is instead implicit in dispositions to apply the concept on the basis of non-conceptual representations. This new landscape has many attractions, however the old contrast between syntactic and semantic inferences seems to have been squeezed out. Can we still explain the contrast, within the strictures of RTM? This paper argues that we can, not by appealing to conceptual structure, but by making a novel distinction between two types of representational processing in which concepts are involved.

Plenary Discussion 3, British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference 2019

Recorded on 19 July 2019 at Durham University

Chemical Substance

Robin Hendry & Paul Needham

Part 1: Paul Needham, ‘Water and Macroscopic Concepts Paul Needham’

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Water’s compositional formula characterises the substance without involving any assumptions about microstructure. The microstructure of water raises the question of why it should be regarded as a single substance. I suggest that the phase rule provides a suitable criterion. This shows how macroscopic concepts bear on the characterisation of substances.


Part 2: Robin Hendry, ‘Defending Microstructural Essentialism’

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Microstructural essentialism in chemistry is the thesis that a particular chemical substance is the one that it is (and not another) in virtue of its microstructure. In this paper I articulate this thesis by saying what a chemical substance is, and what a microstructure is. (Each task is surprisingly non trivial.) I also defend microstructural essentialism.

Plenary Discussion 2, British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference 2019

Recorded on 18 July 2019 at Durham University

Rethinking Time and Determinism

Jenann Ismael

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I discuss the openness of the future in a relativistic setting in which there are deterministic laws. I argue against many kinds of common wisdom.

Plenary Discussion 1, British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference 2019

Recorded on 17 July 2019 at Durham University

Replication Crisis?

Alexander Bird/ Laura Fortunato/ Marcus Munafò

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The hallmark of good science is often supposed to be experiments that produce the same results when repeated. But over the last number of years, scientists have replicated a number of established, high-profile experiments and produced different results. Does it point to serious flaws and biases in the sciences? Or it is evidence of the power of science to self-correct? And what can be done to make science more replicable? We explore whether the replication crisis undermines our trust in science.

Chaired by Jonathan Birch (Fellow, Forum for Philosophy & Associate Professor of Philosophy, LSE)

Recorded on 28 May 2019 at the LSE, in conjunction with the Forum for Philosophy

Black Holes

Stephen Baxter/ Amelie Saintonge/ Karim Thébault

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What are black holes, why are physicists so sure they exist, and how did we come to know about them? Can we know, or at least imagine, what happens inside a black hole? The science of black holes has long inspired science fiction writers, but might science fiction help us understand science fact? We discuss black holes, philosophy, and the long-standing and productive relationship between science and sci-fi.

Chaired by Jonathan Birch (Fellow, Forum for Philosophy; Assistant Professor of Philosophy, LSE)

Recorded on 21 November 2018 at the LSE, in conjunction with the Forum for Philosophy

Human Kinds

Anna Alexandrova & Ron Mallon

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Plenary Discussion 3

British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference, 2018

Recorded on 6 July 2018 at the University of Oxford

Debate: What Is a Solution to the Measurement Problem of Quantum Mechanics?

Carlo Rovelli & David Wallace

Part 1: Carlo Rovelli, ‘Solution To The Measurement Problem’

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Part 2:  David Wallace, ‘Many Worlds: A Conservative Solution to the Measurement Problem’

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Chair: Simon Saunders, President, BSPS

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British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference 2018, Plenary Discussion 2

Recorded on 5 July 2018 at the University of Oxford

The World Is the Totality of Quantities, Not of Things

Simon Saunders

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Plenary Discussion 1

British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference, 2018

Recorded on 4 July 2018 at the University of Oxford

Free Will

Matthew Broome/ Nura Sidarus/ Helen Steward

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Is everything we do the product of unconscious brain processes that are beyond our control? If so, what happens to moral and criminal responsibility if a defendant can always argue, ‘my brain made me do it’? And if free will does exist, could other animals possess it too? We bring together a philosopher, a psychiatrist, and a neuroscientist to discuss what recent research into the brain might mean for our understanding of free will.

Chaired by Jonathan Birch (Fellow, the Forum; Assistant Professor of Philosophy, LSE)

Recorded on 23 April 2018 at the LSE, in conjunction with the Forum for Philosophy

Parallel Universes

Fay Dowker/ Eleanor Knox / Simon Saunders

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Is Schrödinger’s cat alive or dead? This thought experiment was devised to illustrate a fundamental puzzle in quantum mechanics. A radical solution is that the cat is both alive and dead, but in different, parallel universes. This is the ‘many-worlds interpretation’ of quantum mechanics and our panel of philosophers and physicists will discuss why it is controversial and its strange consequences.

Chaired by Jonathan Birch (Fellow, The Forum; Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method, LSE)

Recorded on 25 October 2017 at the LSE, in conjunction with the Forum for Philosophy

Image credit: Les Chatfield, ‘Mirror mirror 

The Temporal and Atemporal Emergence of (Space-)Time

Christian Wüthrich

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Plenary Discussion

British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference, 2017

Recorded July 2017 at the University of Edinburgh

Experience of Passage in a Static World

Heather Dyke

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The view that experience seems to tell us directly that time flows has long been accepted by both A-theorists and B-theorists in the philosophy of time. A-theorists take it as a powerful endorsement of their position, sometimes using it explicitly in an argument for their view, and other times more implicitly, as a kind of non-negotiable, experiential given. B-theorists have tended to accept that we have this experience, and have sought alternative explanations for it, consistent with the B-theory. The so-called argument from temporal experience has received a lot of attention in recent years, and B-theory responses to it have begun to coalesce around two distinct positions. Illusionists adopt the traditional B-theoretic response of accepting that we do seem to experience temporal passage, and offering a B-theoretic explanation of it, thereby arguing that the experience is illusory. Veridicalists, on the face of it, take a more radical stance. They deny that we seem to experience temporal passage at all. I argue that there is something right in each of these responses, and by combining these features, we may be able to forge a third alternative, namely, that our temporal phenomenology is exactly what we should expect if the B-theory is true, and given our physical and psychological makeup. I discuss some results from psychology and cognitive science to support my view. In particular, I develop an explanation for the phenomenon that we sometimes seem to experience time speeding up or slowing down, a feature of temporal experience which has been largely neglected in the philosophical literature.British Society for the Philosophy of Science Lecture

Recorded on 12 June 2017 at the LSE

Cosmic Singularity Resolution via Quantum Evolution

Karim Thébault

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British Society for the Philosophy of Science Lecture

Classical models of the universe generically feature a big bang singularity. That is, when we consider progressively earlier and earlier times, physical quantities stop behaving in a reasonable way. A particular problem is that physical quantities related to the curvature of spacetime become divergent. A long standing hope is that a theory of quantum gravity would “resolve” the big bang singularity by providing quantum models of the early universe in which all physical quantities are always finite. Unfortunately, not only does the conventional Wheeler-DeWitt approach to quantum gravity fail to resolve the big bang singularity in this sense (without the addition of loop variables or exotic matter), but it also renders the universe fundamentally timeless. We offer a new proposal for singularity resolution in quantum cosmology based upon quantum evolution. In particular, we advocate a new approach to quantum cosmology based upon a Schrödinger equation for the universe. For simple models with a massless scalar field and positive cosmological constant we show that: i) well-behaved quantum observables can be constructed; ii) generic solutions to the universal Schrödinger equation are singularity-free; and iii) specific solutions display novel phenomenology including a cosmic bounce.

Recorded on 13 March 2017 at the LSE