University of Leeds History & Philosophy of Science Seminar Series (online), Semester 1 2020-21


History & Philosophy of Science Seminar Series

 Semester 1, 2020-21

 Wednesdays, 3.15-5pm UK time

All talks will be live streamed over TEAMS.

Email: Dr Ellen Clarke  to get the link.


 28 OCTOBER 2020

Hayley Clatterbuck (Wisconsin-Madison): ‘Darwin’s causal argument against creationism’

11 NOVEMBER 2020

Pierre-Olivier Méthot (Université Laval): ‘Beyond Foucault’s Grip: Making Sense of François Jacob’s The Logic of Life’

 25 NOVEMBER 2020

Lena Zuchowski (Bristol): ‘What Kind of Models are Deep Learning Algorithms?’

 9 DECEMBER 2020

Jimena Canales (Illinois): ‘Science and the History of Non-Existent Things’



28 OCTOBER 2020

Hayley Clatterbuck (Wisconsin-Madison): ‘Darwin’s causal argument against creationism’

Abstract: In the Origin of Species, Darwin vacillates between two incompatible lines of attack on special creationism. At times, he argues that functionless traits are evidence against special creation, as we would expect a designer to create traits that are useful for their possessors. At other times, Darwin argues that special creationism is explanatorily vacuous, for any possible observation is compatible with some putative intention of the designer. However, in later works, Darwin turns to an argument against creationism—and indeed, against the possibility of design in nature more generally—that he finds much more compelling. He argues that the variations which arise are random with respect to fitness and hence there is no designer. I will examine why Darwin found this argument much more compelling than the ones in the Origin and will suggest that it is because it can be made from general causal principles alone, rather than having to reason about the intentions or capacities of a creator. I will use tools from today’s causal modeling frameworks to examine whether and why this argument from random variation succeeds.


11 NOVEMBER 2020

Pierre-Olivier Méthot (Université Laval): ‘Beyond Foucault’s Grip: Making Sense of François Jacob’s The Logic of Life’

Abstract: With a few notable exceptions, commentators have systematically observed striking similarities between French geneticist François Jacob’s The Logic of Life – A History of Heredity (1970) and Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things (1966) and The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969). There are grounds for thinking that Jacob was indeed influenced by the work of his colleague at the Collège de France: rejecting a linear view, Jacob proposed a discontinuous framework whereby each historical period is delineated by profound transformations in the nature of biological knowledge itself. He further attended to the “various stages of knowledge” he identified and how they enabled the study of new “objects” in biology, thanks not only to the development of instruments but to new ways of looking at the organism. Unsurprisingly, Foucault praised The Logic of Life as “the most remarkable history of biology ever written” and even used it as a confirmation of his own archaeological approach. This Foucauldian reading, although pervasive, is far too simple and is at best incomplete, however. But if Foucault isn’t the main intellectual source behind Jacob’s best-selling book, then who is? And why did Jacob – a Nobel Prize winner – suddenly turned into a historian of biology? In this talk, I advance a new narrative in order to make sense of The Logic of Life. Drawing on archival material from the Institut Pasteur in Paris, I will argue that the book is best characterized as a response to Jacques Monod’s biological vision of scientific growth. According to Monod, ideas in science follow a logic of mutation and selection, a view rejected by Jacob on the grounds that it takes evolutionary principles beyond their rightful domain. This crucial difference between Jacob and Monod, I will show, can shed new light on the opposition between “history of ideas” and “history of objects”. I will further argue that Jacob’s change in laboratory organism in the late 1960s was an important impetus in writing the book. Only in loosening Foucault’s grip and in situating The Logic of Life within its own cultural context can we hope to critically assess the promises and the limitations of Jacob’s historiographical legacy.


25 NOVEMBER 2020

Lena Zuchowski (Bristol): ‘What Kind of Models are Deep Learning Algorithms?’

Abstract: I will introduce a novel conceptual framework for the analysis of scientific modelling. The framework will be used to distinguish and comparatively analyse three different ways of model construction: vertical from covering theory and empirical knowledge about a given target system; horizontal through the systematic variation or transfer of existing models; and diagonal through a combination of vertical and horizontal construction steps. I will then apply this framework to analyse the construction of Deep Learning Algorithms and will argue that they can be interpreted as the automated, vertical, bottom-up construction of a sequence of scientific models. Furthermore, I will maintain that the practice of transfer learning can be interpreted as horizontal model construction.



Jimena Canales (Illinois): ‘Science and the History of Non-Existent Things’

Abstract: What does not or does not yet exist plays a predominant role in science and technology. Discovery, either when considered as a process of uncovering or of creation, involves the bringing into existence of the new. As scientists search for answers and solutions, they are often confronted with problems and paradoxes that seem to escape from the realm of reason. The cause of such mischief is often anthropomorphized, called a demon, and given the last name of famous scientists, such as Descartes, Laplace, and Maxwell. The antechamber of discovery is not, as is frequently thought, an inscrutable “private art” marked by punctual “Eureka!” moments. It is a rich cultural, social, economic and political space filled with imaginary perpetrators with recognizable characteristics that have remained fairly constant throughout many centuries.  A study of the half-empty glass of scientific research reveals certain patterns in the search terms that drive discovery.